Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 6:3 (Summer 1986). Copyright © 1986 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Environmental determinism has long been discredited in explaining the social organization of pastoral and agro-pastoral peoples. I Today the effect of climate on social organization is recognized as mediated by social, economic, and political factors. 2 Thus, social organization in Botswana reflects the influence of a wide variety of factors, among them Christian missionaries, interethnic warfare, past and continuing aggression of South Africa, introduction of the iron plow, British colonialism, Boer traders, discovery of minerals (most recently diamonds), international donor aid, and so on. Over the past century there have been substantial changes in a number of important trends: life expectancy, literacy, and per capita income have increased; commercial agriculture has evolved; transportation and communication infrastructures have been radically improved; and urban centers and nonagricultural industry have been established. Furthermore, the advent of new technologies has in some ways and some places altered the effects of semiaridity and of drought. Hand-dug wells, dams, diesel engines, and water tankers have allowed the periodic substitution of labor and capital for rainfall. The cumulative impact of such technological innovation has been to change the social meaning of climate for many Batswana.