Does it make sense to understand the prehistory, history and present-day patterns of life in Southeast Asia in terms of a distinction between two ways of life: "farming" and "foraging"? This is the central question addressed by the anthropologists and archaeologists contributing to this volume. Inherent within the question "Why Cultivate?" are people's relationships with the physical world: are they primarily to do with subsistence and economics or with social and/or cultural forces? The answers given by the contributors are complex. On a practical level they argue that there is a continuum rather than a sharp break between different levels of management of the environment, but rice-growing usually represents a profound break in people's relations to their cultural and symbolic landscapes. An associated point made by the archaeologists is that the "deep histories" of foraging-farming lifeways that are emerging in this region sit uncomfortably with the theory that foraging was replaced by farming in the mid Holocene as a result of a migration of Austronesian-speaking Neolithic farmers from southern China and Taiwan.
Graeme Barker is Emeritus Disney Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge and a Senior Research Fellow in the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. His research focuses on the interactions between past human societies and the environments they inhabited, especially relating to the transition from hunting and gathering to farming and, more recently, the dispersal of our species.