The rice theory of culture is the idea that rice farming societies developed into more interdependent, tight cultures in response to the demands of the plant. Farming in general is an interdependent subsistence style, but traditional paddy rice farming was starkly different from other major crops like wheat, corn, and potatoes. Paddy rice required twice as much labor per hectare as wheat farming. Farmers responded by creating customs to share labor. Paddy rice also depended on irrigation systems to flood and drain the fields. Once farmers controlled water, they now had to coordinate how much water each farmer got, when to flood their fields, and how to divide the labor for repairing the canals. This created a tight society, where people depended on each other, and individual farmers had less freedom of movement. This article gives an overview of the theory, summarizes recent evidence of cultural differences between rice and wheat societies, and then lays out unanswered questions for future research.
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