Thursday, April 03, 2008

Anthropology in Everything, Violence Edition

Hmm. A new meme?

First Chris Blattman asks if peace can be instilled. He reports from a rural training center in Liberia:

The second day of our stay we woke up to a small riot. Supplies of food and soap had been delayed from the capitol, and the excoms had taken to the yard, yelling angrily with the staff and refusing to attend classes. Johnson stood in the thick of them, surrounded by two dozen angry youth, hashing it out.

Within an hour, the youth had settled back to their quarters, their elected leaders were holding a consultation, and were preparing to present a list of grievances to the school administration. Nothing was broken, few egos were bruised, and the excoms' anger and frustration was being channeled into a peaceful and institutional process. Such an outcome, Johnson tells me, would have been unthinkable just two moths ago. But they have succeeded in creating new norms of behavior and dispute.

Then, Dani Rodrik posts about a paper exploring the intersection of soccer, culture, and violence. He notes:

I must say the cultural explanation leaves me cold, even though I do not have a good alternative explanation in its place. If you have ever spent time in cabs in Manhattan, you know that it is pretty hard to distinguish the Russian drivers from the Pakistani ones, or the Israeli ones from the Koreans. They all drive like NYC cabbies, even though the "driving culture" in these countries are pretty different.

In response, I'd ask, could it just be another example of acculturation? I imagine that being a successfull NYC cabby requires certain traits for success (traversing the city in some sort of meaningful time frame and also getting a spot at high-frequency fare sites). Don't these guys depend on the number of fares + tips to make a living? What I mean to imply is, the geography, politics (or at least laws) and culture of NYC create an environment that requires certain characteristics in order to succeed. Success (money) is an incentive. Thus, there is an incentive for cabbies to adapt (turn into NYC cabbies). Environment -> Incentives (economics) -> Acculturation (anthropology).

Societal, cultural, norms, including those of interaction, can be very powerful, but like all normative teachings, can be overcome and retaught. What I really want to know is what would happen if the soccer players were faced off against the 'ex-coms'?

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