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Rousseau’s Whale Hunt?: Coordination among Big‐Game Hunters

Michael S. Alvard and David A. Nolin
Current Anthropology
Vol. 43, No. 4 (August/October 2002), pp. 533-559
DOI: 10.1086/341653
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/341653
Page Count: 27
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Rousseau’s Whale Hunt?
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Abstract

In spite of its common use as a tool for examining cooperation, the prisoner’s dilemma game does not conform to the reality of many socio‐ecological contexts. Situations in which people engage in joint activities and maintain agreement in their preferences for outcomes are called “coordination games” by game theorists and “mutualism” by biologists. Coordination games are common, but cooperative outcomes are not always as easy to achieve as is generally believed. Data are presented from the village of Lamalera, Indonesia, where the economy revolves around traditional subsistence sperm‐whale hunting, that indicate a situation consistent with a coordination game. Return rates from cooperative whale hunting are greater per capita than those from solitary fishing. Coordination is maintained through complex norms that reduce transaction costs and provide assurances of satisfactory payoffs to participants. We speculate that cultural transmission of norms provides the “pregame” communication shown to be crucial for actors whose preference is to cooperate and achieve the synergistic payoffs common to coordination games such as big‐game hunting.

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