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Cooperation Dynamics in a Multiethnic Society: A Case Study from Tamil Nadu

Timothy M. Waring
Current Anthropology
Vol. 53, No. 5 (October 2012), pp. 642-649
DOI: 10.1086/666942
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/666942
Page Count: 8
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Cooperation Dynamics in a Multiethnic Society
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Abstract

The importance of ethnic diversity in determining social outcomes and reducing generalized cooperation is increasingly well documented. Theory suggests that cooperation in human groups may depend on reciprocal altruism and frequency of contact, yet these factors have not been linked with ethnic diversity. This study explores how fine-scale components of cooperation—social exclusivity and reciprocity—relate to broad-scale social conditions—ethnic diversity and ethnic stratification—in villages in Tamil Nadu’s Palani hills. Both ethnic diversity and ethnic stratification are associated with declines in indirect reciprocity, although stratification has a larger effect. In addition, stratification is linked to increased social exclusivity. Moreover, measures of direct reciprocity in the form of agricultural labor exchanges are uncorrelated with both diversity and stratification. These results imply (1) that ethnic stratification is more detrimental to cooperation than is ethnic diversity, (2) that social exclusivity and ethnic stratification are mutually reinforcing, and (3) that direct reciprocity is more robust to cooperative failure across ethnic boundaries than is indirect reciprocity. These results confirm and extend current theory of human cooperative regimes and may be of value for community development in multiethnic settings.

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