Strategic considerations in essentialist reasoning: A cross-cultural test across two Latin American indigenous language boundaries
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However, very little work has examined individual variation in essentialist intuitions outside of WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) contexts (Henrich et al. 2010; although see Padilla-Iglesias et al. 2020), nor explored potential mechanisms that could lead to such variation. This is problematic because social group taxonomies in WEIRD societies are likely to be unrepresentative of those around the world for several reasons. For example, in many WEIRD societies ethnic taxonomies are largely racialized, focusing on biological phenotypic markers, such as skin tone, associated with ancestry. In the US, this is in large part due to specific histories of chattel slavery and long distance migrations (Sharfstein 2006) that does not characterize most of the world. This suggests that individual variation in essentialist intuitions in such societies may not parallel the variation we see in other societies.
In much of the world ethno-linguistic groups are common forms of social organization and identification (Schieffelin, Woolard, & Kroskrity, 1998; Irvine & Gal, 2000; Kinzler and DeJesus, 2013; Wiessner, 1983; Richerson et al. 2016). These are often prescriptively endogamous (i.e. people are encouraged to marry within the group). This may allow people to maintain beliefs that identities are stable between and within generations (Gil-White 2001). However, essentialist intuitions in such societies are likely to be shaped and challenged by local migration patterns and in situ cultural changes associated with modernization and globalization. Despite endogamous prescriptions, short range migrations are common enough to limit genetic divergence between ethnolinguistic communities. Such migration may limit ideas about identities being fixed, or minimally accommodate people changing residence and developing affinal (in-law) kinship ties. Furthermore, cultural evolutionary processes can change the set of available identities. For example, over at least the last two centuries the expansion of nation states has meant that ethnolinguistic identities have confronted new supraordinate national identities (e.g. American, Peruvian etc.). Global political and economic forces have similarly expanded the range of identities that interact with more traditional ethnolinguistic ones (e.g. identities related to market integration or education). These new identities may be compatible with ethnolinguistic ones, or compete with them, as is illustrated by conflicts over language use in government, educational, and domestic spheres during the consolidation of nation states and with globalizing influences (Padilla-Iglesias et al. 2020; Mattison and Sear, 2016; Kandler et al. 2010). However, less is known about how different stakeholders adjust their notions of identity when minority language users confront dominant state languages. Do people adjust their essentialist beliefs strategically under such circumstances? If so, how flexible is this system, and which individual circumstances influence people's essentialist intuitions?
Here we provide the first systematic comparative test of strategic essentialism among modernizing indigenous communities. Our main outcome is a professed belief in the fixedness of malleability of ethnolinguistic group identities as gauged by responses to hypothetical scenarios. Since we measure judgements regarding third parties, rather than behavior, some explanation of how such ideologies may be strategic is merited. It is true that people may profess one kind of essentialist belief, but act in a way inconsistent with the argument. However such inconsistency and hypocrisy likely comes with social costs such as ostracism or punishment (Sacco et al. 2014). As such we suggest that within-population variation in people’s professed beliefs reflects norms and rules by which they would like to be judged, or of which that they would like to persuade others (Mercier & Sperber 2011).
We examine variation in essentialism across two Latin American indigenous language boundaries; the Mayan language speakers in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, and Quechua and Aymara speakers in the Altiplano in Peru. In both contexts rapid socioeconomic changes are taking place as a result of globalization, the expansion of state educational systems, and increased participation in the market economy. In the Peruvian Altiplano, people traditionally practiced subsistence agro-pastoralism, whilst in the Yucatan Peninsula they subsisted off of maize agriculture. However, recent market integration has led more villages to increasingly participate in market activities in nearby urban centres or rural towns. These economic activities are often practiced in conjunction with traditional modes of subsistence (Moya and Boyd, 2015; Padilla-Iglesias et al. in press; Kramer et al. 2016). In both sites most young adults are now competent in Spanish, mainly due to greater access to formal education (which is exclusively provided in Spanish at the research sites). For older individuals and those who have not completed schooling, differential engagement in market-based activities is an important source of variation in exposure to, and use of, Spanish, and to the extent to which they are exposed to Spanish-speaking individuals who do not belong to their ethnolinguistic communities. Previous analysis of data from the Yucatan reveals that monolingual Mayan participants (i.e. those who do not speak Spanish) have more essentialist beliefs about Maya identity than do bilingual participants. This supports the notion that such beliefs about the nature of identity are flexible, and possibly strategically changed. We extend this analysis by 1) comparing two cultural contexts, and 2) considering individual social and economic positions that may change essentialist intuitions. Given the modernizing forces described above, the Peruvian and Mexicansettings are ideal for exploring whether humans can flexibly adapt their essentialist beliefs in ways that are strategically useful as cultural landscapes change. We do so by testing whether individual's social and economic positions within society explain intra-population variation in one important element in essentialist reasoning; beliefs about the inheritance and fixedness of ethnolinguistic identities.
- 2021-09-08 20:06:40
- 2021-09-08 20:04:25.436081+00:00
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Social and Behavioral Sciences
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Biological and Physical Anthropology
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