Re: primordial groups competing

Julian O'Dea (jodea@MAILHOST.DPIE.GOV.AU)
Tue, 6 Aug 1996 10:35:24 +1000

I (Julian O'Dea) wrote:

>> I personally like this concept of small groups of humans competing (band vs
>> band) to arrive at a successful cultural adaptation. I have toyed with the
>> idea that maybe the evolution of art, sport, games, may have been due to
>> their value as "displacement activities" and ways of reducing intra-group
>> tension. Groups which had cultural means of reducing tension would have
>> been more effective and cohesive.

Thomas Kavanagh commented:

>Please go back and look at the basic ethnographies of band societies. You
>will notice that bands are not bounded units. Bands -- or rather the
>individuals which make them up -- constantly form, disperse, reform,
>reorganize, etc. according to changes in the social and natural
>environment, annual cycles as well as long term changes . This is not to
>say that resource competition did not/does not occur, but don't phrase
>your hypotheses in terms of self-consciously bounded units.


>[Group self-consciousness (ethnogenesis) is logically a secondary, if not
>a tertiary, step in a processual trajectory of political-economic
>organization and reorganization. It occurs within groups that are (1)
>already focused toward preexisting political-economic goals, and (2) whose
>achievement of those goals is perceived by them to be hindered by
>competitors. Certainly, although the primary political processes of
>organization and reorganization for resource exploitation may invoke a
>self-identification, it is at first as a subjective, collective,
>inclusive, and communitas identification, not the objective, chauvinistic,
>exclusive, and oppositional identification of nationalism.

I was not really envisioning self-conscious group identity and certainly
not nationalism.

> Ethnogenesis is only one of several trajectories that might be
>followed by a group facing competition. When a group discovers a
>competitor for its resources, its options are either to ignore the
>competition, to disperse (i.e., deciding that it was not worth the effort
>to maintain the organization in the face of competition), or to meet the
>challenge. Only if the group decides to meet the challenge are its options
>focused by the need to utilize existing social and cultural structures, or
>to develop new ones. Finally, of those latter choices, the focus on an
>explicitly nationalistic identity is only one of several options.
>[from Kavanagh, Comanche Political History: An Ethnohistorical Perspective

Thank you for this.

It had occurred to me that intra-group tension will always have been a
problem among humans and that some cultural behaviour may have had its
genesis in tension-releasing "displacement" activities, perhaps of a
typical primate type (jumping around, throwing things aimlessly, smearing
material). Perhaps these displacement activities developed into art,
sport, games, dancing.

I was only floating the idea to see if anyone had any thoughts. Perhaps it
is a dumb idea or perhaps, alternatively, it is an old idea. What I was
getting at was that tension-reducing activities could have been a valuable
cultural feature for any human group and perhaps some of the cultural
features we still see in the human species (art, sport, games, dancing) may
have had their beginnings in this respect.

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