For the Enter Shikari album, see Tribalism (album).

Tribalism is the state of being organized in, or an advocate for, a tribe or tribes. In terms of conformity, tribalism may also refer in popular cultural terms to a way of thinking or behaving in which people are (excessively) loyal to their own tribe or social group.[1]

Tribalism has been defined in as a 'way of being' based upon variable combinations of kinship-based organization, reciprocal exchange, manual production, oral communication, and analogical enquiry.[2] Ontologically, tribalism is oriented around the valences of analogy, genealogy and mythology. This means that customary tribes have their social foundations in some variation of these tribal orientations, while at the same time often taking on traditional practices (including through religions of the book such as Christianity and Islam), and modern practices, including monetary exchange, mobile communications, and modern education.[3]

The social structure of a tribe can vary greatly from case to case, but, due to the relatively small size of customary tribes, social life in those kinds of tribes usually involves a relatively undifferentiated role structure, with few significant political or economic distinctions between individuals.[4]

Tribalism implies the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates one member of a group from the members of another group. Based on strong relations of proximity and kinship, members of a tribe tend to possess a strong feeling of identity. Objectively, for a customary tribal society to form there needs to be ongoing customary organization, enquiry and exchange. However, subjectively, intense feelings of common identity can lead people to feel tribally connected.[5] The distinction between these two definitions for tribalism - objective and subjective - is an important one because, while tribal societies have been pushed to the edges of the Western world, tribalism, by this second definition, is arguably undiminished. A few writers have postulated that the human brain is hard-wired towards tribalism due to its evolutionary advantages, however this claim is usually linked to equating original questions of sociality with tribalism.[6]

Many tribes refer to themselves with their language's word for "people," while referring to other, neighboring tribes with various epithets. For example, the term "Inuit" translates as "people," but they were known to the Ojibwe by a name 'Eskimo' translating roughly as "eaters of raw meat."[7]

Tribalism and violence

Anthropologists engage in ongoing debate on the phenomenon of warfare among tribes. While fighting typically and certainly occurs among horticultural tribes, an open question remains whether such warfare is a typical feature of hunter-gatherer life, or an anomaly found only in certain circumstances, such as scarce resources (as with the Inuit or Arabs), or only among food-producing societies.[8][9] There is also ambiguous evidence whether the level of violence among tribal societies is greater or lesser than the levels of violence among civilized societies.

Tribes use forms of subsistence such as horticulture and foraging which cannot yield the same number of absolute calories as agriculture. This limits tribal populations significantly, especially when compared to agricultural populations.[10] Lawrence Keeley writes in War Before Civilization that examples exist with low percentage rates of casualties in tribal battle, and that some tribal battles were much more lethal as a percentage of population than, for example, the Battle of Gettysburg. He concludes that no evidence consistently indicates that primitive battles are proportionately less lethal than civilized ones.[11]

Tribalism and evolution

Tribalism has a very adaptive effect in human evolution. Humans are social animals, and ill-equipped to live on their own.[12] Tribalism and social bonding help to keep individuals committed to the group, even when personal relations may fray. This keeps individuals from wandering off or joining other groups. It also leads to bullying when a tribal member is unwilling to conform to the politics of the collective.[13]

Socially, divisions between groups fosters specialized interactions with others, based on association: altruism (positive interactions with unrelated members), kin-selectivity (positive interactions with related members), and violence (negative interactions). Thus, groups with a strong sense of unity and identity can benefit from kin selection behavior such as common property and shared resources. The tendency of members to unite against an outside tribe and the ability to act violently and prejudicially against that outside tribe likely boosted the chances of survival in genocidal conflicts.

Modern examples of tribal genocide rarely reflect the defining characteristics of tribes existing prior to the Neolithic Revolution—for example, small population and close-relatedness.

According to a study by Robin Dunbar at the University of Liverpool, primate brain size is determined by social group size.[14] Dunbar's conclusion was that most human brains can only really understand an average of 150 individuals as fully developed, complex people (Known as Dunbar's number). In contrast, anthropologist H. Russell Bernard and Peter Killworth have done a variety of field studies in the United States that came up with an estimated mean number of ties, 290, that is roughly double Dunbar's estimate. The Bernard–Killworth median of 231 is lower, due to upward straggle in the distribution, but still appreciably larger than Dunbar's estimate.[15][16][17]

Malcolm Gladwell expanded on this conclusion sociologically in his book, The Tipping Point where one of his types - Connectors - were successful due to their larger than average number of close friendships and capacity for maintaining them which tie otherwise unconnected social groups together. According to these studies, then, "tribalism" is in some sense an inescapable fact of human neurology, simply because many human brains are not adapted to working with large populations. Once a person's limit for connection is reached, the human brain must resort to some combination of hierarchical schemes, stereotypes, and other simplified models in order to understand so many people.

See also


  1. Definition of tribalism; Definition of tribalism by Macmillan dictionary
  2. James, Paul (2006). Globalism, Nationalism, Tribalism: Bringing Theory Back In. London: Sage Publications.
  3. James, Paul. et al., Sustainable Communities, Sustainable Development: Other Paths for Papua New Guinea (2012) pdf download
  4. Max Gluckman (2007). "Social beliefs and individual Thinking in Tribal Society". In Robert A. Manners; David Kaplan. Anthropological Theory. Transaction Publishers. pp. 453–464. ISBN 978-0-202-36133-8.
  5. Kanakasena Dekā; Kanakasena Ḍekā (1993). Assam's Crisis: Myth & Reality. Mittal Publications. pp. 90. ISBN 978-81-7099-473-2.
  6. Erich Fromm; Michael MacCoby (1970). Social Character in a Mexican Village. Transaction Publishers. pp. xi. ISBN 978-1-56000-876-7.
  7. Karen Lowther; Evan-Moor Educational Publishers (2003). Native Americans: Grades 1-3. Evan-Moor. pp. 14. ISBN 978-1-55799-901-6.
  8. Douglas P. Fry (2007). Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace. Oxford University Press. pp. 114–115. ISBN 978-0-19-530948-5.
  9. Lawrence H. Keeley (1997). War Before Civilization. Oxford University Press. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-0-19-988070-6.
  10. Kumar Suresh Singh (1982). Economies of the tribes and their transformation. Concept. pp. 22.
  11. Lawrence H. Keeley (1997). War Before Civilization. Oxford University Press. pp. 63–65. ISBN 978-0-19-988070-6.
  12. Isaacs, Harold Robert (1975). Idols of the Tribe: Group Identity and Political Change. Harvard University Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-674-44315-0.
  13. Jenks, Chris (1998). Core Sociological Dichotomies. SAGE Publications. p. 339. ISBN 978-1-4462-6463-8.
  14. Dunbar, Robin I. M. (2010). How many friends does one person need?: Dunbar's number and other evolutionary quirks. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-25342-3.
  15. McCarty, C.; Killworth, P. D.; Bernard, H. R.; Johnsen, E.; Shelley, G. (2000). "Comparing Two Methods for Estimating Network Size". Human Organization. 60 (1): 28–39.
  16. Bernard, H. Russell; Shelley, Gene Ann; Killworth, Peter (1987). "How Much of a Network does the GSS and RSW Dredge Up?". Social Networks. 9 (1): 49–63. doi:10.1016/0378-8733(87)90017-7.
  17. H. Russell Bernard. "Honoring Peter Killworth's contribution to social network theory." Paper presented to the University of Southampton, 28 September 2006.

External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/12/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.