Norm enforcement among the Ju/'hoansi Bushmen: A case of strong reciprocity?

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160 Scopus citations


The concept of cooperative communities that enforce norm conformity through reward, as well as shaming, ridicule, and ostracism, has been central to anthropology since the work of Durkheim. Prevailing approaches from evolutionary theory explain the willingness to exert sanctions to enforce norms as self-interested behavior, while recent experimental studies suggest that altruistic rewarding and punishing-"strong reciprocity"-play an important role in promoting cooperation. This paper will use data from 308 conversations among the Ju/'hoansi (!Kung) Bushmen (a) to examine the dynamics of norm enforcement, (b) to evaluate the costs of punishment in a forager society and understand how they are reduced, and (c) to determine whether hypotheses that center on individual self-interest provide sufficient explanations for bearing the costs of norm enforcement, or whether there is evidence for strong reciprocity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-145
Number of pages31
JournalHuman Nature
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Altruism
  • Ju/'hoansi Bushmen (San)
  • Norm regulation
  • Punishment
  • Strong reciprocity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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