Human Nature

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 115–145 | Cite as

Norm enforcement among the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen

A case of strong reciprocity?
  • Polly WiessnerEmail author


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.

Key words

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


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© Transaction Publishers 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake City

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