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Unformatted text preview: Status and egalitarianism in traditional communities: An analysis of funeral attendance in six Zimbabwean villages * Abigail Barr CSAE, University of Oxford Mattea Stein CSAE, University of Oxford October 2008 Abstract This paper explores two hypotheses concerning the role of status in rela- tionships between rich and poor in traditional communities by analyzing who goes to whose funerals in six Zimbabwean villages. Funerals allow status to be observed because non-attendance is a sign of disrespect. We nd that the richer a household hosting a funeral, the less likely heads of neighbouring households are to attend. Thus, the status-for-insurance hypothesis that the poor bestow status upon the rich in return for help in times of need is rejected in favour of the egalitarianism hypothesis that richer households are denied status. * This analysis would not have been possible without the hard work, charm and perseverance of Nyaradzo Dzobo, our sole enumerator on this project. We owe her a huge debt of gratitude. The research design and the collection of the funeral attendance data was funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) under ESCOR grant R7650. The writing up was jointly funded by DFID and the Economic and Social Research Council under grant RES-167-25-0372. 1 Introduction The concept of status is often discussed in sociology and anthropology, but rarely in economics. However, economic and social behaviour do not happen independently of one another especially in traditional communities, i.e., small, agrarian communities in countries with weak, formal institutions. If, as many sociologists have proposed (Weiss and Fershtman, 1998: 803), status is seen as a social reward, it should enter individuals' cost-bene t analyses in the same way as economic rewards. Status then becomes a good that can be exchanged for more material things and disrespect and social ostracism, both means of status reduction, can be used as punishments since they are costly to the recipient. With this in mind, the role of status in the relationship between the poor and the rich in traditional communities could take two forms. First, the rich could provide something the poor want in return for the poor bestowing status upon them in a kind of gift-exchange. Poorer households are more vulnerable to the e ects of negative shocks than their richer neighbours, so an exchange of status for insurance may be mutually attractive and would lead to a positive relationship between economic prosperity and status. We will refer to this below as the `status-for-insurance hypothesis'. However, if egalitarian norms prevail and rule against individual accumulation, the rich might be subject to punishment in the form of social ostracism and status reduction. And this would lead to a negative relationship between economic prosperity and status. We will refer to this below as the `egalitarianism hypothesis'. Both hypotheses are discussed in greater detail in Section 2....
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