Status and Egalitarianism in traditional communities: An analysis of funeral attendance in six Zimbabwean villages

Seminar date: 
16 October 2008
Speaker(s): Abigail Barr and Mattea Stein (CSAE, University of Oxford)

Abigail Barr researches the role of formal and informal institutions - internalized social preferences, norms and networks - in determining economic outcomes. Abigail uses behavioural experiments, surveys, and structured group interviews to generate original data relating to individual behaviour within a diverse range of social contexts and analyses this data using simple and advanced econometric methods. Current projects include studies of network and group formation in rural Zimbabwe and Colombia, the role of intrinsic motivations in local systems of accountability in the Ugandan education sector, and cross cultural variations in inequality aversion and anti-corruption norms.

Mattea Stein recently completed an MSc. in Development Economics at the University of Oxford. The current paper builds on her Masters dissertation. Mattea is now working as a research assistant on a project investigating network and group formation for collective action in rural Zimbabwe.

Discussant: Erik Bähre, Department of Cultural Anthropology, University of Leiden

This paper explores two hypotheses concerning the role of status in relationships 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 find 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.