The Inevitable Coexistence of Cooperation and Competition in terms of Social Anthropology

Co-operation and competition is an essential and inevitable aspect of all known human societies, ranging from hunter gatherer “bands” to the most modern and complex ones. While co-operation and competition are often regarded as opposites, according to J.L Molina, M.J Lubbers, H. Venezuela-Garcia, and S. Gomez-Mestres, authors of “Cooperation and Competition in Social Anthropology”, they are two separate dimensions which always coexist. These claims are supported through the analysis of various means of co-operation in different types of societies. While anthropologist and literary theorist Mary Catherine Bateson and Linda Hutcheon argue that competition hinders development and has no place in the academic community, J.L Molina, M.J Lubbers, H. Venezuela-Garcia, and S. Gomez-Mestres offer a increasingly rational and subjective perspective in the analysis if the relationship between co-operation and competition.

Competition within and between societies is unavoidable. In his book: Embracing Contraries William Blake even argues some competition or contrary thought is necessary for progress. Despite this, Molina states societies use co-operation, which he describes as a “trend of human evolution”, to answer competition, not to eliminate it as Bateson and Hutcheon would suggest. Molina’s claim is backed by relevant anthropological studies into hunter-gatherer’s, tribal societies, and peasant societies which strictly correlate to his argument. He refers to the  “cooperate frequently and share fully” rule of the Ache people of Paraguay, the role of “primitive money” used to control competition in tribal societies, and the patron-client relationships of peasant communities. On the other hand, Bateson sites the bible and the endosymbiotic theory, while Hutcheon relies on first hand, personal experiences and a narrow focus into competition regarding academic discourse to back her arguments, rendering Molina’s argument far more relevant and credible. In addition, “Cooperation and competition in social anthropology” is published in a Anthropology Volume with extensive citation as opposed to Bateson’s speech and Hutcheon’s informal essay delivered in the first person.

Competition and cooperation must coexist in any functioning human society.  While studying the two within social anthropology it can be observed that regardless of the type of society, both exist and have their own unique relationship. They are interconnected and unavoidable. Thus the argument to dismiss competition is rendered fundamentally futile.




1 Comment

  1. Although you conclude that the argument to dismiss competition is rendered futile, I would argue that your very own example of the Ache people of eastern Paraguay from the text, would suggest otherwise. Hunter-gatherer societies such as these are primarily based on cooperation, eschewing all forms of competition. This would indicate that it is indeed possible for a society to thrive on cooperation alone, without the need for competition.


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