Cooperation and Competition: The means of human societies

Molina et al. composed an anthropological view of the relationship between competition and cooperation among three categories of society and human behaviour; ‘Hunter Gatherers’, ‘Tribes’, and ‘Peasants’ and used these different categories of past tribal societies to show redolence of human behaviour today. In their introduction they articulate the goal of the article while emphasizing the effort and contributions of social anthropology to the topic, perhaps adding value to it. They open the article by posing the question, “Why do humans cooperate so extensively?”, an engaging prompt right off the bat – and they likely succeeded as its not clear if that assertion is exactly true to everybody, do humans truly cooperate to a large extent, or do we just compete and cooperate by default? Furthermore, in the introduction of the article, Molina et al. identifies three primary mechanisms for the evolution of cooperation: kin selection, reciprocity, and group selection, where they ultimately define these terms

The body of the article is divided into the three parts; Hunter Gatherers, Tribes, and Peasants where the concepts of kin selection, reciprocity, and group selection are experimented with to carry the articles prompt and rhetoric. The general theme that was carried out throughout the body was that cooperation and competition have a mutual relationship and have complimented each other through out human history. Molina et al. use examples and situations such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma implying that human societies use practices to solidify and maintain reciprocity. Molina et al. takes a rather optimistic, “we need each other to prosper”- type stance, but as @silaslm noted, authors such as Bateson and Hutcheon have taken up quite the contrast with their view of competition among human societies. The question posed, “Why do humans cooperate so extensively?”, is not objective to everybody, but it does a good job in asking for the readers consent to engage in their rhetoric and essentially hear them out. They didn’t ask “Do human cooperate extensively”, but rather “Why?”, perhaps an attempt of coercion.

Given the information and supporting evidence, Molina et al. shows that human societies exemplify and embody these tendencies of cooperation and ultimately competition in a productive manner in the global human community, in fact human community is to be built on it. Molina et al. gives us a nuanced understanding of competition in the categories of past human societies, Hunter-gatherers, tribes, and peasants. The social anthropologists of this article did a good job in articulating their ideas and attaching supporting evidence. Cooperation is showed through the article to be a a large factor in human society’s productivity and ultimately that both cooperation and competition must and have coexisted productively. Molina et al. completes the article with a subtle admittance that there may be more to study, “we suggest that future modelling might explore in more detail the coexistence of cooperations and competition”.

#WRDS150 #11M #Anthropology 


  1. Hey Blake,
    I liked your point highlighting the phrasing of the question “why do humans cooperate so extensively?”. I think it’s interesting that the way we phrase the question is the way the answer will be constructed. We use the assumptions of the facts of the question’s elements to construct our hypothesis. It almost renders argument a type of science, where we form a claim (hypothesis) and then test it against our supposed cause. Building off what you said about there being more to study, what do you think those things are?


  2. Hi xlblake,
    Thanks for this great response. I’m really interested in your comment on the diction with the word “why”. I don’t think Molina et al try to coerce readers to engage in this reading. Social anthropology is the subject focus on a broad way to study human within group or community in certain society. The reading itself was written for other social anthropologists, this indicates that all targeted readers would consider the mentioned cooperation is among human in general not referring to individual. Readers might not agree with the idea of extensive cooperation on individual level, but they would agree if this idea is framed as a universal phenomenon among human beings. Although I don’t find any coercion here, but this diction can certainly force readers to engage in certain context. This might be a writing trick I would use one day.


  3. Hey Blake, i also really like the point on how the question “why do humans cooperate so extensively?” was phrased, it is like the authors assumed that the people already knew that humans cooperate extensively.
    i also like how you pointed out that Bateson and Hutcheon viewed competition in a completely different way. Therefore, i am interested in knowing if you can give a rather brief answer to the question “why do humans cooperate so extensively?”.


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