Cooperation and Competition in Social Anthropology

In an article published by Psychology Today, various authors under the name of Molina worked together to present their opinions on “Cooperation and competition in social anthropology”. This article targeted towards other anthropologists and individuals interested in competition, deconstructs typical attitudes about the viciousness of competition and instead brings to light how it exists harmoniously in the world alongside cooperation.

Using three examples of mechanisms within society, Molina highlights the differences of tribes,  hunter-gatherer band’s and peasant moral economies. Yet in the end ties together how they are all similar.

Molina addresses the hunter-gatherer ways of those past who were dependent on one another for their very survival. Living in moderate size groups individuals in clans would partake in “continuous redistribution” of goods to ensure equality of some sort and the well being of all members. This demonstrates that even during the primitive stages of mankind humans had desires to keep competition away by sharing and cooperating with one another. Cooperation in itself was the building block towards the modern day world as we know it.

However Molina doesn’t brandish competition in as harsh a light as compared to Bateson and Hutcheon. Instead they acknowledge and accept the existence of it and state how it is present in all societies. Although it is an idea humans would be better off without, the removal of it from society is nearly impossible.

In a fellow students reflection @silaslm wrote that “Society thrives when competition pushes individuals to accomplish their best work in their respective field, and these advancements are shared with the world”. This sentence seemed to clearly convey the presence of both ideas in the world, and how one should not be valued over the other as they are equally important. Without conflict or struggle it is nearly impossible to improve and find better solutions to situations. Just as without competition, we cannot learn to cooperate.

#WRDS150 #Anthropology #Molina #Competition


  1. I am especially in agreement with your final sentiments in your reading-response, namely that without competition we cannot learn to cooperate. What is perhaps most interesting in the reading, relative to the abovementioned sentiment, is the theoretical starting point of social anthropologists, who believe that cooperation came before competition in the evolution of human societies. Although if this is fundamentally true, then it is difficult to conceive how selfishness and the will to destroy or compete became such foundational aspects not only of our individual psyches but also of the social fabric of the world.
    As with the previous class readings, which offer up critiques of competition and celebrations of cooperation, I found this reading to be slightly uncompelling in the point it was trying to make. However, the findings of the social anthropologists do provide insight into the complexity of societal evolutions and the possibility that this kind of evolution was very different in nature from individual, genetic-based evolution.


  2. Thank you for your response. It is indeed quite interesting the concrete and historical definitions of what cooperation and competition are considering how misleading they are today. Modern day meaning to both concepts seem to lack the integral value of the original ideas, so it definitely can be leading especially when individuals such as anthropologists try to prove their points/beliefs.


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