PASADENA, Calif. – Social norms instruct much of human social interaction in all societies and they often flavor profound differences across cultures. But where do such norms come from, and more interestingly, how and why do they change over time and what impact do they have on economic performance?
Jean Ensminger, a professor of anthropology and chair of the division of the humanities and social sciences at the California Institute of Technology, will discuss these topics in her talk "Experimenting with Social Norms," the third of the 2003-2004 Earnest C. Watson Lecture Series at Caltech. Her talk will take place on Wednesday, November 19, at 8 pm.
Ensminger will base her talk on research she's conducted since 1978 with the Orma tribe, partially nomadic cattle herders who live in northeastern Kenya, near the Somali border.
"It's an unusual data set in that regard," says Ensminger. "One of the wonderful things about being an anthropologist is the relationships you develop with people over time. The longer I work in my field site the more rewarding the research becomes. I have seen profound changes in this society. And appearances can be deceiving--despite the fact that people still live in grass houses with no running water or electricity, and where there are few roads, you would be amazed to hear of some of the extraordinary changes in gender relations, social structure, and culture that are unfolding each year. It is extremely difficult to begin to unravel the processes that drive these changes without a longitudinal perspective--that is exactly what I am attempting to do now."
Her talk will also present experimental economic research from a collaborative project with more than a dozen fellow anthropologists who have worked in other hunting and gathering, horticultural, herding, and industrial societies. Such data from controlled experiments conducted around the world, she says, help to flesh out the processes involved in the co-evolution of market institutions with social norms that govern cooperation, fairness, and trust.
Ensminger's lecture will take place in Beckman Auditorium, near Michigan Avenue south of Del Mar Boulevard, on Caltech's campus in Pasadena. Seating is available on a free, no-ticket-required, first-come, first-served basis.
Caltech has offered the Watson Lecture Series since 1922, when it was conceived by the late Caltech physicist Earnest Watson as a way to explain science to the local community.