Our mini-grant competition: The winners

Here are the winners of the 2010 mini-grant competition organised by the International Cognition and Culture Institute and funded by the Programme in Culture & Cognition at the LSE to encourage anthropologists to perform in the field an experimental study on children’s and adults’ reasoning about human social kinds:

Tamara Hale (LSE): "Essentialism without groups in an afro-descendent village in Peru." Cristina Moya (UCLA): "The evolution of ethnic categorization: Cross-cultural and developmental tests of innate priors in urban US and the Peruvian altiplano." Zohar Rotem (The New School for Social Research, New York): "The role of linguistic difference in bilingual children’s essentialist reasoning about social kinds in Israel" Cătălina Tesar and Radu Umbreş (University College London): "Blood, beakers and dowries. An inquiry into essentialist thinking about kinship and ethnicity among Cortorari Roma in Romania"

We congratulate the winners and express our gratitude to all the participants in the competition!

for a brief description of the winning projets,
 

Tamara Hale: Essentialism without groups?

In different ethnographic contexts Peruvian adults in the afro-descendent village of Yapatera reveal two different views of raza, or ‘race’. One view posits race as an underlying, invisible, unchangeable essence given at birth. The other stresses the individuality of appearance and a preference for “mixing” which denies the relevance of sharp boundaries between races. Yapateranos do not, in general, understand themselves to be part of a black collectivity. And while they seem to reason “essentialistically” about race as a category they do not necessarily apply this to their understanding of social groups. But might cognitive tasks reveal that ‘racial’ groups are essentialised in the same way as individuals, despite powerful cultural idioms to the contrary? And are racial groups more “essential” than other kinds of groups? How does race as a group unifying symbol or idiom compare to other categories for building groups such as kinship, geographical unit, or religion? Is the cultural idiom of mixing a response to a situation where intermediates are much more common than pure categories and does it counter cognitive conceptions of racial categories as immutable? These questions will be explored through a series of experimental tasks conducted with adults and children in Yapatera.

Cristina Moya: The evolution of ethnic categorization: Cross-cultural and developmental tests of innate priors in urban US and the Peruvian altiplano.

Categorization systems promote predictions under conditions of uncertainty or incomplete information. Granting such a functionalist framework for social cognition, I wish to test whether there is evidence for innate biases for forming stereotypes about social kinds delimited by ethnic markers (e.g. dialect, symbolic markings or costumes). Such cognitive attractors could reveal a history of selection for living in culturally evolved ethnic groups. I plan on testing these hypotheses using cross-cultural comparisons between Los Angeles and Peru on the Quechua-Aymara linguistic boundary, and developmental comparisons of adults’ and children’s reasoning strategies on 1) inductive inference, 2) memory recognition, and 3) memory recall and reproduction tasks.

Zohar Rotem: The role of linguistic difference in bilingual children’s essentialist reasoning about social kinds in Israel

An ethnographic, child-centered study of an integrated bilingual (Hebrew/Arabic) kindergarten in Beer Sheva, Israel revealed young (3-6 year old) children’s tendency to privilege language as the carrier of Jewish and Arab essences. Three experiments were designed to further probe the nature of this lay theory of social kind difference. Experiment 1 is a match to sample triad task, in which language will be pitted against group label, name, religious practice, and appearance to test for its relative inductive potential. Experiment 2 asks children to evaluate the transformation of a person whose only spoken language was magically changed. They are asked to asses whether this linguistic transformation caused further transformation in the person’s group label, name, religious practice, and appearance. In Experiment 3 children are be asked to guess the group label, name, religion, and appearance of an evenly bilingual person. A survey of adults in the school community (parents and staff) is used to compare adults’ views to children’s theory of social kind difference.

Cătălina Tesar and Radu Umbreş: Blood, beakers and dowries. An inquiry into essentialist thinking about kinship and ethnicity among Cortorari Roma in Romania

This project will study the way kinship relationships and ethnic affiliation are mentally represented by a group of Romanian Roma. Using an experimental methodology, we plan to inquire the thinking that Romas use for classifying people into kin and ethnic groups on the basis of biological filiation and cultural upbringing. Subjects will be asked to reason about physiological and psychological resemblance and inheritance rights of hypothetical switched-at-birth children and their answers will be analyzed on the background of local cultural metaphors and social practices. The results for children and adults will be compared in order to explore the developmental phases of essentialist thinking. The research will further explore the relationship between innate mental processes and transmitted representations of gender and descent.

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