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Dynamics in Human and Primate SocietiesAgent-Based Modeling of Social and Spatial Processes$
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Timothy A. Kohler and George J. Gumerman

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780195131673

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195131673.001.0001

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The Political Impact of Marriage in a Virtual Polynesian Society

The Political Impact of Marriage in a Virtual Polynesian Society

(p.225) The Political Impact of Marriage in a Virtual Polynesian Society
Dynamics in Human and Primate Societies

Cathy A. Small

Oxford University Press

Computer modeling, because it abstracts cultural processes and quantifies social variables, is often seen as contradictory to the rich qualitative rendering of culture that ethnography offers. In this chapter, I attempt to show that computer modeling and ethnography can go hand-in-glove. Using an agent-based model of Polynesian social dynamics, I demonstrate how simulation can aid an ethnographer in better understanding the ethnographic record, in this case, the relationship between marriage customs and stratification in Tonga. In a more abstract sense, I suggest that agent-based models, simulated over time, can elucidate the relationship between individual or group (human) decisions and the social structures which both result from and constrain those decisions. In so doing, simulation can provide new insights into the ethnographic record, edifying structural relationships, helping to generate explanations for phenomena, or pointing to the most fruitful places to go in the ethnographic record for new insights. Marriage in Polynesia both reflects and creates political fortunes by affecting the kinship and exchange relationships among lines, the pattern of chiefly alliances, and the transmission of rank over generations (Sahlins 1958; Biersack 1982; Huntsman 1975; Goldman 1970; Linnekin 1990; Shore 1976; Kaeppler 1971; Gailey 1987; Valeri 1972). The significance of marriage preferences or restrictions in the political process is often understood by historical example, that is by the advantages that accrued to particular lines or chiefs who enacted particular types of marriages. Thus, for instance, to understand Tongan "kitetama" marriage (where a man marries his mother's brother's daughter), Bott (1982:77) generalizes from particular examples of kitetama marriages, suggesting that this marriage custom strengthens a man's tie with his mother's people and, over time, serves to reinforce kinship and alliance ties over generations between a brother's and sister's lines. What we cannot tell from such an analysis is if this marriage form has any implications for the development and evolution of chiefdoms as a whole.

Keywords:   agent-based modeling, computer-based cultural testbed, ethnographic record, kinship, social variables

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