Over the years, members of the HRAF team have conducted research projects to describe cultural variation and to test theories about how and why cultures in the past and present vary. Examples include:
- Food staples and preferences around the world
- Variation and predictors of family violence
- Evaluating the “democracies rarely fight each other” hypothesis against societies in the anthropological record
Current and Recent Research
For the last 6 six years, the HRAF research team, led by Carol R. Ember, has been working on joint projects with a team at the George Mason Center for Social Complexity, led by Claudio Cioffi-Revilla. The projects aim to develop computational models of socio-natural systems that integrate cultural dynamics and environmental change. The HRAF team has focused on gathering comparative data to help make model assumptions accurate and to systematically test hypotheses using data on recent and contemporary societies. The first project (funded by an ONR MURI grant) focused on eastern Africa, an area plagued by both climate-related disasters and violence. The current project (funded by the CDI program at NSF) focuses more broadly on sub-Saharan Africa and the Nordic and Boreal regions, where climate change is occurring rapidly.
Regional Eastern African Cross-Cultural Comparisons
Focusing on a broad region of eastern Africa, we have conducted cross-cultural comparisons using ethnographic information (drawn from eHRAF World Cultures, the larger HRAF Collection of Ethnography, and from other ethnographic sources) to test theories about type and frequency of warfare and the conduct of warfare. Our research suggests that:
- Climate-related disasters (e.g., drought) increases the likelihood of warfare.
- Climate-related disasters and other resource problems have a complex relationship to taking resources.
- Climate-related disasters do not increase the likelihood of atrocities committed during warfare.
- State societies are more likely than nonstate to commit atrocities.
- Societies with more local political participation have less internal fighting and commit fewer atrocities during warfare.
Carol R. Ember, Teferi Abate Adem, and Ian Skoggard. 2013. Risk, uncertainty, and violence in eastern Africa: a cross-regional comparison. Human Nature 24: 33-58. Preprint
Carol R. Ember, Eric C. Jones, Ian Skoggard, and Teferi Abate Adem. n.d. Participatory Polities, Internal Warfare, and Atrocities: An Eastern African Regional Comparison (under review)
Research on Violence in Kenya
Using media reports on violence from 1998-2009, rainfall data from NASA, and geo-referenced landform and waterform information:
- In the Turkana District of Kenya, livestock-related raids are more likely during dry months, dry years, and drier than normal months
- Our findings broadly support ethnographic accounts that in dry times the Turkana move away farther to access pasture in blocks along the boundaries with hostile ethnic groups where the rainfall pattern is relatively reliable. By contrast, most of the raiding against the Turkana occurs while the herds are on transitional moves, splitting from, and coalescing at, the margins of expansive plains, en route to patches of dry season ranges. Not noted in ethnography is that greater violence appears to occur in quadrants with flowing water and long rivers.
- Analyzing ethnic groups based in Marsabit District of Kenya, we find that the relationship between rain and raids varies by ethnic group. The ethnic groups that are more pastoral resemble the Turkana in having more raiding during drier times.
Carol R. Ember, Teferi Abate Adem, Ian Skoggard, and Eric C. Jones. (2012) Livestock Raiding and Rainfall Variability in Northwest Kenya. Civil Wars 14: 159-181.
Teferi Abate Adem, Carol R. Ember, Ian Skoggard, Eric C. Jones, A.J. Faas. 2012. Dangerous Geography: Spatial Distribution of Livestock Raiding in Northwestern Kenya. Ethnology (in press). Preprint
Carol R. Ember, Ian Skoggard, Teferi Abate Adem , and A.J. Faas. Rain and Raids Revisited: Disaggregating Ethnic Group Livestock Raiding in the Ethiopian-Kenyan Border Region (under review).
The HRAF Research Team
Carol R. Ember (President, HRAF at Yale) is a cross-cultural anthropologist and has published over 60 articles, chapters, and books on cross-cultural research, including social organization, sex roles, political participation, resource unpredictability, and variation in aggression.
Teferi Abate Adem (Research Associate, HRAF at Yale) is a cultural anthropologist with extensive ethnographic fieldwork and expertise in land tenure, local politics, organization of agrarian labor, and extra-local processes including development programs, global markets, and climate-related disasters.
Eric C. Jones (Research Scientist, UNC-Greensboro) is an ecological anthropologist specializing in extreme events as well as collective action in both extreme and normal circumstances.
Ian Skoggard (Research Associate, HRAF at Yale) is a cultural anthropologist with a general interest in East Asia, religion, political economy, organized rituals, and affect.
Preserving and Making Data Accessible Digitally
Data collected in the field form the backbone of published research. But all too often these data are lost as scholars retire, become ill, or die. Research dollars are primarily spent on funding field projects, but little is spent on the infrastructure needed to make that data available to future generations. There is an assumption that because data are now “born digital” we have improved the situation. Unfortunately, there is little understanding of the complexity involved in recording data properly with appropriate metadata, storing it appropriately, and working out systems for “reading” the data in the future as technological platforms change.
In 2009, HRAF received a grant from the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation to hold a four-field workshop to discuss the basics of a strategic plan for digital preservation and access (DPA) to anthropological research materials. The principal investigators, Carol R. Ember, Eric Delson, Jeff Good, and Dean Snow, each respectively represented one of the four traditional subfields of anthropology— cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, linguistics, and archaeology. An online report discusses some of the important issues in digital preservation and access.
Representing HRAF, Carol Ember attended a conference on June 24–25, 2013, along with representatives from 21 other data repositories spanning the social and physical sciences. The meeting, organized by the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) and supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, created a space to discuss the challenges facing repositories; particularly, the urgent need for predictable funding streams. Read the report.