12.5 The role of tradition


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Tradition can play two central roles to support village-based CPR management: (a) via norms of social behaviour and (b) via well-established patterns of authority and leadership. These two effects are in fact tightly linked in so far as one of the functions of traditional authorities is precisely to activate and reinforce social or moral norms.

Where history enters the scene

General considerations
Historical experience as embodied in tradition and mores helps not only to shape people's preferences but also to determine the degree of trust in their mutual reliability with respect to actions involving the possibility of free riding. Thus, when a particular society had repeated experiences of successful collective action experiences in the past, positive attitudes towards cooperation tend to be conveyed to its members through myths, customs, sayings, and norms, which are all elements of their specific cultural endowment. Since culture is 'acquired knowledge that people use to interpret experience and to generate social behaviour' (Spradley and McCurdy, 1980: 2), the saying 'nothing succeeds like success' is especially relevant in this context. In Sugden's language, past experience is encapsulated in a convention of co-operation with prior success in collective action providing a focal or salient point from which such a convention may spread by analogy (see above, Chapter 6). In actual fact, a history of co-operative success makes people highly trustful of others' willingness to co-operate. Being more prominent than the non-co-operative equilibrium largely as a result of common experience of past success in co-operation, the cooperative equilibrium is established and has a great deal of stability (bear in mind that an AG is a co-ordination game).

Success in collective action tends to breed success in collective action because it helps establish a reputation for co-operation that has the effect of making other cooperative ventures easier to undertake and to sustain. This virtuous process may proceed by analogy, spreading from one domain of social life to another (co-operative equilibrium is reached through analogy), or else, it may reinforce itself in one particular such domain (co-operative equilibrium is stable). Seabright has clearly the first possibility in mind when he writes that 'many voluntary organisations working in poor countries concern themselves with promoting plays, festivals and sporting activities among disadvantaged groups, not only because of the activities' intrinsic value but because they know of their value in "building trust"' (Seabright, 1993: 122). Thus, in a revealing manner, the presence of a prior history of co-operative institutions in Indian communities with successful producers' co-operative societies has turned to be a positive predictor of co-operative society success (ibid.). On the other hand, when Messerschmidt expresses the opinion that the strength of village-based resource regulation systems in Nepal is due to their being rooted in tradition (Messerschmidt, 1986: 473), it is not quite clear whether he thinks of the first or the second effect, or of both of them.

Co-operative equilibria may, however, not be as stable as the theory of co-ordination games suggests. Indeed, as noted by Mary Douglas, any institution (and a convention is an institution, at least in a minimal sense) needs some stabilizing principle to stop its premature demise. In other words, contrary to the view of economists like Schotter or Sugden, conventions have to be grounded in something else than themselves, that is, on a justifying or legitimizing principle that makes them appear as something more than a mere social contrivance. In the words of Douglas:

That stabilising principle is the naturalisation of social classifications. There needs to be an analogy by which the formal structure of a crucial set of social relations is found in the physical world, or in the supernatural world, or in eternity, anywhere, so long as it is not seen as a socially contrived arrangement. When the analogy is applied back and forth from one set of social relations to another and from these back to nature, its recurring formal structure becomes easily recognised and endowed with self-validating truth . . . The favorite analogy generalises everyone's preferred convention. (Douglas, 1986: 48, 50)

Thus, in many Third World societies and particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, the cult of ancestors provides the stabilizing principle in which many conventions (high fertility, solidarity arrangements) are grounded: 'Ancestors operating from the other side of life provide the naturalising analogy that seals the social conventions' (Douglas, 1986: 50; see also Caldwell and Caldwell, 1987). In Asturia (Spain), to take another example, we are told that traditional co-operative institutions created 'a superordinate allegiance to something that transcended people's immediate and everyday sense of reality' (McCay and Acheson, 1987: 24). Until recently, this superordinate allegiance was constantly reactivated during moments of intense conviviality and commensality which were revitalizing experiences destined to create psychophysiological states of social euphoria (Fernandez, 1987: 284). As long as Douglas's stabilizing principle or naturalizing analogy exists, members of a community can co-operate in a rather non-calculated way as though to co-operate were the normal thing to do. This perhaps explains the observation made by Bromley and Chapagain in a Nepalese village: there, people do not explicitly or consciously condition their co-operative behaviour on that of others, presumably because of 'tine presence of a "background ethic" or norm that influences collective resource use decisions' (Bromley and Chapagain, 1984: 872, see also above, Chapter 7).

Co-operation norms in sedentary and immigrant communities

A common we! in which norms of co-operative behaviour are expressed in rural communities is through codes of honour. A remarkable illustration of this solution to the freerider problem is provided in Cordell and McKean's stud! of the mechanisms of enforcement of water-access rules in Bahia (Brazil). There, the central enforcement mechanism is the ethical code associated with respeito deemed by the authors to be 'far more binding on individual conscience than an! government regulations could ever tee' (Cordell and McKean, 1986: 94). In their words again:

It is impossible to fish for long in a given community without receiving and showing respeito. People honor each other's claims because of respeito, which is created, bestowed, and reaffirmed through sometimes trivial and sometimes substantial acts of benevolence bordering on self-sacrifice.... Failure to cooperate in these practices can he much more devastating for a fisherman than would be breaking a government law. Respeito is a cognitive reference point lo the community conscience. It influences how fishermen evaluate each other's actions on and off the fishing grounds. It is a yardstick for measuring the justice of individual acts, especial!! in conflicts. Collective social pressure to coform to the ethics of fishing is reflected in the ˘lho do povo (watchfulness of the community's eye, or sense of justice), reminiscent of the forceful moral and ethical standard in Palauan fishing, 'words of the lagoon'. Reputations rise and fall in terms of the ˘lho do povo. The ˘lho do povo determines whether territorial competition in fishing is deliberate or accidental, and whether it is antagonistic enough to require counteraction. (Cordell and McKean, 1986: 94, 98, emphasis added)

Moral norms embodied in the respeito code of ethics are not completely internalized and therefore require to be supported by external sanctions. The community symbolically manifested as the ˘lho do povo confers rewards on those who follow respeito and withdraws the benefits of exchange and reciprocity from those who violate it. In the best eases, reputation effects (enhancement or loss of reputation) are sufficient to grind rule-breaking to a halt. In the worst eases, external sanctions consist of more directly coercive measures (such as when an entire network of captains decides to deny territorial use rights to a troublemaker by sabotaging his equipment, booby-trapping net-casting spaces, engaging in deliberate net-crossing, etc.) aimed at forcing renegade fishermen to mend their ways or leave the community (Cordell and McKean, 1986: 98).

When serious rifts occur between different families or factions within the same community, the situation is of course more threatening. In these circumstances, certain individuals (usually retired fishing captains) are called upon as mediators who are people to be emulated and who 'epitomize respeito in all they do'. The conflict-resolution mechanism—which must be all the more powerful as conflicts of this sort usually reach across several generations and are marked by vengeful acts—then works in the following way:

Mediators must be able to comprehend and soothe social relationships that have fluctuated and festered over a long period of time . . . To promote reconciliation, the mediator must invoke respeito, the cooperative ethic, as it is reflected in the ˘lho do povo, and bring it to bear on individual consciences. Thus, the way out of a dispute is not to fix blame and then to punish the wrongdoer, but to negotiate reunion (by appealing to the sense of justice) and to restore equality. A simple face-saving gesture by either one of the parties will suffice for openers. This involves humbling oneself and showing that one no longer wishes to carry a grudge. If successful, this strategy will lead to an exchange of favors or kindness.... Through an exchange of just such small favors and concessions, fishermen are frequently able to come to terms, reestablish respeito, renew cooperative relations, and reaffirm the value of honor and deference in avoiding water space challenges. (Cordell and McKean, 1986: 99-100, emphasis added)

It is interesting to note that, in the foregoing illustration, mediators serve both as role models (they 'epitomize respeito in all they do') and as norm reactivators (they 'invoke respeito' and 'bring it to bear on individual consciences').

The situation observed in the Molucca Islands (Indonesia) where a system of traditional CPR management known as sasi does still exist (see Chapter 10, sect. 2) bears a good deal of similarity to the system described above. As a matter of fact, management measures are enforced by a council of elders made up of representatives of extended families and in which the chair position is occupied by certain families by inheritance. Even though punishments are explicitly designed to ensure enforcement, people obey the law because they are keen to uphold the dignity of their families (as a single person's faults are regarded as the faults of the family) and also because they are aware of the advantages of regulation (Marut, 1994: 6).

Patterns of co-operative behaviour that are sustained by a long historical experience encapsulated in a body of traditions can be found not only in sedentary societies but also in immigrant communities. Thus, for example, it is well known that old ways were very powerful in shaping immigrant life in nineteenth-century America, including all matters related to resource access and use. This was a fact of considerable importance given that immigrants moved into new areas before the law could establish public order. In reality, the informal procedures employed by them to protect their investments and ensure the orderly development of their resource showed a high degree of continuity with traditional practices in their countries of origin. In areas peopled by different communities, this contributed to establish strongly segmented exclusive resource domains as well as highly diversified and colourful sets of practices and codes of informal law. To illustrate, fishermen who migrated to California 'did not lack traditions from which to build such ad hoc, quasi-legal systems for ordering their working lives' and, as they lived in close proximity to one another and in near isolation from everyone else, they 'proved more tenacious than other occupational groups in resisting the substitution of market relations for customary ones in their communities' (McEvoy, 1986: 95-6).

The fishermen's first task was of course to establish some form of tenancy over their resources, which implied laying down exclusionary rules. It is not surprising in this context that informal or quasi-legal boundaries for the fish resource followed ethnic lines and that, within each resource domain, fishing communities tended to organize along traditional patterns brought all the way from their native countries. For instance, on the Sacramento river the salmon business was entirely controlled by whites and any attempt on the part of the Chinese, to engage in salmon-fishing would have met with a summary and probably fatal retaliation. Within the 'white' waters, clear ethnic demarcations were also in force: 'Greek fishers marked the upper ends of their "drifts" with makeshift Greek flags. From this point boats set out at fifteen-totwenty minute intervals on their downstream courses, and Italian or other gill-netters who intruded on the ground did so at their peril' (McEvoy, 1986: 96). Furthermore, once their claims to particular fishing grounds were well established, fishing communities started to regulate their business as they wished. Thus, in 1880, the salmon-fishing gill-netters allocated each boat a quota of forty fish per day for sale on the fresh market so as to maintain prices (ibid.).

As for the (Chinese shrimpers and abalone hunters, they eventually succeeded in winning control over the Bay Area largely at the end of a long competitive struggle with Italians. Once in control of these waters, the Chinese organized an exclusively Chinese regulatory system which covered all the spheres related to their activities. Yet the Chinese were not allowed to catch crabs since this was the preserve of a strongly organized Italian association (which, later on, divided internally when Sicilians decided to protect themselves against the increasing power of northern Italian fish wholesalers). As a local newspaper put it: 'if anyone imagines that it is possible for a Chinese or member of any other nationality than an Italian to catch crabs in this bay for the market let him try it' (quoted from McEvoy, 1986: 97).

Japan and India: a contrast

The case of Japan has already drawn our attention on repeated occasions because it is a kind of model case for village-based resource management. It is instructive in the present context in so far as management and other co-operative practices in this country have a long history which is reflected in well-entrenched norms of cooperation. McKean has thus stressed than in Japanese villages CPR conservation has been internalized as a goal of vital importance over several centuries (McKean, 1986: 569). On the other hand, Ruddle has remarked that an understanding of the operation of the present-day system of sea tenure in Japanese inshore waters (about which more will be said in the next chapter) 'requires a good grasp of its historical context, since the degree of continuity of traditional management practices is an outstanding characteristic' (Ruddle, 1987: 2).

A fascinating but immensely complex question is of course that of the origin of the remarkable ability of Japanese rural communities for collective action, a question which is germane to the perplexing and more general question of how institutions get started. Different explanations have been put forward. Thus, Ruddle makes the well-known point that values of harmony together with community or group orientation had long been in existence in Japanese society. More particularly, they had been reinforced 'during the long feudal era, when Confucian values [imported from China] and a national ideology put down deep roots in a Japan that was firmly closed to outside influences' (Ruddle, 1987: 3; see also Ishikawa, 1975: 464-6; Morishima, 1982: ch. 1). Even after the Second World War when traditional values based on the key notions of loyalty and self-sacrifice were shattered at the national level, collective unity for the attainment of group goals remained predominant at the village, small group, and small organization level. At those lower social levels, 'the concept of harmony and conflict avoidance remain idealised norms', and the group or community continues to be 'a constant source of emotional and other support': 'Coupled with group orientation is the abhorrence of isolation and the extreme psychological trauma suffered by members pushed out of their group as a consequence of persistent anti-social behaviour' (Ruddle, 1987: 3-5). There has no doubt been a clear tendency to exaggerate the social harmony and collective unity virtues of Japanese society, particularly among Japanese social scientists. Conflicts have always been present at the core of Japanese societal life, including village life. None the less, it is fair to say that, compared to many other societies in the world, harmony and related qualities have been a major force in Japanese society at least until very recent times (ibid. 4).

Another, more materialistic explanation can be derived from the fact that a decisive event in Japanese history occurred around the middle of the sixteenth century when an advanced form of feudalism replaced the hereditary manorial system under Oda Nobunaga (Morishima, 1982: 41-4). On that occasion, indeed, 'the warriors had been removed from the countryside to the castle town in order to eliminate the danger to the lord of armed retainers directly in control of land and subjects' (Smith, 1959: 202). In this way, an administrative and government system emerged which made possible fan extraordinary economy of force and officialdom' and was essentially based on the competence and reliability of local government. The only official between the village and the castle town was the district magistrate who usually had no military force at his command 'except a handful of armed men for guard duty'; he was charged with governing thousands of peasant families on behalf of the lord, which implied collecting taxes, administering justice, maintaining public order, etc. The fact of the matter was that these burdensome tasks were delegated to village communities because no alternative solution was available once the lord's armed retainers were requested to reside with him in the castle town. This forced such communities to assume new responsibilities and to settle almost all local affairs and problems on their own:

Nowhere, for instance, did the lord undertake to levy taxes on individual peasants; rather, he laid taxes on villages as units, leaving each to allocate and collect its own, and to make up any deficit that might occur in the payments of individual families. This was but one of many administrative functions performed by villages in all parts of the country. Villages maintained their own roads and irrigation works, policed their territories, administered common land and irrigation rights; validated legal transactions among members, mediated disputes, and passed sentence and imposed punishment in petty criminal cases; enforced the lord's law and their own, stood responsible as a whole for a crime by any of their members, borrowed money, made contracts, sued and were sued. Aside from transmitting the lord's instructions to the villages, the magistrate normally did little more than help assess villages for taxes and receive their payments and hear the more serious civil and criminal cases they referred to him. (Smith, 1959: 202-3, emphasis added)

The above two explanations might be considered complementary. The argument would run as follows: if Japanese rural communities could successfully undertake all the aforementioned functions when they had to, it is in part because of the pervasive presence of group-oriented values in their cultural patrimony. In other words, if success of these communities in a large range of collective actions appears to confirm the above-discussed thesis that 'necessity is the mother of all inventions'—that is, when co-ordination of individual actions is of vital importance to people's survival, it tends to take place in one way or another—it must be added that effective response to the considerable challenge which confronted them during the sixteenth century could not have been brought about had they not possessed a cultural endowment adequate to the task. After all, under the pressure of this challenge, village communities could well have broken asunder, a possibility all the more serious as fiscal and judiciary responsibilities were entrusted to them.

Still, the question remains as to whether the possession of group-oriented values by Japanese rural communities must be ultimately traced back to ideological factors or to some material determinants that appear to have played a crucial role in their history. While the former possibility has been suggested by Ruddle (see above), the latter is apparently the preference of Hayami and Kikuchi for whom, as we have seen in Chapter 11, tightly structured social systems emerged in Japan because of the critical need for effective community-level irrigation systems and for the proper resolution of conflicts over the use of water. In game-theoretical terms, the critical character of the need for collective action determines a payoff structure in which non-cooperative behaviour, whether unilateral or multilateral, entails such a high cost (the corresponding payoffs are infinitely negative) that co-operation is the only equilibrium strategy.

The above evolutionary hypothesis can actually be refined by arguing that, since local irrigation systems were well localized and visible, since users could easily assess the impact of their own actions upon other users, and since there was no conservation issue involved, collective action was rather easily induced by the felt need for it. Later, fed by such a positive experience, co-operation successfully spread (by analogy) to other domains where collective action was a priori more problematic. An important and testable implication of this amended evolutionary theory is that co-operation is more likely to be established in communities which, at some point in their history, were happy enough to meet relatively easy challenges before being confronted with more difficult ones in the sense of challenges requiring more trust to be successfully addressed. Note the similarity between such a view and the argument developed earlier (see above, sect. 2) to account for the persistence of common village pastures in South India and their disappearance in Rwanda.

Obviously, the foregoing considerations are to be related to our previous discussions about the role of economic incentives in the second section of this chapter and about the effects of population pressure in the second section of Chapter 11. When this is done, one understands that village societies can find themselves in more or less favourable situations from the standpoint of their collective action capabilities. Prospects are the brightest in societies which have developed a long tradition of co-operation starting from relatively non-problematic challenges and benefiting from a rather stable environment. On the other hand, prospects are the dimmest in societies which did not enjoy such favourable circumstances and are suddenly confronted with hard challenges under rapidly changing conditions that prevent them from gradually learning to find the adequate institutional responses. In these societies, external intervention in the form of external provision of specially designed economic incentives and/or specific organizational assistance (on which we shall soon say more) is absolutely required.

Returning to our Japanese example, there is a final point that needs to be made. On the basis of McKean's study, we have earlier emphasized that enforcement of resource management schemes in Japan was strongly supported by well-designed, rigorously applied, and possibly harsh sanctions or penalties. Built-in punishment mechanisms also existed to a considerable extent in a society where loss of reputation acts as a powerful deterrent to misdeeds: in Japan, as is well known, the notion of pride, 'often veiled by humbleness', is all-pervasive and assumes critical importance in any life circumstance (Ruddle, 1987: 5). This undeniably testifies that even strong co-operation norms are typically not sufficient to sustain collective action: a hardly surprising feet given that rural dwellers are likely to deviate from such norms in times of crisis when trust may unravel and payoffs may change in such a dramatic way as to transform an AG into a PD game (since future incomes are then heavily discounted). In present-day circumstances, moreover, sanctions have become all the more necessary as, along with the massive changes that have occurred in Japanese society during recent decades, many of the traditional norms of peasants' behaviour have begun to erode and 'litigation has become an increasingly common, if not still totally acceptable, means of settling disputes' (ibid. 3).

India offers a striking contrast to Japan. In many parts of the Indian subcontinent, indeed, collective action at village level is highly difficult due to the absence of any tradition of collective responsibility (e.g. there was no collective responsibility for payment of taxes) and to the strongly polarized structure of rural society. As long as people in the lower castes accepted the dominant ideology vindicating the strongly inegalitarian social system, collective action under the authority and leadership of upper-caste people did not create too many problems. Not to obey and not to render faithful service to their masters would have been considered as a grave violation of their life duty (dharma) by low-caste people and, in any event, the former could easily wreak all sorts of punishment on the latter whenever they deemed fit. Today, things have changed and lower-caste people no longer accept their status as an inexorable fate. They have actually learned to assert themselves against the upper castes (Harper, 1968; Breman, 1974; Hayami and Kikuchi, 1981: 236; see also BÚteille, 1965). When social relations are thus ingrained by caste prejudice and a good deal of accumulated tension, they become explosive, thereby making collective action extremely difficult to start and to sustain.

In this context, it is not surprising that many village panchayats do not work as collective bodies: in Kottapalle, Wade notes, the panchayat 'has been moribund for as long as anyone can remember' end people take it for granted, 'with resignation rather than approval', that each successive president will use its income as more or less his own (Wade, 1988a: 56). Furthermore, all kinds of village committees—such as the village social forestry committees initiated under the social forestry programme of the government—'are often "paper" organisations characterised by indifference and ignorance on the part of the majority of their members' (Blaikie et al., 1986: 490). In Indian villages generally, 'the ideas of loyalty to the territorially-defined community, of public-spirited concern for the village welfare as the touchstone of public virtue, have hardly developed' (Wade, 1988a: 57), in stark contrast to what is observed not only in Japan but also in South-East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and other countries (including in Western Europe). Close to India, in Nepal, the Indian panchayat system was introduced in the 1960s and superimposed on pre-existing forms of local and ethnic (i.e. noncaste) communal governance and village leadership. Yet, in spite of the disruptions that ensued especially in traditionally non-caste-oriented communities, customary village organizations have remained very much alive. Regarding local CPR regulation, it has thus been pointed out that 'in some instances, newly organised local systems of management have sprung up, and in others, older, pre-existing systems have been rejuvenated or strengthened despite nationalisation and similar disruptive circumstances' (Messerschmidt, 1986: 459).

In the light of the above considerations, the fact that in the South Indian villages studied by Wade effective corporate organizations for regulating access to water could develop and work satisfactorily (think also of the above-documented success of the Arabari reafforestation experiment in West Bengal) may perhaps seem astonishing. Two things stressed by Wade are worth bearing in mind here. First, an important factor that apparently determined the success of these organizations lay in the pattern of ownership of irrigable lands: to the extent that the village elite have scattered holdings, externalities of water use are not 'unidirectional' and this elite has an interest in establishing and maintaining an adequate system of water access regulation (see above, sect. 3). Second, contrary to what we have noted in the case of Japan, moral norms of co-operative behaviour are noticeably absent in Indian villages, except perhaps when concerted action is directed against other collectivities. Thus, in the case of Kottapalle, Wade reached the following conclusion:

Village-based organisation, even after several decades or more, has only a weak claim to morally motivated obedience. If the village council were seen as the village personified or as the embodiment of the ideal of cooperative ways of doing things, one would expect to see some symbolism by which this representation is achieved; but there is none. The village public realm is about getting things done rather than about ceremony and symbolism . . . The farmers' involvement remains calculative rather than moral . . . the council and its work groups are seen as a functionally-specific machine, to be judged according to its ability to control and support the individual's search for his own advantage . . . This, in a word, is why there is a fairly steady pattern of corporate organisation, even though it lacks a strong underpinning of normative understanding that people ought to behave in a corporate kind of way. However, . . . a general sense of reciprocity, of doing to others as you would have them do to you . . . is present to some degree. It is reinforced by experience of past behaviour showing that (most) others ran be trusted to do their share, to abide by the rules. Conversely, the 'ought' rapidly loses force if that trust is lost . . . for many in the population whatever sense of obligation they feel is probably secondary to the sanctions they would face as a result of their general social subordination. (Wade, 1988a: 196-7).

The impression which one gets from the foregoing analysis is therefore that trust is rather precarious because it is not supported by any kind of community-oriented values. Effective enforcement of CPR management schemes crucially depends on punishment mechanisms that must be rigorous and equitable enough not to arouse continuous suspicions and complaints. Consequently, such schemes are vulnerable to slight perturbations in the social context in which they operate, as when factional rivalries or caste prejudices suddenly arise. In addition, collective action would presumably be much more problematic than Wade actually observed if CPR management were to involve high monitoring costs: in this case, indeed, the existence of largely internalized norms of co-operative behaviour are particularly helpful in solving the freerider problem.

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