Anthropology professor John Patton, Ph.D., presented “Social Inequality and Violence: Lessons Learned from the Study of ‘Egalitarian’ Societies,” while Devon Thacker Thomas, Ph.D., from the Department of Sociology, presented “Separate and Not Equal: A Consideration of Violence Against Women.”
“Humans, including egalitarian societies, are described as being obsessed with social ranking,” Patton said.
Dominant hierarchies are established through violent interaction and are maintained with the threat of violence, Patton said.
Patton spoke about the hierarchies in two groups that live in the remote Amazon villages of Conambo, Ecuador: the Achuar and the Quichua.
Patton studied the Conambo communities for over two decades and presented data that he collected last summer.
“In societies where people are having a hard time making a living, a lot of the violence is focused on protecting resources,” he said. “In this society, resources are taken care of.”
However, he said that Conambo is known for its extremely high level of violence — the second-highest homicide rates recorded for a society.
“This is an area where shrunken heads come from. Head-taking for status is part of the society,” Patton said. “In the recent past, if you were male in this society, flip a coin; that’s the odds of you getting through your life a victim of homicide or not.”
Patton said that physicality and the capacity for violence are the strongest contributors to men’s status in Conambo societies, while communications skills were the most important for women.
Patton drew parallels from his findings to American society. While presidential elections don’t involve candidates physically fighting each other, men who seem stronger and physically formidable are more likely to be elected, Patton said.
Patton ended with the idea that in egalitarian societies everyone has an equal opportunity to climb the ladder, but there is still inequality.
“When inequality increases, the perception that the system is unfair also increases,” he said.
Thacker Thomas focused her portion of the lecture on violence against women.
There are thousands of survivors of violence every day in the United States who seek help in anti-violence programs such as emergency shelters, transitional living facilities or counseling, Thacker Thomas said.
However, she said that she continually hears the claim that all women have similar situations solely because they are women. Policies and programs aimed at helping victims often ignore other demographic factors such as language, social status, race or gender identification.
“That’s not only erroneous, but really problematic,” she said. “What we do see happening is this one-size-fits-all approach that is supposed to take care of all women, all individuals who experience intimate partner violence or gendered violence.”
This failure to account for intersectional experiences affects women’s experiences regarding violence and the outcomes they expect after trying to get help, Thacker Thomas said. The fact that some women have privilege over others reveals that some women’s experiences are prioritized over others’. Other women are made to feel less deserving because their experiences are perceived as not legitimate.
Immigrant women are more vulnerable to violence because they often face unique barriers to obtaining services, such as protection by law enforcement and domestic violence programming, Thacker Thomas said.
Women may not seek help because of various factors, such as economic resource deprivation, or the risk of shame, she said. These come about because of different cultural expectations and norms.
“If we don’t account for these things, then we’re going to see certain groups of women continue to be subjugated and oppressed and experience violence,” Thacker Thomas said.
Anthropology professor Brenda Bowser, Ph.D., who attended the event, said that students should take what they learn from the lecture and use it for good.
“I think that those are really important issues and we need to talk about them a lot more,” Bowser said. “We need more opportunities to have these conversations across disciplines.”