Commoners: Cooperation, Fairness, and Resource Management in Changing Tzotzil-Maya Communities, Southern Mexico
Hertzog, Werner Bergamin
This study focuses on social change, resource management, cooperation, and fairness among Tzotzil-Maya communities in the highlands of Chiapas, southern Mexico. Maya groups in Chiapas have undergone drastic changes over the past five decades. While modernization has upended some of their traditional dependence on agriculture, Maya political systems have become more decentralized, with communities now managing resources autonomously. Other recent transformations include increasing market integration, greater access to urban centers, the expansion of formal schooling, and the advent of state-sponsored social change. This dissertation investigates the effects of this multifaceted process of change on local resource management by comparing rural and urban Tzotzil communities that differ in degree of access to markets and modern infrastructure. The study uses a mixed-methods approach combining: (1) ethnographic methods to document the processes through which communities and households make resource allocation decisions; and (2) economic and behavioral experiments to index moral preferences in how people solve hypothetical problems of resource allocation. Each chapter delves into a different factor shaping how Tzotzil communities cooperate and manage resources. These topics include ethnicity, fairness and equity norms, kinship and land tenure systems, and labor allocation. I find that modernization causes resource allocation to shift from a prestige-based to a need-based logic. I assert that this change reflects the evolving social structure of Tzotzil groups. As modernization undermines traditional prestige hierarchies, novel notions of fairness and equity emerge in response to new resource conflict configurations. The research shows how cognition, moral values, and social structure can be interlinked and reinforce each other in a context of ongoing social change. These findings can inform environmental and social policy in the developing world by shedding light on how modernization processes taking place rural settings affect local resource management. The study proposes new methods for researching the relationship between culture, cognition, and the environment.