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The Human Potential for Peace

An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions about War and Violence

Douglas P. Fry

Publication Date - July 2005

ISBN: 9780195181784

384 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

Retail Price to Students: $79.99

This fascinating study challenges the traditional view that humans are by nature primarily warlike, using a novel set of interpretations based on evidence that includes evolutionary and socio-cultural perspectives.


In The Human Potential for Peace: An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions about War and Violence, renowned anthropologist Douglas P. Fry shows how anthropology--with its expansive time frame and comparative orientation--can provide unique insights into the nature of war and the potential for peace. Challenging the traditional view that humans are by nature primarily violent and warlike, Professor Fry argues that along with the capacity for aggression humans also possess a strong ability to prevent, limit, and resolve conflicts without violence. Raising philosophy of science issues, the author shows that cultural beliefs asserting the inevitability of violence and war can bias our interpretations, affect our views of ourselves, and may even blind us to the possibility of achieving security without war. Fry draws on data from cultural anthropology, archaeology, and sociology as well as from behavioral ecology and evolutionary biology to construct a biosocial argument that challenges a host of commonly held assumptions.
The Human Potential for Peace includes ethnographic examples from around the globe, findings from Fry's research among the Zapotec of Mexico, and results of cross-cultural studies on warfare. In showing that conflict resolution exists across cultures and by documenting the existence of numerous peaceful societies, it demonstrates that dealing with conflict without violence is not merely a utopian dream. The book also explores several highly publicized and interesting controversies, including Freeman's critique of Margaret Mead's writings on Samoan warfare; Napoleon Chagnon's claims about the Yanomamö; and ongoing evolutionary debates about whether "hunter-gatherers" are peaceful or warlike. The Human Potential for Peace is ideal for undergraduate courses in political and legal anthropology, the anthropology of peace and conflict, peace studies, political sociology, and the sociology of war and violence. Written in an informal style with numerous entertaining examples, the book is also readily accessible to general readers.


"The Human Potential for Peace is a real achievement, the first systematic book of its kind, and a welcome part of the anthropological literature. I especially liked the sweep of the book, which broadly covers both the history of aggression as well as the ethnographic record, moving forward to contemporary society and applied implications."--Thomas A. Gregor, Professor of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University

"This is an important book, and a serious one, although it is enlivened with a number of anecdotes and personal reminiscences. The book has great strengths, including breadth of scholarship in different areas, as well as a critical depth in tackling some common assumptions and cited conclusions."--Peter K. Smith, Department of Psychology, University College London a href=" http://www.israsociety.com/bulletin/isradec2005.pdf "Read the full review here.

"Amongst the various anthropological texts that have emerged over the last decade, this is clearly one of the most important. At a time when practitioners in the social sciences continue to haggle over the relative merits of interdisciplinary approaches, of paradigm shifts, and of the role of war and peace in human endeavors, this book strikes a relevant chord. Douglas Fry reminds us that in the human experience it is neither solely nature nor nurture, neither aggression nor camaraderie, rather it is a complex synthesis of human endeavors resulting in a clear and resounding potential for peace."--Agustín Fuentes, Department of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame a href=" http://www.peacefulsocieties.org/NAR/051222gen.html"Read the full review here.

Table of Contents

    Foreword by Robert A. Hinde
    1. Questioning the War Assumption
    A Preview of Coming Attractions
    2. The Peace System of the Upper Xingu
    A Peace System
    Social Organization
    3. Taken for Granted: The Human Potential for Peace
    Cultural Beliefs and Aggression Prevention
    Points to Highlight
    4. Making the Invisible Visible: Belief Systems in San Andrés and La Paz
    So Near and Yet So Far
    Different Learning Environments
    Multicausality and Multidimensionality
    Some Broader Implications
    5. The Cross-Cultural Peacefulness-Aggressiveness Continuum
    A Peacefulness-Aggressiveness Continuum
    Growing Interest in Peaceful Societies
    Peaceful Societies: Not Such a Rare Breed After All
    6. Peace Stories
    The Semai of Malaysia
    Ifaluk of Micronesia
    Norwegians: A Nation at Peace
    Returning to Hidden Assumptions
    7. A Hobbesian Belief System? On the Supposed Naturalness of War
    Warfare and Feuding from a Cross-Cultural Perspective
    Nonwarring Cultures
    8. Social Organization Matters!
    Types of Social Organization
    The Link betwen Warfare and Social Organization
    Social Organization and Seeking Justice
    9. Paradise Denied: A Bizarre Case of Skullduggery
    The Unmaking of the Myth-Weaver
    10. Re-Creating the Past in Our Own Image
    Assumptions Come Tumbling Down
    The Earliest Evidence of War
    11. Cultural Projections
    12. Aboriginal Australia: A Continent of Unwarlike Hunter-Gatherers
    The Paucity of Warfare
    Conflict Management
    Summing Up
    13. War-Laden Scenarios of the Past: Uncovering a Heap of Faulty Assumptions
    Making the Implicit Explicit
    The Patrilineal-Patrilocal Assumption
    The Assumption of the Tight-Knit, Bounded Group
    The Assumption of Pervasively Hostile Interband Relations
    14. More Faulty Assumptions
    The Assumption of Warring over Scarce Resources
    The Assumption of Warring over Land
    The Assumption of Warring over Women
    The Assumption of Leadership
    Summing Up
    15. Much Ado about the Yanomamö
    The Famous Yanomamö Unokais
    Broader Issues
    Methodological and Analytical Issues: Questioning the "Obvious"
    The Heart of the Matter
    Why So Much Ado?
    16. Windows to the Past: Conflict Management Case Studies
    Netsilik Inuit
    Lessons from the Case Studies
    17. Untangling War from Interpersonal Aggression
    Natural Selection
    Natural Environments and the EEA Concept
    "Flexible" Adapatations, Sexual Selection, and Sex Differences in Aggression
    The Costs and Benefits of Aggression to Individual Fitness
    Inclusive Fitness
    18. An Alternative Evolutionary Perspective: The Nomadic Forager Model
    Human Hawks, Doves, and Retaliators
    Costs and Benefits of Aggression
    Inclusive Fitness
    Assessing the Overall Patterns and Recurring Themes
    Warring as an Adaption? The Twin Problems of Confusing Function with Effect and Aggression with Warfare
    19. Weighing the Evidence
    20. Enhancing Peace
    A Macroscopic Perspective: The Human Capacity to Move beyond War
    Specific Insights for Keeping the Peace
    Appendix: Organizations to Contact