Table of contents

Social Science Computer Review, Vol. 31, No. 1 (2013)


Special Issue on Computing in Anthropology



Harmonizing Diversity: Tuning Anthropological Research to Complexity / Michael Fischer, Stephen Lyon, Daniel Sosna and David Henig

Abstract: The contributions in this issue of Social Science Computer Review represent a range of computational approaches to theoretical and disciplinary specializations in anthropology that reflect on and expand the future orientation and practice of the formal and comparative agenda in the context of  an increasing emphasis on complexity in anthropology as a discipline. Themes covered in this issue include kinship, funerary burials, urban legends, eye tracking and looking at mode influences on online data collection. A common theme throughout the papers is examining the relationship between global emergent processes and structures and the local individual contributions  to this emergence, and how the local and global contexts influence each other. We argue that unless complexity is addressed more overtly by leveraging computational approaches to data collection, analysis and theory building, anthropology and social science more generally face an existential challenge if they are to continue to pursue extended field research exercise, intersubjective productions, deep personal involvement, interaction with materiality and engagement with people whilst generating research outcomes of relevance to the world beyond the narrow confines of specialist journals and conferences.


What are Kinship Terminologies, and Why do we Care?: A Computational Approach to Analysing Symbolic Domains /Dwight Read, Murray Leaf and Michael Fischer

Abstract: Kinship is a fundamental feature and basis of human societies.  We describe a set of computational tools and services, and the logic that underlies these, developed improve how we understand both the fundamental facts of kinship, and how people use kinship as a resource in their lives. Mathematical formalism applied to cultural concepts is more than an exercise in model building, as it provides a way to represent and explore their logical consistency and implications.  Not surprisingly, kinship terminologies are particularly amenable to formal representation. Researchers throughout the history of kinship studies have noted the logicality of kinship terminology systems.  The logic is explored here through the kin term computations made by users of a terminology when computing the kinship relation one person has to another by referring to a third person for whom each has a kin term relationship.  Kinship Algebra Modeler provides a set of tools, services and an architecture to explore kinship terminologies and their properties in an accessible manner.


Networks and Kinship: Formal Models of Alliance, Descent and Inheritance in a Pakistani Punjabi Village / Stephen Lyon

Abstract: Pakistani Punjabi landlords use marriage both strategically as well as affectively. That is to say, they seek maximal political advantage and minimal household disruption with marriage arrangements. Using a set of formal networks analyses tools, this paper examines two hundred years of marriage decisions for one Punjabi landlord family. The radical shift in marriage decisions beginning from the 1920s is the result of an earlier shift in inheritance rules. The resulting change in marriage decisions has impacted not only on household dynamics, but has disrupted longstanding factional associations within the village.


Burials and Graphs: Relational Approach to Mortuary Analysis / Daniel Sosna, Patrik Galeta, Ladislav Šmejda, Vladimír Sládek and Jaroslav Bruzek

Abstract: This paper demonstrates the analytical potential of graph theory for understanding mortuary practices in past societies. In order to shed light on this topic we take advantage of Social Network Analysis software PAJEK to model relationships among burials. The case study of the Early Bronze Age cemetery Rebešovice (Czech Republic) is used to explore the potential of the network approach to explain the contrast between the center and the periphery of the cemetery. Two hypotheses are proposed to explain this contrast: chronological and social. The first hypothesis explains the difference between the centre and the periphery as an effect of social standing, while the latter as an effect of time. The dataset includes archaeological and biological data from 72 burials. We calculate simple matching distance matrices as a measure of dissimilarity among the burials based on socially and chronologically significant variables and Euclidean matrix as a measure of spatial proximity among pairs of graves. We project the results into geographic space and compare the patterns with the expectations derived from the two research hypotheses. The evaluation of results allow us to reject both hypotheses and formulate a new model of spatial organization based on a few contemporary subsections of the cemetery used by different corporate groups. Finally, the potential of computer-aided modeling of matrices and graphs is discussed in context of other analytical techniques used for the investigation of intra-cemetery mortuary variability.



A GIS-investigation of Four Early Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries: Ripley’s K-function Analysis of Spatial Groupings Amongst Graves / Duncan Sayer and Michelle Wienhold


Archaeologists have often used their ‘eye’ to interpret spatial patterns within cemetery sites. In this paper we will use Ripley’s K-function analysis to determine the proximity of statistically significant clusters within four early Anglo-Saxon cemetery sites; Wakerley, Norton, Berinsfield and Lechlade. Using spatial and statistical methods supported by ArcGIS 10 we will explore the kernel density estimates of graves at the point of significance to discuss the organisation of cemeteries as part of their chronological and social development. As a result of this investigation we will conclude that these sites were not organised into small clusters of nuclear family graves but large plots that contained the remains of varied, multi-vocational households.


Expect the Unexpected? Testing for Minimally-Counterintuitive (MCI) Bias in the Transmission of Contemporary Legends. A Computational Phylogenetic Approach / Joseph Stubbersfield and Jamshid Tehrani

Abstract: In this study we use computational methods for analysing cultural transmission to examine the role of cognitive selection pressures on the evolution of narratives, the first use of computational phylogenetic analysis in the study of contemporary legends. It has been suggested that a number of biases in transmission may alter the content and structure of narrative so as to maximise how transmittable it is. One bias that has attracted much attention is Boyer’s (1994) Minimally-Counterintuitive (MCI) bias, which suggests that a cognitively optimal number of counterintui-tive concepts increase the salience and, therefore, the transmission of a narrative. Previous re-search has used traditional folklore and religious texts to examine this bias and a cognitively op-timum number of 1-2 or 2-3 counterintuitive concepts has been suggested. The present research uses the legend of ‘Bloody Mary’, a contemporary (or urban) legend with MCI elements in a computational phylogenetic analysis to examine the influence of MCI on cultural transmission and evolution. Counterintuitive and intuitive concepts were found to be equally stable in trans-mission, suggesting that MCI bias may function on the narrative as a whole, rather than individ-ual concepts within it.


Potentials and Limitations of Mobile Eye-Tracking in Visitor Studies: Evidence from Field Research in two German Museums / Kira Eghbal-Azar and Thomas Widlok

Abstract: The main goal of this article is to demonstrate the potentials and limitations of mobile eye-tracking in visitor studies and other social science research to inform social scientists conducting field research on whether and how mobile eye-tracking technology might be integrated into their research. We provide empirical examples of mobile eye-tracking research in the context of a comparative study of two different German exhibitions. The article underlines the potentials of mobile eye-tracking in combination with other methods and in comparison with conventional forms of observation and interviewing.  We present and discuss empirical findings from our attempts to apply optimality to the study of museum visits as suggested by Rounds (2004). Our case study was carried out with the help of systematic observation, mobile eye-tracking data and interviews at a recent exhibition on Pacific ethnography at the Linden-Museum in Stuttgart and Museum of Modern Literature in Marbach.


Mode Effects in Free-list Elicitation: Comparing Oral, Written, and Web-based Data Collection / Clarence C. Gravlee, H. Russell Bernard, Chad Maxwell and Aryeh Jacobsohn

Abstract: The growth of the Internet opens new possibilities for web-based data collection in cognitive anthropology. This study examines whether free-list data collected online are comparable to those collected with face-to-face interviews or with self-administered paper questionnaires. We collected free lists for two cultural domains in the United States: one diffuse (“things that mothers do”) and one relatively well defined (“racial and ethnic groups”). We selected a purposive sample of 318 university students and randomly assigned participants to provide free lists for one of these domains using a web-based survey, a face-to-face interview, or a self-administered paper questionnaire. All three modes identified the same set of salient concepts in each domain. Median list length per respondent varied across modes in response to a standard free-list question and to supplementary probes. For the well-defined domain of “racial and ethnic groups,” supplementary probes widened differences among modes; for the more diffuse domain of “things that mothers do,” probes erased evidence of mode effects. Collecting free lists online is viable but may yield different results depending on the study population and attributes of the cultural domains.


Reports and Communications


            One Laptop per Child: Comments on Jeffrey James’s critique / Antonio M. Battro


            Reply to Battro on the one laptop per child / Jeffrey James