Food and the Status Quest: An Interdisciplinary Perspective

By Polly Wiessner; Wulf Schiefenhövel | Go to book overview

2. THE ETHOLOGICAL BASES OF STATUS HIERARCHIES

Barbara Hold-Cavell

S tatus and power relations play an important role in human life. In Western culture we try to demonstrate our status through material symbols, and a great many industrial products serve this goal alone. Food and feasting often are part of the quest for status, too. How did this motivation to seek status develop? This chapter will review the history of ethological concepts concerning status seeking and accompanying rank order formation in animal studies. The chapter will then discuss how these were revised from "rank orders", based on dominance, to "attention structures", measured by frequency of being in the center of attention, in order to be applied appropriately to higher nonhuman primates and humans. Finally, results of studies on status seeking and rank orders based on attention structure among children of different cultures are presented.

Since 1922, when Schjelderupp-Ebbe described the pecking order of domestic fowl, the rank orders of group-living species became a popular subject of investigation. The pecking order is established by a set of encounters between pairs of chickens who peck at each other in a restrained fashion when competing for food. Each encounter results in a winner and a loser. Normally, not every individual fights with every other individual in the group, because some yield to an approaching individual after having visually estimated the other's size, vigor, and signs of confidence. The highest ranking has priority of access to all resources, while the lowest ranking has to accept what is left over by the group members. The more the individuals know each other, the less frequently fights occur; they may be observed

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