Academic Papers and Publications

Additional papers based on the experimental data are in preparation for submission. They will be posted when they have been accepted for publication. Below are links to published papers.

Howe, Lance, James J. Murphy, Drew Gerkey, and Colin Thor West (2016): Indirect Reciprocity, Resource Sharing, and Environmental Risk: Evidence from Field Experiments in Siberia. Published in PLOS|ONE

Corresponding data is posted on the Harvard dataverse here.

Integrating information from existing research, qualitative ethnographic interviews, and participant observation, we designed a field experiment that introduces idiosyncratic environmental risk and a voluntary sharing decision into a standard public goods game. Conducted with subsistence resource users in rural villages on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Northeast Siberia, we find evidence consistent with a model of indirect reciprocity and local social norms of helping the needy. When participants are allowed to develop reputations in the experiments, as is the case in most small-scale societies, we find that sharing is increasingly directed toward individuals experiencing hardship, good reputations increase aid, and the pooling of resources through voluntary sharing becomes more effective. We also find high levels of voluntary sharing without a strong commitment device; however, this form of cooperation does not increase contributions to the public good. Our results are consistent with previous experiments and theoretical models, suggesting strategic risks tied to rewards, punishments, and reputations are important. However, unlike studies that focus solely on strategic risks, we find the effects of rewards, punishments, and reputations are altered by the presence of environmental factors. Unexpected changes in resource abundance increase interdependence and may alter the costs and benefits of cooperation, relative to defection. We suggest environmental factors that increase interdependence are critically important to consider when developing and testing theories of cooperation

Cherry, Todd, Lance Howe and James Murphy (2015): Sharing as Risk Pooling in a Social Dilemma Experiment. Ecology and Society, 20(1).

In rural economies with missing or incomplete markets, idiosyncratic risk is frequently pooled through informal networks. Idiosyncratic shocks, however, are not limited to private goods but can also restrict an individual from partaking in or benefiting from a collective activity. In these situations, a group must decide whether to provide insurance to the affected member. In this paper, we describe results of a laboratory experiment designed to test whether a simple sharing institution can sustain risk pooling in a social dilemma with idiosyncratic risk. We test whether risk can be pooled without a commitment device and, separately, whether effective risk pooling induces greater cooperation in the social dilemma. We find that even in the absence of a commitment device or reputational considerations, subjects voluntarily pool risk thereby reducing variance in individual earnings. In spite of effective risk pooling, however, cooperation in the social dilemma is unaffected.

West, Colin T. and Ross, Connor. (2012): Local Institutions for Subsistence Harvesting in Western Alaska: Assessing their Adaptive Role in the Context of Global Change. Published in: Journal of Ecological Anthropology;2011/2012, Vol. 15 Issue 1, p22

This article identifies key types of local institutions rural Alaska Native communities use to manage subsistence resources such as fish, game, and edible plants. Local institutions are the informal rules and norms communities use to manage these and other natural resources. Other scholars have mostly discussed them in the context of how they help subsistence users cope with ecological fluctuations in the abundance of certain species. The study presented here discusses them within a larger context of social and economic change. These local institutions were identified based on personal interviews with 62 active subsistence users in six different Yup’ik communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of Western Alaska. Participant-observation in subsistence activities like fishing and gathering supplemented the interview material. The key local institutions involve resource harvesting, resource processing, and resource sharing. The analysis of interview and observation data show that local institutions help households and communities cope with fluctuations in harvest amounts due to ecological perturbations, formal management regulations, and high fuel prices. Although local institutions can be fragile in the face of market pressures, and rationale for some institutions are not known by the younger generation, the strong role of sharing suggests that Yup’ik local institutions are expected to persist as climatic, environmental, economic, and social change continues.

Argetsinger, Timothy and West, Colin T. (2009): Yupiit subsistence in Western Alaska: the intersection of formal and local institutions. Published in: Ecological and Environmental Anthropology, Volume 5, No 1.

Anthropologists have long studied the subsistence economies of indigenous peoples of Alaska. These studies have documented in great detail the importance of subsistence foods in the diet and culture of Alaska Natives. In more recent years, anthropologists have begun to investigate how formal rules used by state and federal agencies conflict with local norms, customs, and values as practiced by Alaska Natives. We call these latter rules "local institutions." This paper traces the historical development of formal rules for subsistence harvesting and discusses current controversies using case study fieldwork from indigenous communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of western Alaska. We confirm that tensions exist between formal regulations and local institutions but add that these tensions also lead to conflict between communities over subsistence resources.

Howe, E. Lance and Martin, Stephanie (2009): Demographic change, economic conditions, and subsistence salmon harvests in Alaska’s Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region. Published in: in CC Krueger and CE Zimmerman, Eds. 2009. Pacific Salmon: ecology and management of Western Alaska's populations. American Fisheries Society, Symposium 70, Bethesda, Maryland. (2009): pp. 433-462.

This paper addresses broad demographic and economic characteristics of the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region (AYK) of Alaska. AYK human population growth has generally been moderate over time. Because out-migration regularly exceeds in-migration, especially in the villages, population growth is mainly a product of natality. We anticipate future population growth patterns will be similar. In terms of regional characteristics, the linguistically and geographically distinct populations of the AYK region are similar in that they all have active traditional cultures, a strong reliance on subsistence, and relatively high measures of income poverty. While commercial fishing income is not a large contributor to total regional income, it is an important component of income for households in proximity to commercial fish processors. Many commercial fishermen are also subsistence harvesters, and for many, commercial fishing income provides the means to purchase equipment and other inputs to subsistence activities. This paper examines the relationship between subsistence harvests, population growth, and commercial fishing using a simple least squares regression model. We found that earnings from Kuskokwim commercial salmon fisheries are positively correlated with subsistence harvests while earnings from other commercial fisheries reduce subsistence harvests for a set of lower Kuskokwim River communities. Separately, we found that population growth is not positively correlated with subsistence salmon harvests in the same communities.