Introduction | Amish | Batek | Birhor | Buid | Chewong | Fipa | G/wi | Hutterites | Ifaluk | Inuit of Utkuhikhalik and Qipisa Communities | Ju/’hoansi | Kadar | Ladakhi | Lepchas | Malapandaram | Mbuti | Nubians | Paliyans | Piaroa | Rural Thai | Semai | Tahitians | Tristan Islanders | Yanadi | Zapotec of La Paz Village

Introduction

A Peaceful Society: Some anthropologists and sociologists, trained as careful observers, have described a small number of societies as “peaceful,” “at peace,” or “peaceable.” They have written convincingly about the ways these societies avoid internal violence and warfare. This Encyclopedia includes information about a selection of those societies.

Zapotec of La Paz school children playing during recess. D. P. Fry photo collection

Zapotec of La Paz school children playing during recess. (D. P. Fry photo collection)

Societies Vary: The nature of the peacefulness varies for each entry in the Encyclopedia of Selected Peaceful Societies portion of this website. In fact, the nonviolence may vary within any given society from one community to the next a few miles away. Peacefulness also may vary in these societies over the course of time. Communities that were peaceful when a social scientist was doing field research may have subsequently become more violent—or their peacefulness may have developed shortly before the anthropologist or sociologist visited. Furthermore, many societies not yet included in this Encyclopedia are also peaceful, some highly so. This Encyclopedia is a beginning effort, a selection of 25 societies. Others will be included as time permits.

Peaceful Societies That Do Experience Violence: While some of the peaceful societies included in this Encyclopedia rarely, if ever, experience violence, others do—on an occasional, but regular, basis. In effect, some societies are included despite the fact that murders have occurred on rare occasion, or fights break out from time to time. For those societies, the literature reveals enough peaceful elements to make their inclusion worthwhile.

Purpose of the Encyclopedia: The key to understanding the peacefulness of all these societies lies in the observations of the social scientists, their analyses of the data, and the reactions of the scholarly community to the published results. The purpose of the entries in the Encyclopedia is to serve as introductions to the detailed scholarly literature about the peaceful societies and to the wealth of ideas that the literature can inspire. Hopefully, this literature will enrich the broader discipline of peace studies, and encourage students to examine societies that already are quite nonviolent as they consider contemporary problems of violence in the world.

Criteria for Inclusion: The following criteria have been applied to the social science literature in order to allow a selected listing of societies to be chosen:

  • A society or community must have been described, in so many words, by an anthropologist or sociologist as peaceful, nonviolent, or similar
  • The social scientist must have presented convincing evidence about the nonviolence of the society in question. In cases where contradictory evidence overwhelms conclusions about peacefulness, the society has been excluded;
  • The society must consist of reasonably stable groups of more or less closely related people, of at least the size of a village. Communes are not considered as societies for the purposes of this website, though the literature on peaceful societies might be of interest to some of them;
  • There must be enough scholarly literature about the society to allow a reasonably well-formed picture to emerge about their social, psychological, and cultural makeup.

Scholarship Varies: Many different facets of the societies are analyzed by scholars. Some publications focus on religious beliefs and practices, while others examine social and psychological structures. Some scholars investigate the ways people raise their children to carry on their nonviolence, while others discuss conflict resolution strategies that inhibit violence. In other words, the literature varies depending on the interests of the scholars.

The Encyclopedia Entries:

  • Capturing Reality: The entries for the 25 societies have been kept brief on purpose. The very brief subject sections, such as “Gender Relations” or “Raising Children,” could never adequately portray the realities of life in the societies, but they should provide enough tantalizing fragments of information to whet the reader’s interest.
  • Focus. Rather than describe the many facets of societies that most published social science encyclopedias would include, these entries focus on aspects of their social, psychological, and cultural lives that appear to relate most directly to their peacefulness. The literature itself prompts these judgments, and as mentioned already, the published works vary in scope and inclusiveness. Whether information appears under any particular category within an entry depends on what is available in the literature, the emphases of the scholars, and the beliefs or practices of the societies they describe.
  • Conclusion. The text of each entry concludes with the critical question, “But How Much Violence Do They Really Experience?” Brief, candid facts found in the literature cited answer this question for each society.
  • Present Tense. In some cases, the present tense used to describe these societies may not completely represent current realities since the societies may have changed and the published literature has not kept up with the changes.

Sources of Information: The information in each entry is based primarily on the printed works cited, supplemented by the cited sources found on the Web. The list of sources at the end of each entry is not intended as a complete bibliography of works about the society. However, the source list should help students of peaceful societies embark on their own explorations.

Entries in the Encyclopedia: The following societies are represented with entries in this Encyclopedia: Amish, Batek, Birhor, Buid, Chewong, Fipa, G/wi, Hutterites, IfalukInuit of Utkuhikhalik and Qipisa Communities, Ju/’hoansi, KadarLadakhi, LepchasMalapandaram, Mbuti, Nubians, Paliyans, Piaroa, Rural Thai, Semai, TahitiansTristan Islanders, Yanadi, and Zapotec of La Paz.

Published encyclopedia articles on peaceful societies (Click on links for complete references): Dentan 2002; Fry 1999; Sponsel 1996a