Ryan Schacht

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

East Carolina U.

Grant number

Gr. 9625

Approve Date

April 13, 2018

Project Title

Schacht, Dr. Ryan N., U. of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT - To aid research on 'Economic Diversification in Response to Socioecological Uncertainty: Causes and Consequences of the Emergence of Inequality among the Yucatec Maya'

Preliminary abstract: Rapid economic and social changes often introduce novel subsistence options that have uncertain outcomes. While these developments offer many new opportunities, they also present challenges to the individuals navigating them because traditional cultural knowledge may be insufficient to evaluate the costs and benefits of pursuing new and untested strategies. This situation is widespread in contemporary small-scale societies as individuals encounter economic options for which norms and payoffs to a particular behavior have not yet been established. Although this presents a classic risk management problem, how and why individuals vary in their adoption of a particular subsistence strategy given a suite of novel options is understudied. Among the Yucatec Maya, recent infrastructure development has introduced new options (e.g. mechanized farming, wage labor) into a previously stable and homogeneous subsistence economy. These developments create a novel situation where payoffs to new subsistence behaviors are uncertain. Our goal is to test the hypothesis that risk orientation is a key determinant mediating the relationship between relational wealth and material wealth during the emergence of inequality. Specifically, our central prediction is that preexisting variation in relational wealth (kin and non-kin network size) affects risk orientation and subsequently allows for the accumulation of material wealth in some households more than others. Using both longitudinal and cross-sectional data, this proposed project offers the potential for significant development in the study of emerging inequality through a clearer understanding as to why some individuals and lineages are better equipped to accumulate wealth in response to novel economic opportunities.