John studies cultural dynamics in the Matsigenka and Colono populations. He is particularly interested in cultural norms, i.e., peoples’ beliefs about what constitutes appropriate behavior in contexts such as child-rearing, inheritance, labor, healthcare, and education. We have shown, unsurprisingly, that Matsigenka and Colonos tend to hold different norms in many such contexts. However, the distributions of these norms will almost certainly change over time, especially for the Matsigenka, as their interactions with Colonos outside the park in contexts such as commerce, wage labor, and education steadily increase. Our research suggests that certain types of Matsigenka-Colono inter-ethnic interaction, such as boarding secondary-school education, may have a stronger effect on the loss of Matsigenka-typical cultural norms than do other forms of inter-ethnic interaction, such as wage labor. We developed several hypotheses to explain the observed pattern of norm distributions, including differences in the bargaining power of Matsigenka relative to Colonos during individual-level coordination interactions. To test these hypotheses, we are conducting a longitudinal study of cultural norms and inter-ethnic interaction in the Matsigenka and Colono communities, as well as among Matsigenka boarding-school students and their teachers in Colono towns. One goal of this work is to contribute to a robust mechanistic theory of cultural change at ethnic boundaries. A second, and equally important, goal is to empower minority ethnic groups, like the Matsigenka, to develop strategies for the sustainability of cultural norms that they, collectively, would like to preserve, while at the same time facilitating desired inter-ethnic engagement.
Caissa’s research interests are related to human conceptualizations of, and interactions with, the environment. In particular, her study among the Matsigenka of Manu explores cultural understandings of non-human beings and the role of these understandings in people’s environmental behavior. Her research employs mixed methods, combining qualitative ethnographic and quantitative data collection, to examine the population-level variability and distributions of Matsigenka notions of plants, animals, and other non-human beings, as well as the dynamics of cultural change. She plans to complement her current research by studying these notions among residents of the non-Matsigenka Colono towns around Manu National Park, as well as by studying the processes of acquisition and transmission of environmental conceptualizations, in order to explore the mutual cultural influence of Matsigenka and Colonos. Caissa is also interested in exploring how environmental conflicts that emerge in particular socio-political contexts may be related to encounters between people with conflicting conceptions of the world, and the practices associated with such conceptions.
Both John and Caissa are committed to integrating long-term ethnography with quantitative field methods, and using insights from this empirical work to inform the development of theory, including mathematical models of cultural dynamics. In addition to our primary research interests above, we also study growth patterns (e.g., height and weight trajectories), as well as the material and oral culture of the Matsigenka. Importantly, we are committed to the welfare of the people with whom we work, as they choose to define it.