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date: 12 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter treats gossip and reputation from an anthropological perspective, starting with the evolutionary origin of gossiping behavior and extending through the social and evolutionary functions of personal reputations in small-scale societies. The chapter points to an actual case history of a bizarre murder in an anthropology department, in which Persian burial rituals were replicated, and it provides an example of the use of gossip as a tool in anthropological field work, which is based on the author’s experience among tribal Serbs in Montenegro. The inherent “leakiness” of gossip systems is modeled, and the analysis of how private information becomes public suggests that often such exposure is a function of gossip chains rather than the result of deliberate betrayal of confidences. Also treated is the persistence of gossiping and reputation-mongering in modern literate society, including gossip columns, soap operas, and tabloids.

Keywords: moral consensus, norms, social bonding, altruism, evolutionary anthropology, selection by reputation theory, indirect reciprocity theory

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