Experiencing History Small: An analysis of political, economic and social change in a Sri Lankan village

Author: De Munck, Victor
Almanac: History & Mathematics: Historical Dynamics and Development of Complex Societies

Descriptive statistical methods are frequently used to track social change at the community level. Thus even idiographic theories, those specific to a community or society, can be supplemented with the use of simple mathematical methods. It is likely that, despite the obvious problems in applying mathematical formulas to the analysis of individual beliefs and behaviors, in the near future the happenstance and improvisational quality of human behaviors will present a new opportunity and challenge for the mathematical modeling of micro-dynamic systems. The paper below does not represent an advance nor is it unique in its application of simple statistics, but it does suggest the need for applying more sophisticated mathematical models than those used in order to describe and analyze social change at the micro-level of the community. The statistical methods employed herein can only be used as snapshots by which we can compare static patterns, what is needed is to describe and understand the dynamics that related these cultural snapshots with one another.

This is a study of the process of diachronic cultural change at the local level and over a span of approximately 50 years. Ethnographic research was conducted in the Village of Kutali[1], located in the South-Eastern Uva Bintenne Province of Sri Lanka. During the main period of my research, between June 1979 and February 1982, the village was undergoing rapid, visible and explicit structural and cultural changes in its economic, political and social systems. By structural change I mean that "traditional" ascriptive and hereditary foundations of local political and economic structures were being replaced by achieved status based structures; by cultural change I mean that, coterminous with structural changes, changes in values and norms with regard to social relations were also manifestly changing.

[1] Kutali is a pseudonym I have used elsewhere.