Thomas Kraft was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant during our spring 2016 cycle for his project entitled “Shifting co-residence and interaction patterns in a transitioning hunter-gatherer society.”
We humans are compelled to live in groups, yet the size and composition of groups varies widely between societies, from the small bands of hunter-gatherers to the massive social networks of modern mega-cities. To understand the origins of this extreme variation, this project will study a small-scale society (the Batek of Malaysia) that is presently shifting from a life of nomadic hunting and gathering to one focused on sedentary agriculture and other economic pursuits. My research will examine changes in co-residence patterns (who lives with who), sharing interactions, and contact networks between individuals. A particular focus will be paid to the effects of reduced mobility and changing economic activities on the composition and connectedness of social networks. This work will be conducted using a combination of intensive “on the ground” ethnographic fieldwork and the use of novel sensor technology to track individuals in high resolution. My study is expected to shed light on the historical importance of living with close relatives and how the rise of agriculture has influenced human social interactions, especially the exchange of resources and information. Social networks also have major implications for health and the spread of disease, and this research aims to identify how the structure of social networks might mitigate disease susceptibility.