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(P43) Horizons of decision making: futures, uncertainties and choices in hunter-gatherer lifeworlds

Convenor: Stephan Henn, University of Cologne

Abstract: We will discuss a wider understanding of decision making by looking at hunter-gatherers ways of anticipating the future and making choices, and by questioning current theoretical assumptions of rationality, temporality and locus in decision making. Welcome are case studies, theoretical approaches and models of decision making.

Keywords: decision making, temporality, rationality, uncertainty, distributed cognition

Format: standard panel

Precirculated materials: abstracts of presentations, available for download as soon as delivered by speakers


Decision making gets salient when people experience choices to be made. It provides a focus on the sociocultural repertoires used to reason about, communicate, negotiate, coordinate actions, and to cope with the contingencies of life.

Understanding decision making as deeply embedded in the culture and the lifeworlds of individuals, we can construe it as being an ongoing process of changing horizons in (social) space and time. These horizons determine the nature of choices and what are considered appropriate practices and rationales.

While many theories of decision making centre around an atomised human actor who chooses at a single point in time, maximising expected returns, this session particularly invites contributions that seek to take a wider point of departure by a) allowing for different rationales and b) allowing for a process of decision making that is embedded in a sociocultural environment and includes what has been described as “distributed cognition”. This encompasses cultural knowledge as, for instance, provided by oracles, by expert skills, in group routines, in material objects or in the human body.

Correspondingly, we welcome ethnographic case studies about how decision making happens and is reflected upon by hunter-gatherers themselves, as well as contributions that deal with their decision making in more theoretical terms and attempt to model the decision-making process.

The session also provides room for applied studies that are concerned with policies affecting hunter-gatherers with regard to issues like public health and capacity building in which assumptions about decision making also play a major role.

Possible topics for contributions are

  • hunter-gatherer practices of decision making
  • questions of agency
  • issues concerning modes of rationality
  • discourse and its link to decisions
  • emic framings of risk and chance
  • strategies for anticipating the future and coping with uncertainty or ignorance




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