Saturday, May 21, 2016



Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

May 21, 2016


            My friend Muttaki Kamal recently sent me a draft report of a recent natural social experiment, entitled “breaking norms.”  He took 20 rickshaw rides in his home town, Dhaka, Bangladesh.  On half the rides, he followed the standard practice of bargaining a price before he took the ride.  In 9 of 10 cases the pullers bargained for more than the standard fare.  On the other half, he simply gave the puller a destination, and when they arrived, handed him a large banknote, asking him simply to give back what they thought was right.  In 8 of 10 cases, pullers were at first bewildered; in 7 of 10, they kept only the standard fare (and Muttaki added tips). Muttaki concludes that this offer of trust builds trust, which becomes reciprocated, an illustration of the self-generating process that I call peacemaking.

            It reminds of me the work of “ethnomethodologist” Harold Garfinkel (who steered me from law school to a doctoral program in sociology via criminology, where Erving Goffman became my minor adviser in “phenomenology”), notably of the natural experiments he and his students performed that he reported as “Conception of, and Experiments with, ‘Trust’ as a Condition of Stable Concerted Action” (pp. 187-238 in O.J.Harvey, ed., Motivation and Social Interaction, 1963).  He asked student to disrupt norms, as by asking for clarification of a standard conversational opener, like “What do you mean by ‘doing fine’?”  (or surreptitiously pressing on my dad’s foot under the bridge table when he didn’t like my dad’s bid, in order to demonstrate the existence of “taken-for-granted” norms).

            Muttaki created trust; Hal Garfinkel created distrust to demonstrate trust’s existence.  Garfinkel created the state of mind that underlies conflict and violence.  Muttaki introduced trust by what successful hunters among indigenous people of the American Northwest a potlatch—giving away one’s accumulated power.  So it is as police become involved in the lives of people they police outside the context of law enforcement, letting “citizens” help setting their working agenda, as in Richmond, California, and Cincinnati, Ohio in recent times.  So it was that I found enrichment in the classroom as students’ knowledge and experience helped direct what we studied next, giving away my power to grade substance.  So I found that parties assumed power over the conflicts in mediation over which I helped preside.  Put together, Muttaki Kamal and Harold Garfinkel illustrate the proposition that breach of trust is the fundamental problem of violence, which injections of trust may transform.   Thanks, Muttaki, for showing so clearly and simply what it takes to get peacemaking underway.  Love and peace, hal

No comments:

Post a Comment