Anthropology Magazine

Does Generosity Come Naturally?

Does Generosity Come Naturally?

Everyone has experienced generosity—and its opposite. An anthropologist investigates the roots of human cooperation.

When anthropologist Cathryn Townsend headed into the field in 2009 to study generosity, she knew the project was for her. She became the only person, other than anthropologist Colin Turnbull, who has lived and studied with both the Mbuti people of the Congo region and the Ik of Uganda, she says. One community was known for its egalitarianism and the other for its selfishness.

When Turnbull last visited the Ik in the 1960s, something had gone terribly wrong. He observed that the Ik were “inhuman” and “inhospitable,” and he dubbed them “the loveless people.” Tasked with studying generosity and stinginess in the Ik tribe decades later, Townsend shares her insights on how generosity is practiced when community resources are limited.

To learn more about Cathryn Townsend’s work, follow her on Twitter @CathrynTownsend.

This episode is inspired by the article “Is a More Generous Society Possible?

Learn more about the Human Generosity Project, of which Cathryn is a part.

Read a transcript of this episode here.

SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human is a part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library.