Hypothetical Power Scenarios

Amanda Zunner-Keating
4 min readNov 27, 2020
HPhoto by Sébastien Goldberg on Unsplash

This page is intended to clarify the anthropological concepts of syncretism, domination, assimilation, and acculturation for students of anthropology.

Imagine that a cultural group “from the North” seeks better weather to avoid extreme winters and starts to travel in a southern direction while a group “from the South” seeks more fertile land for agriculture and begins to travel northward. Imagine that the Northern people are very advanced in medicine but that the Southern group is advanced in weaponry. These groups meet in the middle of their continent. Each may be a threat to the others’ survival and, based on varying circumstances, each would have more power than the other.

Scenario 1. The Southern group realizes that the Northern group has a higher chance of survival and therefore will likely be more successful in establishing their culture in the new land. The Southern group may decide to eliminate the competition for resources by attacking the Northern group using their more advanced weaponry. After a few years of warfare, the Northern group is completely destroyed and their cultural traditions, beliefs, and languages no longer have any survivors to continue them. This would be called “domination.”

Scenario 2. The Southern group realizes that, if they completely eliminate the Northern group, they won’t be able to access their medical knowledge anymore. So, instead of engaging in warfare, the Northern group uses the threat of violence to force the Northern people to make medicine for Southern families for free. Because the Southern families now have access to advanced medicine and advanced weaponry, they become more and more culturally powerful and have no incentive to engage with Northern culture. Northerners are expected to learn the Southern language, religion, and traditions in order to be viewed as “civilized” within the Southern-dominated culture and, over time, the Northerners completely “assimilate” to the Southern society.

Scenario 3. Instead of engaging in warfare, the two groups decide to engage with each other. Because the Southern group has more advanced weapons, they use the threat of force to demand that the Northern group trade their advanced medicine for a very low price. Unequal exchanges occur where many members of the Northern group start working for Southern families…

Amanda Zunner-Keating

Cultural Anthropologist in Los Angeles