Taboos: Considering the Unthinkable
A taboo is an "unthinkable" action, that is, even the thought of violating it triggers social punishment. Taboos are the social "thought police," discouraging individuals from considering certain type of actions. We consider a simple model in which taboos are part of the definition of one's identity. Deliberating over breaking the taboo adds the action to the individual’s choice set and provides information on possible private benefits but is costly because it contradicts one's identity. The strength of the taboo is endogenously determined by the number of individuals that obey it without any consideration of its violation. We model stable taboos and examine how they can change and disappear over time as a result of changes in the distribution of private benefits gained from its violation. We assume that individuals are heterogeneous with respect to their attitudes towards social punishment. We then analyze the relationship between social heterogeneity and the strength as well as effectiveness of taboos, i.e., are taboos stronger in homogenous or heterogeneous societies? We extend our analysis and examine societies in which individuals may choose among several identities, characterized by different taboos or varying strengths of taboos. Having such a choice defines an evolutionary process with respect to identity: Some identities disappear while others flourish. We examine the characterization and the conditions giving rise to a multi-identity society.
|Date of creation:||Jun 2008|
|Date of revision:|
|Contact details of provider:|| Postal: Centre for Economic Policy Research, 77 Bastwick Street, London EC1V 3PZ.|
Phone: 44 - 20 - 7183 8801
Fax: 44 - 20 - 7183 8820
|Order Information:|| Email: |
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- David Romer, 1984. "The Theory of Social Custom: A Modification and Some Extensions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 99(4), pages 717-727.
- Alvin E. Roth, 2006.
"Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets,"
NBER Working Papers
12702, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2000. "Economics and Identity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(3), pages 715-753.
- George A. Akerlof, 1980. "A Theory of Social Custom, of which Unemployment may be One Consequence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 94(4), pages 749-775.
When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:6854. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.