Sociology and “The Gods Must Be Crazy”

So today I had the opportunity to watch The Gods Must Be Crazy twice in a row. I was subbing at a local middle school (my brother is a math teacher there) and the kids are doing a unit on Africa. As a movie on Africa, I think it is interesting but maybe problematic. As a movie about economic sociology, however, I think it’d be really interesting.

The beginning of the movie contrasts the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert with the residents of a modern (1980) city. In particular, the movie focuses on the different relationship to time and space (the clocks of the modern city, the need to re-adapt yourself to different physical and social environments throughout the day, etc.) and the existence or non-existence of private property. The action begins when a passing pilot drops a coke bottle out the window over the desert and one of the bushmen brings the bottle back to the tribe. While the bottle is a wonder to them (making many tasks easier, and serving as a unique musical instrument) the tribe soon falls from grace and begins squabbling over who gets to use the bottle.

I’m interested in how this portrayal of the rise of private property jives with those portrayed in various early anthropological, social theoretical (Hobbes, etc.), or other social science-y conceptions of the rise of private property(Polanyi’s say, or the late 19th century economists who tried to understand native economics, see Pearson’s Homo Economicus Goes Native). I think the movie (or at least the first 20 minutes or so – the story suffers a bit when you have all the “meeting the other” scenes, like the white school teacher meeting the natives meeting the bushman, etc.) would serve as a fun in-class discussion tool. I wonder if it goes a bit too far though in asserting that the bushmen have no concept of property – clearly, each person has their own shelter, and they have some concept of whose loincloths are whose, etc. What’s different about the coke bottle is its scarcity – everything else is personal, but not unique.

Anyway, long and short, if you haven’t seen the movie, check it out. And think about sociology while doing so.

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1 Comment

  1. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I am not familiar with Steve Epsteins work, but I will be sure to check it out.

    I definitely agree with you about the expertise thing. I mean, I went into all of this thinking that tests + medication = cured. And that’s not quite the way it works. I think whether we want to or not, we act as if doctors have super human powers, which clearly, they do not. They are human, too!

    Leslie