Social Learning Research

  • As part of a larger cross-cultural study, I have examined the social norms of fairness and sharing in rural Tamil day laborers.  Specifically, I examined three distinct but tightly related social preferences: self-interest, equality, and social efficiency.  The results suggest that people have preferences for how to distribute wealth that go beyond classical economic utility maximization, and include concern for how others are treated.  My current  research builds on these findings to measure cooperation between social groups as a component of successful sustainable environmental management.  This work contributes to the growing empirical evidence on the nature of human social preferences.

Artistic Evolution

  • I also study the form, meaning and evolution of a Tamil art form called the Kolam.  The Kolam, specifically the ner pulli, nelevu kolam, is a beautiful pattern of curving lines drawn around a matrix of dots.  The traditional Tamil art form is most commonly created by women in the early morning on the threshold of the house and drawn with kola pudi or chalk powder.  These Kolam patterns are extremely variable, and women display considerable skill in reviewing, recapitulating, and innovating new Kolam patterns.  I am currently studying the variation and diversity of Kolam designs drawn by women in the Kodaikanal area to try to gain some understanding about the routes through which these designs flow from woman to woman.  This research merges traditional ethnography with quantitative methods (such as social network analyses) in hopes of building more deeply predictive anthropological theory.

On Methods

  • I have found that there is no one way to the truth. In fact, if you only take only one way, you’ll never get there.  When it comes to science, especially social science, multiple is always better.  Multiple investigators, multiple inquiries, multiple data points (hopefully a great many) and multiple methods.  Each new method must be tested and compared so that we may know the properties and limitations of each.   I strive and sometimes fail to combine three a set of different research methods, including ethnography, surveys, experimental games and agent-based modeling.

Older Work

  • Water use and water quality in Bardiya National Park, Nepal
  • Spatially explicit ecological simulation of the Everglades, South Florida Water Management District
  • Social learning and environmental fluctuation, UC Davis
  • Social norms of sharing in day laborer population, Kodaikanal, India


    Here are a few (increasingly outdated) materials from graduate school.  These include A presentation (video and slides) that I gave to the UCLA Center for Behavior, Evolution and Culture in 2009 on this research is available online, and my dissertation itself.  The dissertation, however, was published as a work in progress.  You have been warned.