Big man (anthropology)
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A Big Man refers to a highly influential individual in a tribe, especially in Melanesia and Polynesia. Such person may not have formal tribal or other authority (through for instance material possessions, or inheritance of rights), but can maintain recognition through skilled persuasion and wisdom. The big man has a large group of followers, both from his clan and from other clans. He provides his followers with protection and economic assistance, in return receiving support which he uses to increase his status.
Big Man "system"
The American anthropologist Marshall Sahlins has studied the Big Man phenomenon. In his much-quoted 1963 article "Poor Man, Rich Man, Big Man, Chief: Political Types in Melanesia and Polynesia", Sahlins uses analytically constructed ideal-types of hierarchy and equality to compare a larger-scale Polynesian-type hierarchical society of chiefs and sub-chiefs with a Melanesian-type big-man system.
The latter consists of segmented lineage groups, locally held together by faction-leaders who compete for power in the social structure of horizontally arranged and principally equal groupings (factions). Here, leadership is not ascribed, but rather gained through action and competition "with other ambitious men".
A Big Man's position is never secured in an inherited position at the top of a hierarchy, but is always challenged by the different big-men who compete with one another in an on-going process of reciprocity and re-distribution of material and political resources. As such the Big Man is subject to a transactional order based on his ability to balance the simultaneously opposing pulls of securing his own renown through distributing resources to other Big Man groups (thereby spreading the word of his power and abilities) and redistributing resources to the people of his own faction (thereby keeping them content followers of his able leadership).
The Big Man concept is relatively fluid, and formal authority of such figures is very low to nonexistent. His position is not inherently heritable.
In the Island of Malaita in Solomon Islands the Big Man system is dying away as westernization is influencing the people, but the Big Man system can be seen at the political level. Every four years in Solomon Islands' National Elections the system can be clearly seen among the people, especially in the Melanesian Islands.
The "Big Man" system in Papua New Guinea
Traditionally, among peoples of non-Austronesian-speaking communities, authority was obtained by a man (the so-called "Big Man") recognised as "performing most capably in social, political, economic and ceremonial activities". His function was not to command, but to influence his society through his example. He was expected to act as a negotiator with neighbouring groups, and to periodically redistribute food (generally produced by his wives). In this sense, he was seen as ensuring the well-being of his community.
The "Big Man" system in online communities
The existence of Big Men systems is known to also exist on the Internet. The role of the Big Man in online communities takes the form of absorbing the conflicts of the community and having to take responsibility for the actions of others. A Big Man takes part in trolling by posting something they mistakenly think is pleasing to others in order to support their world view, even though that person then turns against them.
- James Whitley ("Social Diversity in Dark Age Greece", The Annual of the British School at Athens 86 (1991:341-365) applied Sahlins' ethnographic model to instability in settlement patterns during the Greek Dark Age, 10th-8th centuries BCE.
- Marshall Sahlins, Poor Man, Rich Man, Big Man, Chief; Political Types in Melanesia and Polynesia, In: Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 5, No.3, pp.285-303, April 1963.
- Strathern, The Rope of Moka: big-men and ceremonial exchange in Mount Hagen, New Guinea (Cambridge, 1971)
- Waiko, John D. (1993). A Short History of Papua New Guinea, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-553164-7, p.9
- Campbell, J., Fletcher, G. & Greenhil, A. (2002). Tribalism, Conflict and Shape-shifting Identities in Online Communities. In the Proceedings of the 13th Australasia Conference on Information Systems, Melbourne Australia, 7–9 December 2002
- Bishop, J. (2008). Increasing Capital Revenue in Social Networking Communities: Building Social and Economic Relationships through Avatars and Characters. In: Romm-Livermore, C. (ed.) Social Networking Communities and eDating Services: Concepts and Implications. New York: IGI Global. Available online
- Campbell, J., Fletcher, G. and Greenhill, A. (2009). Conflict and Identity Shape Shifting in an Online Financial Community, Information Systems Journal, (19:5), pp. 461–478. Available online
- Bishop, J. (2013). The Psychology of Trolling and Lurking: The Role of Defriending and Gamification for Increasing Participation in Online Communities Using Seductive Narratives. In: J. Bishop (Ed.) Examining the Concepts, Issues, and Implications of Internet Trolling. IGI Global: Hershey, PA. Available online.
- Bishop, J. (2012). Scope and Limitations in the Government of Wales Act 2006 for Tackling Internet Abuses in the Form of ‘Flame Trolling’. Statute Law Review 33 (2), 207-216.
- "The Big Men: Chris Bowler, Ben Smyth, Alex Thomas, and John Zhang." Essay by John Zhang in the 18th issue of Scroop.