Near the Knuckle: How Evolutionary Logic Helps Explain Irish Traveller Bare-Knuckle Contests

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Irish Travellers constitute a pre-demographic-shift population living among a post-demographic-shift one. Their socio-medico profile identifies them as largely on fast life-history trajectories. In addition, they are strongly religious (typically using no contraception), highly sexually behaviorally dimorphic, with strong traditions of male-male competition (bare-knuckle fighting) and quasi-symbolic bride capture (“grabbing”). Their male-male competitions thus allow for the comparative testing of a number of interesting theories pertaining to the nature and function of types of violence in society. As a pilot study, we used expert raters (some naive to the hypotheses) to analyze a number of real-life bare-knuckle competitions in terms of the support said spectacles offered to theories of this sort of violence as reinforcing ideas of antisociality, hierarchical promotion, intersexual signaling, or maintenance of within-group equality. We found good evidence to support theories of within-group, prosocial hierarchical functions for these contests. Limitations and implications for future research, such as direct measurement of fitness, are discussed.




King, R., & O’Riordan, C. (2019). Near the Knuckle: How Evolutionary Logic Helps Explain Irish Traveller Bare-Knuckle Contests. Human Nature.

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