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Drinking beer as anthropology

SANTA FE, N.M. — We’ve already told you how San Francisco conceptual artist Tom Marioni has brought his concept of drinking beer with friends as an installation to SITE Santa Fe.

Now we discover that drinking beer with friends is not just art — it’s also anthropology!

Paul Hooper and Simon DeDeo, research fellows at the Santa Fe Institute, along with other colleagues have studied how drinking beer socially expresses patterns of reciprocity. In other words, you buy me a beer, I’ll buy you one. Invite me over to your house for a brew, and I’ll soon invite you to mine.

Hooper and his partner Ann Hooper Caldwell recently kept track of who invited whom over to drink chicha in Bolivia. Their findings, reported in the journal “Entropy”: People related to each other drank beer together more often, but etiquette did not require them to return hospitality as quickly as when they drank beer with unrelated people.

We saw this report in SFI’s January/February newsletter, which described chicha as a lightly alcoholic beer. “By peeling and boiling sweet manioc (a starchy tuber), then chewing boiled pieces to introduce enzymes,” the article said, “women prepare jugs of it every few days.”

Wait a minute — inviting people over to drink this is actually considered a favor?