Harmony Ideology: Justice and Control in a Zapotec Mountain Village

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The Zapotec observe that 'a bad compromise is better than a good fight'. Why? This study of the legal system of the Zapotec village of Talea suggests that compromise and, more generally, harmony are strategies used by colonized groups to protect themselves from encroaching powerholders or strategies the colonizers use to defend themselves against organized subordinates. Harmony models are present, despite great organizational and cultural differences, in many parts of the world. However, the basic components of harmony ideology are the same everywhere: an emphasis on conciliation, recognition that resolution of conflict is inherently good and that its reverse - continued conflict or controversy - is bad, a view of harmonious behaviour as more civilized than disputing behaviour, the belief that consensus is of greater survival value than controversy. The book's central thesis is that harmony ideology in Talea today is both a product of nearly 500 years of colonial encounter and a strategy for resisting the state's political and cultural hegemony.