In the Kingdom of Tonga, the debate between monarchy loyalists and the recently established democratic movement has escalated and the capital has been plagued by riots. However, neither side challenges the legitimacy of the monarchic system. This research is part of a scientific investigation to answer the question of how Tongans can assume monarchy even as they pursue democracy. The researcher will employ cognitive anthropological methods to test the hypothesis there is a foundational cultural model with which Tongans conceptualize all relationships, from spatial, to social, to political. Radiality, as the model is termed, appears to be a fundamental Tongan cognitive process that organizes knowledge within and across mental models of many knowledge domains, and makes monarchy appear as natural as the social relationship that permeate Tongan life. Previous research has found the model to be generally held by ordinary Tongans; now the researcher will complete the project by investigating to what degree the same model is held by elite Tongans.

To complement linguistic, cognitive, and network data already collected among commoners, the researcher will collect new data from nobles, affluent individuals, and public officials. Thus, a more complete picture of the society will be obtained. Analysis will be completed by a team that includes experts in social network, kinship, and linguistic data analysis.

This investigation contributes to current research in cognitive anthropology and cognitive science by elucidating how cultural models are instantiated. If validated, the concept of a foundational cultural model as a fundamental cognitive process that is used to organize knowledge within and across mental modules would be a major contribution to understanding human cognition and behavior. The research also may be of practical value in helping to develop better policies and programs for introducing democratic concepts and institutions.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Deborah Winslow
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Northern Illinois University
De Kalb
United States
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