Open and/or closed cooperation?

Card's author : Corinne Lamarche - SupAgro Florac
Card's type of licence : Creative Commons BY-SA
Ideas developped by the author in the field of cooperation within the book or conference :

We are "programmed" to cooperate

Human cooperative behaviour is partly due to human genetic evolution. It is linked to the degree of relation and to identity features.
According to the theory of evolution, over centuries we have developed altruist behaviours with our family and the group we belong to.

Closed cooperation

Altruism develops in a group when this group competes against other groups. Several experiences have shown a pattern of closed cooperation in family groups or groups that people belong to. Children will be more likely to share with members of their closest group and will distrust other groups. The cognitive and emotional aspects play an important role (imitation, language, beliefs, imagination). Ethnology shows us groups that strengthen their solidarity with others to safeguard their material, and even immaterial goods. In many languages, the words used for “Us” and “Them” really express a linguistic distinction, but also a behavioural one between one's “own” group and the group of “others”. Throughout history, and even today, we find confirmation of ourselves in the opposition to “others”; our identity is built opposing others, and the same can be said for groups. Closed cooperation strengthens the bonds within a group one belongs to, and allows for a strong identity anchoring, valuing reputations, and can develop thanks to competition.

Open cooperation

Nevertheless, the specificity of the Homo Sapiens, contrary to the Neanderthal, was to elaborate forms of cooperation that were more and more open, to integrate into large networks, Mankind, depending on the situation, tends towards open cooperation. We cooperate more easily with people who cooperate themselves and by observing them we know if they are good co-operators. We could say of certain cooperative behaviours that they stem from a “competitive altruism”, such as the action of giving to charity. This could be interpreted as a search for self-valuation, to grow one's reputation to then be chosen by the group. But what about a situation where the individual saves a life in risk, even at the risk of losing his own? This is not a situation of competitive altruism.
So which are the factors that push us to cooperate in a family or with other larger groups?
Open cooperation allows bringing new people into the group and, therefore, making new acquaintances, learning new things, increasing one's exposure to doubt (a necessary condition for innovation).

The variables in promoting open cooperation

First of all, what are the benefits of open cooperation? Throughout history, and through experience, it has been seen that there is a cultural accumulation and a contribution of innovation due to geographical, ecological, demographical, and linguistic factors. Openness to others can be done in a multitude of ways of doing and thinking, and the size of the group also affects our ability to adapt and brings a certain political stability.
There are three other variables that are important to understand “the evolutionary bases of human cooperation and the way in which they are culturally modulated":
  • sanctions. They would have a positive effect when there are also strong pro-social rules at the same time, a legitimacy of the actors and trust in institutions.
  • the notion of collective identity in the sense of creating a bond, being part of “Us”; cooperation is linked to social motivations and emotions, not instrumental motivations or a utilitarian goal.
  • political power, even if it entails risks, is a question of moral choice and of accepting moving from an exclusive “us” to an inclusive “us”, tending towards an aggregative process which becomes more and more socially complex and diverse.

Closed cooperation and open cooperation are expressed simultaneously, and each has advantages and disadvantages. To answer the question of identity in each of them, first of all it would be necessary to determine the need for cooperative behaviours. "At the beginning "Identify yourselves, then cooperate", we would be facing a totally different principle "Cooperate, then you will feel identified".
Short introduction of the book's author : Joël Candau : Professor at the Department of Sociology and Ethnology at the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis.
He is an elected member of the French National Council of Universities, a member of the section on “Social anthropology, ethnology and regional languages " at the Historical and Scientific Studies Society CTHS (since 2006), a member of the French Ethnological Society, a member of the Drafting Committee of the journal Le monde alpin et rhodanien, an expert working in the AERES and the director of the “Mémoire, Identité et Cognition sociale” Anthropology and Sociology Laboratory (LASMIC, EA 3179).
Literature references : DUSSAUX, Maryvonne. «Pourquoi coopérer», Terrain, n° 58, 2012. Lectures [online]. 2012. [Accessed 4 February 2014]. Available from :