Certainly, this article is talking more about how third parties help with prevention of crime but the very concept is highly adaptable to our work.The subject of rules and how they are established and maintained is an important topic in community food systems where so much is self-regulated. If we continue to advocate for “home rule” as it were, how do we embed the appropriate levels of control into these tiny volunteer-led markets and entrepreneurial food system projects? And beyond that, what levels of certification are truly necessary without killing innovation or democracy?
I think a big part of the answer is how well we understand the social ties that we have within each project and how they can be best utilized to maintain quality and openness.
Gelfand et al’s model says that having third party punishers in your neighborhood or workplace is dependent largely on “high average strength-of-ties and low mobility.” Or put more simply, knowing the people around you and not being likely to leave. The higher the strength of ties and the lower the mobility, the more third party punishment you’re likely to see. In these situations, Gelfand’s question (why are these people intervening?) has a logical answer: “Punishing responsibly fosters a culture of cooperation in the neighborhood, by signaling that defection is not tolerated.”
So what happens if we have low strength of ties and high mobility, which is sometimes the case in melting-pot cities such as D.C.? In highly transient communities where few people know their neighbors, third party punishers are far and few between. “It’s really difficult for responsible third party punishers unless there’s a few of them around a neighborhood,” Patrick Roos says. For those of you who consider yourselves white knights, this also means that “a single third party punisher is unlikely to remain one for a very long time.” (Unless that third party is, say, Jackie Chan’s character from Rumble in the Bronx.)