Victor C. de Munck: Using Theory to Explain Ethnographic Descriptions of Change. Strain Stress and Identity Systems in a Sri Lankan Village

Abstract. – It is argued that the relationship between nomothetic theories and ethnography has been neglected to the detriment of both. Two nomothetic theories are described and synthesized. One authored by Beals and Siegel on internal strains (e.g., leisure versus labor; economics versus education) and external stressors (e.g., environment, demographics, epidemics) as they affect sociocultural change and increase conflict. The other, by Harrison White, describes the coercive force identity forms exert on their members. These two theories are synthesized and applied to understanding three ethnographic fields of research in a Sri Lankan village: swidden cultivation practices; political leadership structures, and the increasing ambivalence locals have towards kinship, considering it both a burden and a blessing. Nomothetic theory is supported by this study and, in turn, is shown to provide a framework for analyzing the ethnographic materials. [Sri Lanka, theory, strain stress, identity, socio-cultural change, leadership, swidden cultivation, kinship]