Consensus building and norm engineering

The New York Times has a fascinating article on a recent radical decline in the prevalence of female genital cutting / mutilation in Senegal:
Across the continent, an estimated 92 million girls and women have undergone [genital cutting]. But like more than 5,000 other Senegalese villages, Sare Harouna has joined a growing movement to end the practice.
The change has not yet reached Ms. Kande’s new home in her husband’s village, but if elders there pressured her to cut the baby girl she is taking into the marriage, she said, “I would resist them.” Her parents back her up.
“They would never dare do that to my granddaughter, and we would never allow it,” said Ms. Kande’s mother, Marietou Diamank.
The movement to end genital cutting is spreading in Senegal at a quickening pace through the very ties of family and ethnicity that used to entrench it. And a practice once seen as an immutable part of a girl’s life in many ethnic groups and African nations is ebbing, though rarely at the pace or with the organized drive found in Senegal. ...
[H]ere in Senegal, Tostan, a group whose name means “breakthrough” in Wolof, Senegal’s dominant language, has had a major impact with an education program that seeks to build consensus, African-style, on the dangers of the practice, while being careful not to denounce it as barbaric as Western activists have been prone to do.
The movement's success is heavily attributed to its inclusivity and consensus building, and the anecdotal evidence in the article seems to back it up. The fact that Tostan's strategy heavily involves griots, traditional story tellers who are somewhere between musician, MC, and radio personalities, seems particularly intuitive and appealing, a bit like trying to get celebrities and athletes in the US to speak out against smoking.

Along those lines, attributing of the program's success to having tailored itself to "African-style" consensus building seems rather small-minded. There are obviously many ways to get people to change their behavior (taxation, accolades, providing information ...), but abolishing genital mutilation seems to be a classic case of changing social norms, and when you think about it, a social norm is nothing more than a codification of expectations over the everyone's behavior. Changing a social norm involves shifting from one equilibrium state of expectations (everyone knows genital cutting is common and necessary and if my daughter doesn't undergo it she and my family will be judged) to another (everyone knows genital cutting is dangerous and unnecessary and if someone asks my daughter to do it they're crazy) for the entire group of individuals. It is, by definition, establishing a consensus. 

I think we can thus say that Tostan's success (to the extent that the success is Tostan's and not attributable to larger demographic forces) lies less in exploiting some native preference for consensus that "Africans" have than in focusing efforts on small clusters of individuals with correlated norms (villages), and then propagating that norm change through the next-closest set of clusters (neighboring / inter-marrying villages). That Tostan works to convince those individuals in an inoffensive way (try convincing anyone, anywhere, to stop doing something because it's 'barbaric') seems necessary but not sufficient to effect that change. 

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