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This narrative and empirical analysis investigates Hilary's claim that in his day they would not have left a man behind to die. The authors examine over 60 years of Himalayan climbing data and stories in order to test the changes in cooperation in this extreme life and death environment.



1. Introduction

Savage and Torgler introduce the contextfor their work, by providing a narrative examination of recent tragedies and miracles in the Himalayan Mountains that have fired up media climbers alike. They explore the negative perception modern climbing has in the media and the many published books and general views of who is responsible for the breakdown in social behaviour. The chapter provides also a discussion on the need for a narrative analysis technique and how this analytical approach is able to provide a valuable research tool where empirical analysis alone would be lacking foundation. Finally, the authors also place the work into a behavioural and organizational setting with competing institutional norms.

David A. Savage, Benno Torgler

2. Historical Development

Savage and Torgler explore the foundations of the mountaineering traditions and social norms, beginning with the early 19th-century involvement of the British gentlemen and the adoption of their attitudes and beliefs. They explore how these attitudes and behaviours were transferred across generations to became the norm (‘brotherhood of the rope’) and discuss the integral role of the Sherpa to the setup of the expeditions. The authors also provide a detailed analysis on the decision to provide aid, which is associated with a large cost of assistance in such environments and well as a (social) cost for not doing so. The relationship within the brotherhood of climbers was paramount for the expectation of assistance to be maintained.

David A. Savage, Benno Torgler

3. Commercialization

Savage and Torgler investigate the explosion of commercialization that occurred in late 1980 and the reasons for its growth. They examine the relationship between commercial operators, their clients and the traditionalist climbers, which are being complicated by the very nature of each group’s identity, the existence of motivational differences, issues of legitimacy, and the perceived chasm in altruistic and pro-social behaviours. They examine how the introduction of the competing social institution can lead to a breakdown in reciprocity and helping behaviour, creating in- and out-groups that lead to conflict.

David A. Savage, Benno Torgler

4. Data and Methodology

Savage and Torgler provide detailed descriptive statistics for the data analysis and an in-depth discussion of the data and analytical technique. The analysis covers both the commercial and non-commercial periods using a broad range of control variables, which include death, injury, peak height, season, gender, age, expedition duration, size of expedition, oxygen.

David A. Savage, Benno Torgler

5. Analysis

Savage and Torgler find in their descriptive analysis that after a death commercial expeditions go on to record a successful climb in 80.6 per cent of cases while non-commercial expeditions are only successful 37.8 per cent of the time. This result is supporting in the multivariate analysis (likelihood of success is 2.5 times lower among non-commercial expeditions). Moreover, their results show that the introduction of the competing commercial expeditions has crowded out the pro-social behaviour in the non-commercial groups. The findings may also indicate that it is the Sherpa who are maintaining the pro-social behaviour, which is in line with much of the anecdotal evidence on Sherpa behaviour.

David A. Savage, Benno Torgler

6. Alternative Explanations

Savage and Torgler stress that results should be treated with some trepidation and explore alternate hypotheses to check soundness. For example, knowledge and technological changes could affect survivability, explaining the changes over time among non-commercial groups but not the death/success relationship difference between the groups. It is possible that less experienced climbers choose not to join commercial groups, but instead opt to directly hire Sherpa for themselves for a ‘solo’ expedition although the pricing structure would make it extremely expensive. Additionally, the authors explore the emotional attachment relationship between climbers and Sherpa with and without repeated interaction and its affect on helping behaviour. They also explore the role of moral obligation, religion and interaction between members of expeditions in relation to burial and body retrieval.

David A. Savage, Benno Torgler

7. Conclusions

Savage and Torgler conclude that competing social institutions are mutually detrimental and have shied behavioural norms, weakening pro-social and helping behaviour and have been progressively crowding out positive behaviours over the last sixty years. There appears to be an internal weakening of social norms between traditional climbers, driven by the inability to maintain the social norm through enforcement leading to its likely eventual demise. However, evidence shows that the Sherpa may be responsible for the maintenance of altruistic and helping behaviour. The authors conclude asking the question whether their results are a high altitude reflection of modern society in an extreme life-and-death arena or merely the attitudes and behaviours of a sub-set of society that is not transferable to the general population.

David A. Savage, Benno Torgler


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