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Keywords:

  • Emotions;
  • cooperation;
  • Aboriginal Australia

The word ‘envy’ directs attention to feelings and cognitions that are especially important sources of information in our complicated sociality. As it is delimited by philosophers, economists, psychologists and others, envy is conceptually nested within a family that includes evil eye beliefs, inequity aversion, strong reciprocity and social comparison. Although the accumulation of work in these areas is substantial, anthropological treatments of envy are rare. Given repeated assertions of envy's universality and its potential importance for understanding widespread aspects of the human condition, a comparative eye seems essential. I present an account of ‘jealous’ in Aboriginal Australia via a framework that casts emotions as emerging from the interaction of psychobiological and sociocultural processes. According to this perspective, ‘envy’ should not be regarded as an invariant human condition but rather as a Western version of what, in a more generic human form, may both defend the individual and the larger sociality.