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Development of Social and Political Complexity

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Anthropology 2100
Peter Timmins

Jan, 14, 2013 The Development of Social and Political Complexity The Dilemma of Complex Societies: -People living in complex societies are not necessarily better off than people living in simpler societies because in complex societies people must pay taxes or tribute, their freedom may be restricted, and the interests of the state often comes before the interests of the common people -Marshall Sahlins says “People living in complex sedentary communities seem to live in the eternal economic dilemma of unlimited wants and limited means; but simpler societies have adjusted to their limited means by having fewer wants” Emerging Social and Political Complexity: -In the late 19th century within the framework of Unilinear Evolution the origin of complex societies was thought to be a natural progression but this is not widely accepted today -Archaeologists are interested in the processes by which centralized authority was achieved and whether that authority has legitimacy (centralized authority has legitimacy when the right to power is accepted) -When centralized authority is achieved through consensus the members of the society believe in the right of the centralized authority to govern but when acceptance of the centralized authority is coerced people may not believe in the right of the authority to govern Categories of Political Complexity: -Recall Elman Service’s definitions of societies of increasing complexity: bands, tribes, chiefdoms and states -Morton Fried’s scheme: egalitarian societies, ranked societies, and stratified societies and states -Egalitarian society is where the only differences in status are based on skill, age and gender and ranked society is when there is a hierarchy of prestige, not linked to age, gender or ability -Stratified society is access to key resources is linked to prestige -States are societies in which power is organized on a supra-kin basis or when a society is integrated by a bureaucracy that uses force -Both Fried and Service see the development of political complexity involving the transfer of authority from the family or kin group to a government with a bureaucracy not based on kinship (kinship may still play a role) -Service and Fried’s classification systems mask much variability in the political complexity of human societies and it is better to think of political complexity as forming a continuum in terms of increasing complexity in numerous different ways V. Gordon Childe’s Criteria for Urban Societies: -Urban centres -Surplus production and storage -Taxes -Foreign trade -Monumental architecture -A ruling class -Writing systems -Exact and predictive sciences -Sophisticated art styles -Specialist craftsmen Characteristics of Complex Societies at the State Level: 1. Based on cities with complex political organization, large territory, armies, taxation, laws, and bureaucracies 2. Complex economy based on centralized accumulation of capital through tribute and taxation 3. Record keeping (written script), science, and mathematics 4. Large public buildings and monumental architecture 5. State religion (ruler may be a religious leader) 6. Social hierarchy with a ruling class, administrators, merchants, commoners, peasants, and slaves Theories on the Origins of the State: -An Urban Revolution is suggested by Gordon Childe with the development of metallurgy and craft specialization created need for agricultural surplus which led to agricultural intensification, population increases, trade, and status differentiation -There is a problem with this because craft specialization may just be a consequence of increasing complexity and some societies have craft specialization but did not develop into states -Ecology and the “Fertile Crescent” theory says areas with rich soils develop food surplus and a need to administer it but this is seen as being too simplistic Jan, 14, 2013 -Population Growth is suggested by Es
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