Power from Below: Collectivity and Heterarchy in Global Perspective

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

This symposium focuses on how ordinary people self-govern or co-govern, creating complex polities that maintain egalitarian structures, espouse egalitarian ideologies, or both. We focus on systems of governance engineered to balance power, but also how they continuously develop, falter and are reshaped: some built directly on earlier egalitarian roots, others stemming from overthrow of authoritarian structures through a yearning for "return" to more balanced rulership – real or imagined. Archaeological concern with alternative forms of governance burgeoned after the "social turn" that took root in the 1980s, followed by convincing exploration of concepts like heterarchy and corporate organization in the 1990s and beyond. Today, the idea of differently-organized distributions of power no longer needs to be justified, leaving room to expand study into collective action, subaltern political movements, self-organized production, public assembly places, and political cohesion based on principles other than kinship and coercion. Contributions delve more deeply into this multidimensional space, where complex politicized actors, from commoner to ruler, can be studied. These once-invisible people can be discovered through the use of new methods and theories, fundamentally changing our perception of how past societies were constituted.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-11 of 11)

  • Documents (11)

  • "And Make Some Other Man Our King": Mortuary Evidence for Labile Elite Power Structures in Early Iron Age Europe (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Bettina Arnold.

    "...we have been set free... by our most tireless prince, King and lord, the lord Robert... Yet if he should give up what he has begun, seeking to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy... and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King" (Declaration of Arbroath April 6, 1320). The Romans in 1st century BC Gaul and the English in 14th century AD Scotland described the political...

  • Assembling conceptual tools to examine the moral and political structures of the past (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Carole Crumley.

    As recent events demonstrate, power can manifest entirely outside the framework of state hierarchies and beyond their control. Beginning with the premise that tension between competition and cooperation exists in all human societies, we must explore the ways rules and norms permit or deny each, and how both interact with history and changing conditions to forge institutions. Today, new ways to stabilize societies and reduce conflict must be found. One of the most important conditions for...

  • Assembly sites: arenas of interplay between the elite and wider community in Late Iron Age Scandinavia (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alexandra Sanmark.

    This paper investigates the interrelationship between the elite and the wider community at Scandinavian assembly (thing) sites in the late Iron Age. Monuments suggest that these sites were designed by the elite for the performance of elite rituals, such as legitimising power and kingship. At the assembly, laws involving ethnic identity and group belonging were publicised and enforced and the sites themselves must therefore have had a role to play in the creation and upholding of collective...

  • Collective Action in Iron Age Europe: Public Assemblies as Arenas for Participatory Government (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Manuel Fernandez-Gotz.

    Public assemblies were a common phenomenon in Iron Age and Early Medieval Europe. In these large collective meetings, important decisions concerning war, peace, the choice of military leaders, legislation and the administration of justice were taken. Together with their political role, they also fulfilled other simultaneous functions, including religious festivals and the holding of fairs. Once believed to be archaeologically invisible, recent research has identified the remains of a large...

  • Collective Action in State Building, Past and Present (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Richard Blanton.

    I report on a comparative study of degrees of collective action in 30 premodern states and 30 contemporary nation-states. Contrary to the notion of democratic reform in state-building, I found roughly similar proportions of more and less collective (autocratic) states in the two samples. I propose a hypothesis for the failure of democratic reform drawn from collective action theory.

  • Does the Site-Size Hierarchy Concept Mask the Complexity of Urban-Hinterland Relations? (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Monica Smith. Rabindra Kumar Mohanty.

    The site-size hierarchy concept was born of a marriage between a long-standing interest in the emergence of the state and the mid-twentieth-century development of systematic regional survey projects. The assumption of equivalence between sites and territorial complexity facilitated an intellectual investment in survey data beyond a mere tally of sites towards an analysis of the way in which political administrations functioned at the landscape scale. The resultant easy equivalence of four-tiered...

  • Materialization of social resistance: trends on NW Iberia late Prehistory and Protohistory and beyond (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Felipe Criado-Boado. Lois Armada. César Parcero-Oubiña. Alfredo González-Ruibal.

    This paper deals with a so-called "negative" approach to social complexity and social development. Instead of understanding the arising of complex societies as a result of positive ontology, it focuses on the resistances, negations and the invisible that tried to avoid or at least to minimize social inequality and exploitation. The arising of complex societies could, alternatively, be conceived as the trend to resist social division and its generalization. The paper will show as the material...

  • Peasants, Agricultural Intensification, and Collective Action in Pre-Modern States (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lane Fargher. Richard Blanton.

    Historically, anthropological archaeologists assumed that intensification, in complex societies, involved a combination of population pressure and state direction, which culminated in the rise of powerful, centralized states. However, intensive research over the last 30 years has considerably altered our concepts of intensification and the state. Drawing on landscape archaeology and alternative pathways theory, we consider how diverse political-economic and landscape strategies interact to...

  • The Perplexing Complexity of Some New Guinea Communities (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Paul Roscoe.

    At contact, a number of New Guinea communities boasted considerable ‘horizontal’ complexity – very large populations (up to 2,500 people) and ceremonial arenas that engaged even more. Many also constructed monumental architectures of organic material and staggering size. These communities included complex fisher-foragers and Big-man horticulturalists, organizations that are commonly identified as only minimally hierarchical. Certainly, their hierarchical institutions were insufficiently...

  • Reversals of Fortune: Understanding Shifts in Political Power from Above and Below (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only T. L. Thurston.

    Current social theories from a variety of disciplines offer ways through which we may understand when and why citizens of a polity or subjects a ruler are likely to protest or rise in response to problems in the relationship between governments and those they govern. Some forms of asymmetry and inequality serve as good general predictors of when protest, rebellion, or civil war are most likely to occur, while the ways in which these issues are framed and resolved vary from society to society. ...

  • Societies against the Chief? re-assessing the value of ‘heterarchy’ as a concept for describing European Iron Age societies (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only David González Álvarez. Tom Moore.

    As a reaction against the dominant warrior chiefdom model of European Iron Age society, much of recent scholarship has emphasised the negotiated nature of power in these societies. Such approaches frequently characterise these societies as ‘heterarchical’ yet the dynamics of how communities operated above the level of the household remain relatively under-theorised. This paper reassesses the value of concepts of heterachy for two regions of Europe, southern Britain and North-western Iberia. It...