People without Collapse: An Introduction

Author(s): Elizabeth Brite; Elizabeth Paris

Year: 2015


Eric Wolf's seminal work, Europe and the People Without History (1982), drew our attention to the periphery as an important locus of anthropological inquiry. By examining "people without history," Wolf was able to show that social complexity before the modern era was not a process that laid solely in the development and decline of isolated societies. Rather, both ancient and modern forms of social complexity rest upon the interconnections among peoples at global scales. This perspective has especially significant import for the archaeology of collapse, as it suggests that our frame of inquiry needs to be much wider than it has traditionally been. Specifically, we must consider the "peoples without collapse" – groups that are generally excluded from collapse narratives, either because their complexity is non-hierarchical, or because they lie on the periphery of hierarchically-organized states, city-state networks or empires. Some processes of collapse may be most visible in peripheral areas, and the actions and changes that occur in these areas may play important roles in the degree and nature of collapse as experienced in core areas. Ultimately, a focus on periphery areas and peoples provides insight into the relative stability of different social institutions in societies experiencing cultural transformation.

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People without Collapse: An Introduction. Elizabeth Paris, Elizabeth Brite. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395676)