Power in Middle Range Societies: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

Author(s): Lane Fargher

Year: 2016


For most of the second half of the twentieth century Neoevolutionary theory dominated explanations for the rise of social complexity and inequality. However, beginning about two decades ago, scholars began to problematize this framework. The resulting body of theory, referred to as “alternative pathways to complexity”, introduced concepts of structure and agency and moved away from functionalism and systems theory. Despite these improvements in our theoretical toolkit, much scholarship continues to focus only on the agency of the “elite” and ignores the strategic behavior of the subaltern. In this paper, we seek to expand “alternative pathways” by applying collective action theory to the rise of middle-range societies. In the following discussion, we apply collective action theory to a broad cross-cultural sample of middle-range societies drawn from Polynesia, Melanesia, Southeast Asia, Africa, South Asia, North America, and South America. The results of our statistical analysis reveal that emergent elites (aggrandizers) were only able to manipulate certain revenue sources when they sought to monopolize power. Apparently, the strategic behavior of the subaltern is a key factor in the emergence of inequality and complexity. Our results indicate that collective action theory provides insights into the development of social complexity.

Cite this Record

Power in Middle Range Societies: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Lane Fargher. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 402951)