Craft Specialization & Social Complexity

Craft specialization, the regular provision of products and/or services for exchange, also known as economic specialization, is correlated with social complexity in extant societies as well as in the archeological record (Costin 2007; Clark and Parry 1990; Clark and Blake 1994; Arnold 1992). Archeologists often make inferences about the social organization, politics and economy of a settlement based on the material remains of specialized craft goods. Specialized craft production is when people make more of something they need for their household and dependents and exchange the their surplus production for something else. There is a relationship between the level of craft specialization and social complexity. They both appear to progress hand-in-hand. Archeologists have found that the more evidence of specialized craft production there is, the greater the size and social complexity of its society. However, there are competing theories on the nature of the relationship. What are the independent factors that drive the formation of socially complex societies? Does social complexity produce economic specialization, exchange networks and the production and consumption of prestige goods (Diamond 1999)? Or, do specialized production of goods and services, financed by elite patrons, serve to produce and maintain social complexity by financing elite control of resources and symbolically validating their elite status with prestige objects? Which comes first, the craft specialization or the social complexity?

In this paper I will review the relationship between craft specialization and social complexity according to recent archeological theory. But first I will define some terms. Continue reading

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Beliefs & Behaviors: Benedict, Lévi-Strauss & Leach

What makes people do what they do and believe what they believe? In the following essay I will trace the differing explanations of why people do what they do of three influential anthropologists. The ideas of the relationship between beliefs and behaviors varies significantly among Ruth Benedict, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Edmund Leach. All three of them believed that meanings and values were contextual and historically produced. However, they differed in what they believed was the relationship between a person’s thoughts/beliefs and behaviors/actions. Continue reading

Four Neo-Evolutionists Walk into a Bar: Steward, White, Service & Fried

Neo-evolutionary anthropology developed in the mid-Twentieth Century as a response to the need to develop theories that better explained cultural differences, similarities and the processes of culture change than the British Structural-Functionalists or the American Historical Particularists. The need was especially felt in archeology for an empirical method that could be used to categorize types of societies from material evidence. This new theoretical perspective incorporated evolutionary theory with Marxism, Structural-Functionalism of British anthropology, the American Historical Particularists and other perspectives. Neo-evolutionists Julian Steward, Leslie White influenced their successors at Columbia University Elman Service, Morton Fried, Marvin Harris and Sidney Mintz . The following essay will compare and contrast the explanations for social evolution of Steward and White and that of their successors Service and Fried. Continue reading

Political Authority According to Ed and Fred

Both Edmund Leach (“Ed”) and Fredrick Barth (“Fred”) disputed the British Structuralists conception of society as a socially cohesive, culturally homogenous and territorially bound entity that used coercion (military force) to maintain itself. In their fieldwork, both anthropologists found proof of inherently unstable and diverse societies that used other means than coercion to maintain the political authority of its leaders. The following essay will compare and contrast each of their explanations of the forces that underwrote power and authority in Kachin and Pathan tribal societies respectively. Leach, who did his fieldwork during World War II in the Kachin society of Highland Burma was an mentor to Barth at Cambridge University. Barth did his field work with the tribal Pathans of the Swat Valley in highland Pakistan in the late 1940s. Continue reading