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