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


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

Archaeological Evidence of Chumash Social Complexity

Chumash Tomol (National Geographic)

Chumash Tomol (National Geographic)

Inferring the social complexity (also known as the “social inequality”) of a settlement from solely its material remains is a common task in archeology. Socially complex settlements have a social structure with a division of labor based on more than age and gender and a hierarchical ranking of certain groups with differential access to resources and power. A socially complex society implies an integration of differentiated social roles into a cohesive society with uniform expressions of solidarity or difference via language and culture–things that are variously manifest in its material culture. Continue reading