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Journal of Interdisciplinary History
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  1. Barrington Moore Book Award – Comparative and Historical Sociology
  2. Find a Book
  3. Social inequality in the evolution of human societies
  4. Contact information of Oxford University Press

Focusing on the main themes of the development of capitalism, the growth of the state and religious upheaval, this comprehensive social history sheds light on changes throughout Europe in the critical early modern period. Language: English Copyright: An entertaining book that breaks new scholarly ground, The Rise and Fall of Merry England explores the rituals which marked This book provides an alternative approach to the history of social conflict, popular politics and plebeian culture in the early Here, Richard Lachmann offers a new answer to an old question: Why did capitalism develop in some parts of early Between the s and s, cities in the vast region stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean were Please note that the Lexile measures for a small population of books have been recently updated.

Enhancements were made to more precisely measure materials read in K-2 classrooms. Caging effects were able to coalesce, irregularly, in groups of foragers extraordinarily endowed by nature, perhaps as early as the Upper Paleolithic age. But considerable investment of labour in agriculture especially irrigated agriculture and enlarged surpluses created the self-reinforcing combination of caging and ratchet effects, driving up social complexity in agrarian populations. This included the new institutions of warfare, because it now made sense not merely to raid but also to conquer and enslave productive neighbours.

Barrington Moore Book Award – Comparative and Historical Sociology

The growth of social complexity implied evolutionary progress. Yet along these winding paths we encounter in archaeological records novel, specialised, and quite expensive tools like swords or daggers shaped solely in order to disembowel humans, as well as the increasingly imposing temples, where humans might be sacrificed to dramatise new ideological spectacles of power Flannery and Marcus, Chieftaincy imposes itself upon the collective powers of humans.

Its coercive and entrepreneurial aspects become the second mover of social evolution. I suggest calling them elemental powers. Political power comes only later in history with new state institutions. States greatly intensified the pace of historical transformation, reaching truly revolutionary proportions in recent centuries. The question for us now, as in fact it was for the first evolutionary thinkers of the late nineteenth century, is where might this progression go next? Theoretically, there are three possibilities. We now know that extinction has threatened many human populations in the past.

Today the usual suspects are environmental degradation, epidemics of new untreatable diseases, and atomic weapons. There could be other, yet unrecognised threats to human existence on the planet.

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The second evolutionary possibility is stasis at the pinnacle of achievement. Indeed, this has been the long-standing modern hope of many liberals and conservatives who would have liked social evolution to stop where it was. The analytical problem with this expectation is the lack of a clearly defined mechanism except, of course, elite sermonising by which social evolution can be slowed down to a comfortable halt in a society still characterised by class and ethnic-status inequities. The third logical possibility then is the continuation of social evolution.

But what can we meaningfully say about this possibility if our recent past and present are already without historical precedent? A common doubt in theories of social evolution points to the problematic applicability of Darwinian principles beyond biology. But must all evolution be Darwinian?

The key mechanisms of cultural change do seem more Lamarckian than Darwinian: the inheritance of knowledge through learning, the purposeful amalgamation and anastomosis of different traditions Gould, In the last couple of centuries, the very period of modernity, science has hugely enhanced and directed these two mechanisms of changing knowledge. Is knowledge power?

Social inequality in the evolution of human societies

It is arguably a core component in any kind of power, although perhaps not a source of power on its own. The production and use of knowledge depend on conditions flowing from the main sources of social power. Yet macro-historical sociology has consistently shown that social change emerges interstitially.

Modern universities were created in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries out of the administrative, military, and industrial concerns of states and their ruling elites. After , universities have vastly expanded their enrolment numbers and spread around the world with the newly added concern of incorporating rising lower social strata and previously dominated groups which had been politically empowered by the effects of world wars and subsequent revolutions, reforms, and decolonisations.

Despite neoliberal policies of economisation, universities have generally proved remarkably resilient. They have been defended by the prestige and collective powers of their professoriate, who in fact have become the newest variety of a labour aristocracy. But for the most part, higher education in post world transformation became central to the life-cycle reproduction of educated middle class specialists and it was therefore also central to the hopes of new arrivals to middle-class positions.

In effect, universities turned into a major site of class and identity contention. The interstitial situation of universities under late capitalism, their extensive organisation, and the positional interests of their numerous inhabitants, both permanent faculty and temporary students , together create the potential for advancing political claims that could change the existing distribution of powers.

The collective power achieved by the humanity could yet become less monopolistic and more collectively distributional. If this reminds you of rebellious hopes, this is not coincidental. Their failure, followed by a lasting period of reaction, was fundamentally a failure of ideological vision. The educated dissidents in advanced industrial society, guided by pre-rational aversion more than good reason, did not take the path of former revolutionaries epitomised by the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks.

The extreme experiences of the early twentieth century showed that this revolutionary strategy, centred on the seizure of individual states amidst contemporary military geopolitics, was fraught with the risks of totalitarian dictatorship and war. Macro-historical sociology arrived a little too late to spread its newly gained insights into the ideology and politics of practical social change towards greater egalitarianism. Will we be too late again? In this article, I want to sketch a necessarily grand evolutionary argument. It starts in prehistory and extends to the present age of globalisation, where the old elemental powers of personal chieftaincy are still operating above, between, and within the modern institutions of state and private bureaucracy.

smithtiteampbung.tk We can see this most clearly in the current proliferation of warlords, mafia dons, religious and secular ideological entrepreneurs, and above all, in the corruption of politicians and corporate bosses. Modern states and business corporations, however, have grown far larger than the typical range of control by personalist rulers, as much as they attempt to retain control.

Here is the key political contradiction of our times: the juxtaposition of individual despotic power and public infrastructural power collective due to its sheer extent and complexity. Chiefly powers corrupt public power by channelling institutional regulations and resource flows to the benefit an elite few. Yet within this very contradiction exists the possibility for a political agenda that could cause social evolution to take a more egalitarian turn.

Let us briefly retrace its main threads. All graves were created equal in the beginning. Typically, burials were collective. They began appearing in archaeological record as small groups of humans acquired permanent stakes in their productive ecologies. These could have been particularly rich hunting, fishing, and gathering grounds or various kinds of rudimentary gardens. Past attempts to tie stages in social evolution to particular technologies have proven inadequate Johnson and Earle, What rather seemed to matter was the size of the human group that could be maintained in a given ecological niche, using available productive techniques.

The varied and increasingly sophisticated data on the very long span of prehistory indicate that the egalitarian collective power of human groups long predated vertical social power over human collectives. Evidently, collective powers had also kept in check the social powers of aggrandising individuals, the potential chiefs. In recent decades, portrayals of nastier chimpanzee behaviours as if they model human individualism have produced a stream of bestsellers that advocate an overtly ideological line.

The knowledge obtained by social science, however, can help to evaluate the relative claims of ideologies, too.


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The professional observations of primatologists have demonstrated that between the different behaviours of modern apes, such as gorillas, chimps, and bonobos, none can be directly applied to humans Boehm, Our range of behaviours is much wider than those of other species, evidently because human motivations are mainly cultural and situational.

Outside the context of vicious inter-group violence — which is also a very human behaviour, although it was probably rarer among earlier, sparser populations — humans are demonstrably more cooperative and altruistic than any other social primates Turchin, Currie, and Whitehouse, forthcoming.


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As the aphorism suggested by the biologist Clive Finlayson puts it, we are the species where individual weakness is not immediately lethal After all, it is humans, rather than apes, who are now found on all continents and who have gained possession of improbable acquired abilities like fishing with hooks, hunting with deliberately designed missiles, and later in history, milking cows and mounting horses.

Individual aggrandisers, both male and female, are found widely among humans. Anthropologists, however, have documented a range of countering social behaviours, from ridicule and shaming to threats of expulsion and killing, to simply ignoring demands, which limit and channel the entrepreneurial energies of aggrandisers in favour of collective goals Cashdan, This is a fundamentally important baseline that needs to be established.

At some historical points, however, richer individual tombs began appearing in archaeological records, to the delight of museum curators. Who were these exceptional individuals staring at us from their lavish burial places, typically looted long ago by their enterprising contemporaries? They were the archaic aggrandisers who succeeded in establishing chokepoints on networks of group conflict, collective belief, or material exchange. Chokepoint is the keyword here: these controlling devices became possible only after networks of social interaction expanded beyond the collective abilities of small and cosy groups of relatives and good neighbours.

In other words, intensification created resource structures which made control, protection, and spiritual sanction possible. Hence came the historical emergence of personages that could generically be referred to as the warrior, the priest, and the trader, although these were not yet great rulers, because in prehistory aggrandisers could hardly support the logistics of state-building.

The archaic chiefs were too busy anyway. If you decided to become a great chief yourself, which of the elemental powers would be your prime choice: warrior might; economic wealth; or ideological belief? This is a tricky question. If you proved naive enough to make a choice, then you failed the test as prospective chief. Elemental powers have no trump card. Sources of social power are not free-standing abstractions. Power is the never ending and challenging process of braiding together strings of human interaction from social networks that only appear distinct under scholarly analyses.

But not all powers are equally important or accessible in different geographical and historical contexts. In some epochs, armed conquest takes the lead. Yet in other times and places, conquest may prove unfeasible, especially over longer distances. Trade might then be more profitable. Such crafty calculations and contingent possibilities are mainly responsible for the motley and seemingly aimless succession of historical forms of power: tribal chiefdoms; temple communities; trading city-states; nomadic hordes; feudal lordships; and rising and falling empires.

This conclusion has been a stumbling block for many evolutionary theories too straightforwardly derived from empirical generalisations. Power is indeed elemental — like water, fire, and wind.

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Chieftaincy is then a human-made node, a gathering of chokepoints on social networks. Chiefs have dominated human history since the invention of the village in the Neolithic era, if not earlier. They are found, to stress a fundamental point, wherever the extension of social networks has created the potential for the establishment of monopolistic chokepoints.


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  8. This carries all the advantages of a hand-made tool. It is custom-fitted to specific circumstances and can be, and in fact must continuously be, refitted under ever-changing circumstances. Crucially, each chieftaincy snugly fits the hand of its principal maker and owner. As an utterly personal and highly adaptive process of domination, chieftaincy must be arbitrary and despotic. Chieftaincy is made, after all, to remain within the same chiefly line. Chieftaincy offers numerous advantages to its masters, which is what has ensured the survival of this old social design well into our present day.