Vines of complexity - egalitarian structures and the institutionalization of inequality among the Enga

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Publication Type Journal Article
School or College College of Social & Behavioral Science
Department Anthropology
Creator Wiessner, Pauline W.
Title Vines of complexity - egalitarian structures and the institutionalization of inequality among the Enga
Date 2002-04
Description The initial stages of the institutionalization of hierarchical social inequalities remain poorly understood. Recent models have added important perspectives to "adaptationist" approaches by centering on the agency of "aggrandizers" who alter egalitarian institutions to suit their own ends through debt, coercion, or marginalization. However, such approaches often fail to take the recursive interaction between agents and egalitarian structure seriously, regarding egalitarian structures as the products of simplicity or blank slates on which aggrandizers can make their marks. The approach here, drawing on insights from the work of Douglass North, views egalitarian structures as complex institutions which, together with their accompanying ideologies, have arisen to reduce the transaction costs of exchange in small-scale societies. It will be argued that egalitarian structures and the coalitions that maintain them vary as greatly in configuration, scope, and nature as do hierarchical structures of power, presenting a variety of obstacles on the path to institutionalized inequality. Data from the precolonial historical traditions of 110 Enga tribes, covering a time span of some 250 years in which vast exchange networks developed and hierarchical inequalities began to be institutionalized, will be used to examine (1) the nature of egalitarian structures and coalitions in Enga at the outset, (2) how these steered the perceptions, motivations, and strategies of agents, and (3) the outcomes of different courses of action. By exploring egalitarian structures in this way it should be possible to depart from neoevolutionary models of political "evolution" without abandoning a more encompassing theoretical framework.
Type Text
Publisher University of Chicago Press
Volume 43
Issue 2
First Page 233
Last Page 269
Subject Egalitarian structures; Political evolution; Social d
Subject LCSH Equality; Dominance (Psychology); Social institutions
Language eng
Bibliographic Citation Wiessner, P. W. (2002). Vines of complexity - egalitarian structures and the institutionalization of inequality among the Enga. Current Anthropology, 43(2), 233-69.
Rights Management (c) University of Chicago Press http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/loi/ca
Format Medium application/pdf
Format Extent 223,795 bytes
Identifier ir-main,1837
ARK ark:/87278/s62f85xt
Setname ir_uspace
Date Created 2012-06-13
Date Modified 2012-06-13
ID 705584
Reference URL https://collections.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s62f85xt
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