The fun of this work is seeing various authors try on heterarchy for
size in their particular areas, and perhaps the value of this
essay will be to synthesize, from the whole, ideas for carrying heterarchy into further work.
Heterarchy is defined by Carole Crumley as "the relation of elements
to one another when they are unranked or when they
possess the potential for being ranked in a number of different ways." (3) She suggests that there may be patterns -- especially
power relations within a society -- which are ordered, but not hierarchical. Similarly, the development of a society may
not tend toward a teleological or predetermined end state. Commenting most specifically on the concept is Allen
Zagarell, who argues that 'real history' provides many cases of decreasing social and central hierarchy in favor or developing
regional complexities. An egalitarian society may be an ancient band/tribe-like construct; but it may also be a relatively recent
development, a complex and post-hierarchical organization. Zagarell cites the current relatively egalitarian relationships
between the people groups living in the Nilgiri mountains (India) -- and the archaeological evidence for a prior hierarchical state -- as an example of just such a trajectory. Institutions and people are always in motion; consequently new forms of hierarchy
and heterarchy are likely to be generated and exist side by side.
Heterarchy can be seen among the Mayas (Potter and King), the Danes
(Levy), the Southeastern Late Woodland Native
Americans (Rogers), the Southeast Asians (White) and the Irish (Wailes) in a range of social and economic contexts. Potter and King argue that the Mayas were less hierarchical than previously supposed; particularly that the lowlands were self-organized economic units, with exchange flowing not through permanent central markets, but between local neighbors who controlled different resource centers. A smaller number of more scarce and valuable goods were traded across long distances, or created by specialists for ritual and not economic purposes. (N.B.) The Danes, as described by Levy, were also heterarchical if a researcher considers habitation sites and not only burials, hoards and single finds. Habitation sites were not particularly specialized, and show a range of occupations -- cattle raising and farming, metal smithing and pottery working --in many of the sites. Levy differs with past excavators in her analysis of these sites, and suggests that hunting for signs of hierarchy precluded a balanced consideration of the finds. She also analyzes the difference between the social status of men and women, arguing that the different, but equal systems of power are reflected in the relatively small sexual dimorphism in height (as reflected in skeletons). As a direct reflection of their social power, women had access to better diets in the Bronze Age than in eras prior to or after that period. Levy argues that the differences in hierarchy which existed were confined to ritual occasions, and not expressed in daily living. Rogers's view of the tribes along the Yadkin River also takes into consideration the question of settlement. She argues from the similarity of female-produced pottery scattered across the territory, and the kinds of surplus
hiding that occurred, that people did not defend territories so much as make marriage and other alliances in order to maintain
access to a variety of resources, including "lithic outcrops, fallow floodplains, and hunting-gathering territories" (15).
Heterarchy is a system that works when players "maintain memberships in spatially dispersed social-units and spatially
integrated units." (15) Homogeneity and hierarchy, then, is the result of some form of streamlining and the creation of less
permeable boundaries. The Southeast Asians, much the largest group analyzed, are glossed by White as having cultural pluralism, indigenous economies based on household units of production; flexible social systems and conflict resolution strategies that emphasized alliances and de-emphasized violence. (104) As with the Danes, uniform metallurgical techniques appear to be widespread in Southeast Asia. Social changes occurred with the appearance of bronze but these changes were "horizontal" rather than vertical: different groups claimed different market niches, and one area did not specialize in all of the difficult techniques. (NB Scalar stress) White, like Levy, feels that burials deserve a second look. The cemeteries she examined showed less hierarchical differentiation within specific time-units than might be expected; and in general she argues that burial goods may reflect what a group wishes to claim about the deceased, rather than the actual status of the deceased. (cf Renfrew on another aspect of this point). She argues for flexible systems with more than one route to status. As long as subsistence was easily attained, heterarchies were more likely to form. Hierarchies, by contrast, form with resources are scarce. Finally, Walies remarks on Ireland. Again non-standardized household-based production is one evidence of heterarchy. The ring forts that were associated with the rights of kings were apparently not solely the province of the kings. Even if the law said that occupation should be the perogative of a king, the sheer number of such forts suggests that they must have been occupied by nobles of lesser rank. And social differentiation within the forts themselves is difficult to find. Furthermore, monasteries constituted an equal and separate source of local power, a power which prevented one single system of hierarchy. Early Medieval texts support the archaeological finds: Wailes shows that were at least three systems of social grades, all of which could be compared to one another in a court of law. Irish society contained many sources of status and, apparently, those of achieved and ascribed rank could jostle elbows in many contexts.
To summarize, signs of heterarchy appear to be non-differentiation of
production within a local region, or alternatively, the development of
many centers of production, each of which focus on "niche-markets."
The question of metal-working sites -- concentrated or scattered? -- seems
to point toward the presence or absence of a hierarchical control of a
scarce resource. Likewise, burials and burial goods are another site
to test assumptions about social controls and expressions of hierarchy.
Heterarchy is also defined as a set of parallel and competing systems of hierarchical control. The presence of powerful women, and kinship alliances that may have served as a check on violence, are also taken as signs of heterarchy, assuming, one supposes, that the opposite of heterarchy would be a hierarchy of male-controlled alliances using warfare as a regular method of solving disputes.
As alluded to above, heterarchy applied to crafts and economics is a question of when and where specialization can be called hierarchical. Robert Erhenreich argues that Middle Age Wessex showed no hierarchical organization because it is difficult to spot surplus hoards of metals, because there seem to be few sites devoted to metal smithing and because the resources do not appear to have been under any particular control. David Small extends arguments about control to the trade networks of Melanesia, ancient Greece, the Maya and Mesopotamia. In brief, a hierarchical model of social development suggests that eventually a strong and politically-stable society will be able to control and tie in alternative economic systems into its own overarching political economy. Small suggests that the concept of heterarchy allows a fuller consideration of societies that did achieve complexity but did not tie external economies into political structures. He offers five examples of economies with external economies. The Kula rings of Melanesia were not only venues for the exchange of status symbols, but also for more mundane and necessary items of food. For the Trobrianders, these rings supplied a system for winning prestige away from home. For the Yapese, a system runnning between the Caroline Islands was structured on patron/client relationships, and the economic system of tribute calcified around and supported the political structure. The Greek city states, Small argues, functioned more like the Trobriands, forming a far-flung and uncaptured alterantive source of power. Never having developed a state-controlled merchant fleet, the state depended instead on a system of sitonia, or help from opportunistic elites who supplied the cities from personal accumulation of grain surpluses in exchange for power. The Maya system mirrors the Greek in some ways: it was an economy that didn't quite capture the important ceramics and obsidian trade and didn't succeed in creating a "need" for rare and expensive objects outside of a small group of elites. The Mesopotamian situation now seems similar: not having captured the market for essentials, and not having created a market for prestige goods, the economy stayed beyond centralized elite control. Finally Small looks at the question of taxation and tribute, arguing that the Greek and Maya elite failed to establish a strong taxation system, or at least to re-order the flow of goods through a central political center.
Brumfiel's summary offers five characteristics of heterarchy.
First, she notes the undifferentiated ironworking sites 1) "an array of
independent homogeneous elements." Next, she groups the Danes and
the Yadkin Valley tribes as an example of 2) "membership of elements in
many different unranked interaction systems." White on Southeast
Asia, Potter and King on the Maya and Small on the Greeks provide examples
of 3) "the same element occup[ying] a different rank in different systems."
Finally, she cites Zagrell on the Nilgiri as a example of a 4) "functionally
discrete but unraked systems that interact as equals" and Wailes for an
example of 5) "the existence of two or more discrete hierarchies that interact
as equals." She suggests that heterarachy may be a system preferred
in what are perceived by locals to be unstable conditions, and it may also
obtain when a stratified economic status system can be supported by opportunistic
political alliances (Greece and the United States)
Lacking texts or historical records, one measure for heterarchy in artifactual remains includes symbols: assuming that symbol systems are a bid for control, then varied symbol systems and mutiple re-combinations suggest a lack of centralized control. In general, heterarchy allows for less specialized and streamlined living, and demands more complex roles for the individual.
How and where else might the concept of heterarchy be applied? Tool production might offer interesting possibilities. Similarities or differences in everyday tools might suggest how rigid a group was in determining the "right way" to do daily or common tasks. Land allocation from generation to generation would also suggest how "mobile" or "liquid" was a common form of non-portable wealth, and possibly how "mobile" social status was. In general, the liquidity of assets within a group and the varieties of portable wealth might be compared to the "transparency" and ubiquity of anonymous streamlined "wealth exchange points," or international markets. Is a system more heterarchical when there are different kinds of wealth, or more heterarchical when anyone can have access to the same symbols of wealth? Knowing who has access to wealth, when, and what can be done with it, might suggest something about how far an economic system might escape from political and social control.
N.B. This analysis might be useful for the "economics
of large ritualistic projects" that I'm interested in.
N.B. Ask for a definition of scalar stress
Heterarchy and the Analysis of Complex Societies Carole
Tribes as Heterarchy: A Case Study from the Prehistoric Southeastern United States Rhea J. Rogers
A Heterarchical Approach to Lowland Maya Societies Daniel R. Potter and Eleanor M. King
Early Metalworking: A Heterarchical Analysis of Industrial Organization Robert M. Ehrenreich
Heterarchy in Bronze Age Denmark: Settlement Pattern, Gender and Ritual Janet E. Levy
A Case Study of Heterarchy in Complex Societies: Early Medieval Ireland and Its Archaeological Implications Bernard Wailes
Heterarchical Paths to Evolution: The Role of External Economies David B. Small
Hierarchy and Heterarchy: The Unity of Opposites Allen Zagarell
Incorporating Heterarchy into Theory on Socio-Political Development: The Case for Southeast Asia Joyce C. White
Heterarchy and the Analysis of Complex Societies: Comments Elizabeth M. Brumfiel