Next Seminar: Approaches to ‘Social Complexity’ in Archaeology

In recent decades the theoretical parameters of ‘social complexity’ in archaeology have shifted considerably. Those neoevolutionist theories which formed the foundation of many previous avenues of research have been extensively critiqued for their inability to adequately explain processes of change, for identifying inequality as a seemingly inevitable consequence of social progress, and for implicitly positioning modern western state societies at the apex of the typology. Archaeologists of both processual and post-processual schools have moved away from the typological trajectories of band > tribe > chiefdom > state (as per Sahlins and Service 1960, 37) and egalitarian > ranked > stratified > state (Fried 1967) and classificatory terms such as ‘chiefdom’ and ‘state’, which no longer meaningfully describe those societies encountered in the anthropological or archaeological records.

In the wake of this shift, a number of complementary and competing theoretical perspectives on ‘social complexity’ have emerged, which seek to redress the limitations of previous schemes. Rather than identifying ‘social complexity’ as a framework within which inequality, heterogeneity and social stratification develop concurrently and systemically , several new approaches have sought to decouple these three components , resulting in the development of a multiplicity of theoretical models, which include multiple dynamic models of hierarchy alongside concepts, such as the ‘decentralised state’, ‘heterarchy’, ‘factionalism’, and ‘dual-processual’ models. Inevitably, any reassessment of the nature of ‘social complexity’, and any reanalysis of the criteria upon which archaeologists define ‘social complexity’, has far-reaching consequences for our understanding of the past.
This TASA session, led by David Smith (University of Liverpool) and Stephen o’ Brien (University of Chester), will explore both the potential and the limitations of new approaches to ‘social complexity’, using the societies of the Late Bronze Age in the Aegean as our evidential base. Items for discussion will include:

• Is the concept of the ‘state’ still useful to archaeologists?
• How might non-hierarchical social formations be recognised in the archaeological record?
• How do non-evolutionary models of society impact upon our understanding of processes of change?
• What are the implications of non-hierarchical models of power for the analysis of ‘state’ societies such as those of the ‘palatial’ Late Bronze Age in Crete and on the Greek mainland?

Seminar will take place at 7pm on Thursday October 18th 2012 at the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies (IIHSA) at 51a Odos Notara.
Numbers are limited to 15, please RSVP by email (irishinstitute@hol.gr) to book a place and request the reading

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