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(P33) Anarchy and hunter gatherers

Convenors: Graeme Warren, University College Dublin; Colin Grier, Washing State University 

Abstract: Recent years have seen significant contributions examining hunter-gatherer organisation from the perspective of anarchy theory. This session seeks to expand the geographical and temporal range of case studies, both past and present, that mobilise anarchy theory to understand hunter-gatherer organisational complexity and change through time.

Keywords: anarchy, social institutions, authority, autonomy 

Format: standard panel

Precirculated papers: none required


Recent years have seen significant archaeological contributions that examine hunter-gatherer social institutions from the perspective of anarchy theory (e.g., Angelbeck and Grier 2012) or the framework of “orderly anarchy” (e.g., Bettinger 2015). Building on a longer tradition of anthropological exploration of similar themes (e.g., Gibson & Sillander 2011), these arguments offer important insights into decentralised social institutions, the nature of authority, and the role of individual autonomy in small scale societies. Anarchism also provides a fruitful framework for understanding change over time (Rathbone 2017). This session aims to expand the geographical and temporal range of case studies that apply anarchy approaches (and theories of anarchy) to hunting and gathering peoples, past and present, with an especial emphasis on understanding hunter gatherer organisational complexity through time.

We invite archaeological and anthropological contributions from the deep past to the present, which explore the value of such approaches for illuminating key dynamics, tensions, and historical trajectories in hunter-gatherer societies. The overarching objective is to more effectively characterise the diversity of hunter gatherer social organisation and practices, and to provide new frameworks for situating and analysing their variability over time. We also aim to provide insight into the conditions under which anarchic forms of organisation might develop at multiple scales, and also influence contact and exchange with neighbouring groups. 




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