Interpreting Social Differentiation by Examining the House and Settlement Patterns and the Flow of Resources: A Case Study of Pai-Wan Slate House Settlements in Southern Taiwan

By Chen, Maa-ling | Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Spring-Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Interpreting Social Differentiation by Examining the House and Settlement Patterns and the Flow of Resources: A Case Study of Pai-Wan Slate House Settlements in Southern Taiwan


Chen, Maa-ling, Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific


INTRODUCTION

COMPLEXITY IN A SOCIAL SYSTEM is characterized by social differentiation, centralization of power, and hierarchical organization. As a consequence, archaeologists have generally looked for diversity in mortuary treatments, residential and public architecture, monumental constructions, craft specialization, and the distribution of imported or prestige goods as indicators of social differentiation, social control, and complexity in a particular social system. Recently, however, the range and degree by which rules and constraints regulate and coordinate the practices of daily and social life within and outside houses have also been regarded as indicators of where social control is embedded. In this study, it is argued that certain consistent repetitive patterns of house structure and settlement configuration, and the distribution of imported or prestige goods in a Pai-wan settlement, are the result of negotiation within the available natural setting and resources, as well as with the social rules, constraints, and structured flow of resources (land, materials, etc.) put in place in the daily and social practices of its inhabitants. It is expected that, through the examination of settlement and house structure, and the patterns, amount, and types of exchanged goods households possessed, the social system of Kau-shi, a South Pai-wan group, can be better understood and reconstructed.

RESEARCH CONCEPTS AND THEME

Space is a basic element of culture and a social phenomenon. It consists of both abstract and concrete properties of culture, and is embodied in the daily lives and activities of people. Its construction involves not only both natural geographic and man-made environments, but also various social relations, political or economic conditions, cultural customs, concepts of classification, cognitive structures, symbolic systems, and ideology (Y. Huang 1995: 1-5). These properties shape people's conceptions of space and landscape, and further structure their activities and the material patterns they produce. In other words, space is incorporated in daily and culturally embedded social practices and social processes, which cannot be set apart from human activities. Spatial analysis focuses on documenting the nature, patterns, and configurations of human activities in places, households, communities, and landscapes, and is an essential methodology for reconstructing cultural and social aspects of human societies in the present and the past.

Complexity in a social system is characterized by social differentiation, centralization of power, and hierarchical organization. Social differentiation is mainly established by the diversity of power and contested rights for the accessibility to resources, and it is an indicator of heterogeneity in societies. Centralization of power and hierarchical organization have as their basis mechanisms of social control and manipulation of rituals and symbolism. All these involve the processes of group division and differentiation, dynamics and maintenance of social control, and formation of class identity (Costin and Hagstrum 1995; Trubitt 2000). Social differentiation is revealed by variation in social status and wealth. Centralization of power and hierarchical organization are indicated by the control of labor and resources. Materials, with their properties and visible presence, are involved in the processes of embodiment, manifestation, and extension of human bodies, ideas, social intentions, actions, and social relationships (Marshall 2008). Material culture is employed in these social processes, and therefore archaeologists have generally looked for diversity in mortuary treatment, residential and public architecture, the existence of monumental constructions, craft specialization, and the distribution of imported or prestige goods as indicators of social differentiation and social control, and as ways of identifying complexity in a social system (Trubitt 2000). …

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Interpreting Social Differentiation by Examining the House and Settlement Patterns and the Flow of Resources: A Case Study of Pai-Wan Slate House Settlements in Southern Taiwan
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