Household Units in the Analysis of Prehistoric Social Complexity, Southern Cook Islands

By Taomia, Julie M. E. | Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Spring-Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Household Units in the Analysis of Prehistoric Social Complexity, Southern Cook Islands


Taomia, Julie M. E., Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific


HOUSEHOLDS, AND THE FAMILIES that comprise them, are the most basic units of social organization in any culture. While archaeologists may not be able to discuss the social composition of prehistoric households, the analysis of household remains allows archaeologists to discuss social organization across cultures and changes to it through time (e.g., Banning and Byrd 1987; Deetz 1982; Weeks 1988). As Brumfiel (1992) has noted, changes in a society at large are rooted in changes in the organizational composition and character of the households that provide the goods and services to support the society. This was particularly true in pre-industrial societies where most activities took place within the household and the context of family relationships. Archaeologists usually do not have access to the social relationships that made up the households that they study, but rather must examine the physical remains. People express information about themselves for themselves and for others through the composition and organization of their household space. The physical remains of households are the archaeological manifestation of this information and are a means by which archaeologists can discuss social organization. Aspects of social organization, including social stratification and inequality, have been used by archaeologists and anthropologists as measures of complexity. McGuire (1983) breaks down cultural complexity into heterogeneity and inequality in his approach to evaluating the complexity of cultures. He argues that most studies of cultural complexity have assumed a Marxian unilineal hierarchical stratification of the societies that may not be appropriate. He argues that his approach assumes no structuring principles. Heterogeneity is defined as the frequency of individuals among social parameters (McGuire 1983:101) and inequality as the extent of differential access to material and social resources (McGuire 1983:102). The range of variation in physical structure, materials, and artifacts that constitute the physical remains of prehistoric households can provide data for archaeologists to discuss such topics as the number of social personae, the distribution of the population among these social personae, and inequality between social personae (McGuire 1983). This approach is taken here in a study of archaeological remains from three of the Southern Cook Islands. When discussing archaeological household remains, the emphasis would be most fruitfully focused on the social persona of the household as a whole. Individuals are difficult to identify, and Cook Islands ethnography (e.g., Hiroa 1934) indicates that the household as a social group usually bore the status of its members. In addition, specialists, a social persona as discussed by McGuire, often use other members of their household and family in the practice of their craft. Because members of a household are frequently near to hand, many members of a household assist the specialist in the practice of their craft (Hiroa 1934; personal observation on Mangaia 1993). (1) The results of an analysis sensitive to these issues can then lead to meaningful comparison with other societies or the same society at various points in time (see McGuire 1983).

The units that have generally been chosen by archaeologists and anthropologists as measures of complexity are biased against developmental studies because they are markers of existing complexity. Classic studies based on systemic models have had difficulty explaining the development of complexity because of the focus on the system rather than on human agency (Brumfiel 1992). When this approach is applied to less complex societies the impression of long-term stasis emerges. Physical remains that tend to attract archaeological attention in complex societies, such as monumental architecture, are absent from less complex societies. Research on Polynesian societies has tended to follow many of the same trends characterized by Brumfiel (1992) for research in other parts of the world.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Household Units in the Analysis of Prehistoric Social Complexity, Southern Cook Islands
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.