The Emergence of Civilization: From Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture, Cities, and the State in the Near East

The Emergence of Civilization: From Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture, Cities, and the State in the Near East

The Emergence of Civilization: From Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture, Cities, and the State in the Near East

The Emergence of Civilization: From Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture, Cities, and the State in the Near East

Synopsis

The Emergence of Civilisation is a major contribution to our understanding of the development of urban culture and social stratification in the Near Eastern region. Charles Maisels argues that our present assumptions about state formation, based on nineteenth century speculations, are wrong. His investigation illuminates the changes in scale, complexity and hierarchy which accompany the development of civilisation. The book draws conclusions about the dynamics of social change and the processes of social evolution in general, applying those concepts to the rise of Greece and Rome, and to the collapse of the classical Mediterranean world.

Excerpt

It is a central theme of this work that population growth, technological, and social change are, where present, systematically related and that far from there being a single 'prime mover', one element which drives the whole system, those factors move together in pulses. Further, that a burst of change results in a new social configuration that is stable not only in regard to social organization, but which is also relatively static in its demography and technology. Conversely, where rapid and profound changes are seen to occur in those factors, then we should expect that a new social configuration is coming into being.

A plateau of population density is thus attained which is not destabilized by changes in technology, for the latter is constrained by the overarching mode of social organization and, like the plough, will only 'expand population' when other social pressures dictate its use. Rather, a social configuration is qualitatively transformed either by failure to adapt internal social arrangements to ecological changes, or by the inherent social contradictions when combined with challenges external to the system. For social reproduction is neither automatic nor certain but problematic.

From the hxaro exchanges of !Kung foragers, through the woman exchanges of the Kachin and the matrilateral cycling of foodstuffs in the Trobriands to the grain allocations made by one Bazi, a Sumerian temple administrator (all discussed below), the continued functioning of society's relations of production and their re-creation over time are manifestly conditional upon the political field remaining intact, where politics is defined as the zone of interaction of economic, ideological, and coercive resources. (This use of the term 'politics' to conceptualize a social field is developed at several points later in the work.)

Such relationships are, of course, conditional. The interplay is, for instance, under jeopardy of sectors of the population at some stage declining to play the game, such as the Merina exchange of wealth for

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