The Ascent of Chiefs: Cahokia and Mississippian Politics in Native North America

By Timothy R. Pauketat | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

Chiefdoms in Theory and Practice

The so-called neoevolutionary and functional-ecological anthropology of the 1950s and 1960s searched for "functionally interrelated constellations" at the societal level (Oberg 1955:472). To Service (1971 [1962]:134), chiefdoms were redistributional societies "with a permanent central agency of coordination" that comprised an intermediary stage of social evolution between the tribe and the state (see Welch 1991:9-11). Defined thus, and with "no formal, legal apparatus of forceful repression" (Service 1975:16), chiefdoms were seen to have evolved from their non-hierarchical predecessors as managerial adaptations to regional imbalances in the natural distribution of necessary subsistence goods. Archaeologists often projected unmitigated population growth as the causal factor leading to the need for an ascribed managerial leadership (e.g., Sanders and Price 1968).

Empirical evidence to counter the notion that managerial redistribution (sensu Service 1971) was the organizational basis of chiefdoms has been forthcoming from Africa, Mexico, Polynesia, and the southeastern United States (Earle 1977, 1978; Feinman and Neitzel 1984; Feinman and Nicholas 1987; Finney 1966; Muller 1978; Peebles and Kus 1977; Smith 1978:488-491; Steponaitis 1978; Taylor 1975:35; Welch 1991). Likewise, it has been demonstrated that, in regions where political centralization occurred, the population had not reached levels thought necessary for it to constitute the driving force of social evolution (Barker 1992; Blanton et al. 1981:222-225; Drennan 1987; Earle 1978:163-165; Feinman 1991:242; Feinman et al. 1985:361-362; Wright and Johnson 1975:274-276; but contrast Kirch 1984).

Service's manager-chief, along with other "management" or "integration" approaches (Earle 1987a:292-293), has been contrasted with the "political" or "control" perspective (Brumfiel and Earle 1987a; Earle 1987a:292-293; Haas 1982; Tainter 1988:32-37). The results of these comparisons point in the direction of an emerging consensus in favor of the latter (Brumfiel and Earle 1987a; Earle 1989). Strictly speaking, given that

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