Food and the Status Quest: An Interdisciplinary Perspective

By Polly Wiessner; Wulf Schiefenhövel | Go to book overview

10. LEVELING THE HUNTER CONSTRAINTS ON THE STATUS QUEST IN FORAGING SOCIETIES

Polly Wiessner

P erhaps the most outstanding aspect of status among foragers is its obscurity, the way it lurks in the shadows of society. For many cultures it is possible to investigate how food is used to help create, support or challenge status distinctions, but for foragers it is necessary to turn in the opposite direction and consider how individuals are prevented from using food for the same ends. The prevalence and strength of such sanctions among foragers in and of itself attests to the potential of food accumulation, display, and distribution as a tool for manipulating status. If this potential were not so potent, such measures would hardly be necessary. In this paper I will (1) discuss the role of food, particularly meat, in status seeking in twenty-seven forager societies, (2) examine sanctions exerted to level those who seek status, and (3) try to elucidate why such measures are both prevalent and successful.


Foragers

It has been recognized in the last two decades that the category hunter-gatherer, although useful for some purposes, incorporates societies that exhibit a great deal of variation in many realms of life. As a result, several attempts have been made to subdivide hunter- gatherers according to their subsistence strategies and degree of social complexity. The critical variable on which most of these clas-

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