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Social typologies, social practices, and world systems

Renfrew’s perception of the social realities of the past was that they operated as a series of autonomous polities (Renfrew 1977). It was these polities that supposedly contained the social mechanisms for their own historical development, transformation, and collapse (Renfrew 1979). The claim that a social system could be analysed as if it had operated as an isolated polity was questioned during the 1970s. Immanuel Wallerstein introduced the concept of a modem world system in his study of 1974 which explored the ways that the emergence of the European trading empires had, from the sixteenth century CE, dominated and transformed the economies of the so-called third world into sendee economies for European states (Wallerstein 1974). Alongside this, the discipline of anthropology entered into something of a crisis with the realisation that the isolated groups of ‘primitive peoples’ that formed the basis for its empirical studies, and which had sometimes been treated as if they were the relict survivals of ancient peoples, were in fact not only thoroughly modern but were contained within, and structured by, systems of colonial domination of which anthropology' may well have been a part (Ekholm 1977 & 1980; Friedman 1994; Kuper 1988). Both the historical work of Wallerstein and the critical studies of anthropology were therefore set firmly in the context of modem systems in which the historical development ofEuropean states, the new world, and the impoverishment of much of the so-called third world were all contained. The challenge set by this ‘world systems’ perspective was whether the historical trajectory' followed by any polity, be it modern or ancient, was unlikely to be understandable unless that polity was seen to be part of a global system of relationships. Friedman argued that:

[a] viable way out of this impasse is to start conceptually with social reproduction rather than social institutions. . . . Cycles of reproduction are not necessarily bounded by individual societies, . . . they provide the total framework for the analysis of cumulative social process and social transformation. (Friedman 1994, 7)

The focus upon social reproduction concerns the ways that a system of institutionalised relationships was structured over time. The problem was that the historical trajectory' of the local system, or polity', depended upon resources that derived from beyond the polity itself. The polity' was therefore seen from this perspective as the localised element of a much larger system. Early archaeological examples of the way that such processes of structuring might be understood were provided by Susan Frankenstein and Michael Rowlands’s analysis of the long-term development of central European Iron Age society (Frankenstein & Rowlands 1978) and by the Bronze Age practices of grave deposition that were traced across modern- day Denmark by Kristian Kristiansen (1978). Frankenstein and Rowlands studied the development of the enclosed Furstensitz of the late Hallstatt period in central Europe, such as the Heuneburg, with its evidence for production, and the elaborate grave series (Fiirstengraber) that occur in the landscapes around the Fiirsteiisitz. They argued that these sites were indicative of a system that did not develop independently of their contemporary exchange relations with the Greek colonial settlements that had been founded on the northern Mediterranean coast to the west of the Italian peninsula and around the mouth of the Rhone. Instead of treating the central European system and that of the Greek colonies as two independently evolving systems linked by trade, Frankenstein and Rowlands argued that these were two components of a single world system. In this model the development of social differentiation represented by the Fiirstengraber grew and then diminished as the result of the elite’s shifting control over the importation of exotic materials which increased their expansion and control over local debt obligations. Meanwhile Greek mercantile activity expanded by procuring raw materials and slaves via the enhanced political structures of central Europe. In a broadly similar way Kristiansen traced the historical contrasts within the regional agrarian systems in Denmark, with their differential ability to maintain agricultural productivity, as explanations for each region’s ability to sustain the political structures it required to procure the exotic metalwork from central Europe. It was these imported metalwork items that were employed in the competitive display that occurred during funerary rituals (Kristiansen 1978).

The archaeological recognition of the flow of prestige materials into indigenous exchange networks, with the emphasis being placed upon systems of prestige exchange and conspicuous consumption, and that drew upon anthropological models of gift giving and ritual display, differed from the emphasis that Wallerstein had placed upon the bulk appropriation of the raw materials and labour products from increasingly impoverished colonised communities by the capitalist core economies. Consequently, doubts were expressed concerning the wider applicability of the world systems model, with its emphasis upon bulk shipments and capital accumulation, compared with the operation of pre-capitalist systems with their emphasis upon prestige objects and ritual consumption (Schneider 1977). Given these doubts, archaeologists may have been too hasty in applying the language of the world systems model, originally formulated with reference to the modern world, and with its terminology of cores of wealth accumulation and impoverished peripheries, to the prehistory of Europe (Harding 2013). Nonetheless there are two important lessons for archaeology in its encounter with this model. The first is to question the assumption that the histories of local social systems can be treated as if they were necessarily autonomous, rather than being segments of larger systems involving the production, circulation, and consumption of materials, information, and values, and to do this without necessarily re-introducing diffusionism as an explanation for material change (Kristiansen 1998). If this first point is to be accepted then the second lesson is the need to develop the analytical procedures that can build an understanding of how the flows of materials, information, and values might have been appropriated and utilised in a number of systems by examining the different ways that they were employed, and how these processes of appropriation and use can be understood archaeologically (Barrett 2012; Barrett & Boyd 2019, 165-169). It is to the ways that archaeology' has addressed this second lesson that we must now turn.

 
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