Human Nature

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 538–566

Leadership in an Egalitarian Society

  • Christopher von Rueden
  • Michael Gurven
  • Hillard Kaplan
  • Jonathan Stieglitz
Article

DOI: 10.1007/s12110-014-9213-4

Cite this article as:
von Rueden, C., Gurven, M., Kaplan, H. et al. Hum Nat (2014) 25: 538. doi:10.1007/s12110-014-9213-4

Abstract

Leadership is instrumental to resolution of collective action dilemmas, particularly in large, heterogeneous groups. Less is known about the characteristics or effectiveness of leadership in small-scale, homogeneous, and relatively egalitarian societies, in which humans have spent most of our existence. Among Tsimane’ forager-horticulturalists of Bolivia, we (1) assess traits of elected leaders under experimental and naturalistic conditions and (2) test whether leaders impact or differentially benefit from collective action outcomes. We find that elected leaders are physically strong and have more kin and other exchange partners. Their ranks on physical dominance, kin support, and trustworthiness predict how well their groups perform, but only where group members have a history of collaborative interaction. Leaders do not take more of the spoils. We discuss why physically strong leaders can be compatible with egalitarianism, and we suggest that leaders in egalitarian societies may be more motivated by maintaining an altruistic reputation than by short-term rewards of collective action.

Keywords

Leadership Status hierarchy Cooperation Egalitarianism Small-scale society 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher von Rueden
    • 1
  • Michael Gurven
    • 2
  • Hillard Kaplan
    • 3
  • Jonathan Stieglitz
    • 3
  1. 1.Jepson School of Leadership StudiesUniversity of RichmondRichmondUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA