Big Man, Big Heart? The Political Role of Aggrandizers in Egalitarian and Transegalitarian Societies

  • Brian Hayden
Part of the Jepson Studies in Leadership book series


Anthropological theories of elites (leaders) in traditional societies tend to focus on how elites can be viewed as helping the community at large. The origin of elites is cast in functionalist or communitarian terms (viewing societies as adaptive systems). A minority opinion argues that elites were not established by communities for the community benefit, but emerged as a result of manipulative strategies used by ambitious, exploitative individuals (aggrandizers). While the communitarian perspective may be appropriate for understanding simple hunter/gatherer communities, I argue that elites in complex hunter/gatherer communities and horticultural communities operate much more in accordance with aggrandizer principles, and that it is their pursuit of aggrandizer self-interests that really explains the initial emergence of elites. This occurs preferentially under conditions of resource abundance and involves a variety of strategies used to manipulate community opinions, values, surplus production, and surplus use.


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© Donelson R. Forsyth and Crystal L. Hoyt 2011

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  • Brian Hayden

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