Mind the Gap pp 139-152 | Cite as

Human Power and Prestige Systems

  • Aimée M. PlourdeEmail author


Prestige is a major source of social power in human societies, and one that is often much more important than physical dominance. This observation, while obvious, gains significance in light of the fact that prestige does not exist in other primates and so, must be a derived property of our species. Understanding prestige systems will, therefore, further our understanding of social power and inequality in human societies, and contribute to anthropological and archeological theories of the evolution of social structures and institutions. Here, an evolutionary theory for the emergence of prestige in the human lineage is discussed, and a model to explain the reason why material items may have begun to be used in competition for prestige presented, in which I propose that they initially functioned as costly signals of an individual’s skill and expertise, aimed at learning individuals. It is then hypothesized how and why prestige became involved in the emergence of socio-political and economic ranking through the increasing importance of leadership and collective action, with the result that the signal content of prestige goods became linked not simply to prestige but also to coercion and dominance through the possession of wealth, elevated social class, and positions of authority.


Signaling Strategy Human Society Social Power Skilled Individual Successful Individual 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.AHRC Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity, Institute of ArchaeologyUniversity College LondonLondonEngland

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