On the Evolution of the Human Capacity for Inequality and/or Egalitarianism

Part of the Fundamental Issues in Archaeology book series (FIAR)


Many theories of the evolution of human social inequality are based on the necessity of overcoming the inertia of egalitarianism, which rests in turn on the assumption that egalitarianism is our default social organization at least in small groups (e.g. Smith and Choi 2007). Wiessner (2002: 234) has described this assumption as a “slate of simplicity” upon which a variety of forces acts to create inequality. She is critiquing agency theory approaches to inequality, but the assumption is much broader. Its roots lie in the concept of the tabula rasa: the notion that “people are so widely malleable by their social environment that the very concept of human nature must be rejected” (Gintis 2006: 377). While varying in language and formulation, it shapes theory building, explanations and expectations of the archaeological record (Wason 1994), especially for hunter-gatherers.


Archaeological Record Human Capacity American Anthropologist Current Anthropology Egalitarian Society 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA

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