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Reciprocity and Its Limits: Considerations for a Study of the Pre-Hispanic Pueblo World

Listed author(s):
  • Timothy A. Kohler
  • Matthew Van Pelt
  • Lorene Yap
Registered author(s):

    Reciprocity is an ancient and important social practice that evolved in very small-scale societies. In this paper we present an abstract model of the way systems work that are organized through balanced reciprocity (Sahlins 1972:185-275). This model will help us understand the general nature of the problems that must be overcome by societies organized through reciprocity as they grow in size. We then suggest that, in the late pre-Hispanic period, the eastern and western Pueblo worlds took different paths to overcoming these difficulties. Finally, at the invitation of the editor, we discuss the other papers in this volume that deal with the pre-Hispanic Pueblo world in light of this model. The first part of the paper draws on theory from complex adaptive systems research, specifically the random Boolean network (RBN) model (Kauffman 1993 and elsewhere). Complex adaptive systems (CAS) research is the study of how many interacting and often adaptive agents, each of which may have access to only local information and each of which may be responding to quite simple rules, as an ensemble produce higher-order patterns and structures. Wills et al. (1994) provide an overview of several major strands of CAS theory from a southwestern archaeological perspective (see also Kohler 1993). Much recent anthropology attempts to generate thicker and more detailed descriptions of particular local societies to achieve a deeper understanding of their nature and operation. CAS approaches, on the other hand, are unabashedly abstract; they attempt to view adaptive systems of all kinds from a distance to perceive their similarities and differences. Typically, they locate causality in the manner in which entities simultaneously interact. Although such models strive for generality rather than for the realism or precision that are more traditionally honored in our field, we believe they can be used productively nonetheless. To appear in Alternative Leadership Strategies in the Greater Southwest, edited by Barbara Mills. University of Arizona Press, 2000.

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    Paper provided by Santa Fe Institute in its series Working Papers with number 99-05-033.

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    Date of creation: May 1999
    Handle: RePEc:wop:safiwp:99-05-033
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