Ideology and the rise of early states
Number of pages
SourceSocial Evolution & History, 11, 2, (2012), pp. 80-83
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ RSCR CAOS
Social Evolution & History
SubjectAnthropology and Development Studies
Professor Carneiro is a distinguished American scholar who made a seminal contribution to the debate about the rise of the early state. As early as in 1970, he published a landmark paper in the authoritative journal Science on the circumscription theory about the emergence of the (early) state. This theory focuses on the central role played by environmental constriction in giving rise to population pressure, bringing about warfare, which, in turn, is believed to have induced the rise of early states, at least in some areas. In this article, he seeks to amplify and strengthen his theory by drawing attention to auxiliary factors such as resource concentration and social circumscription. The weakness of his approach in this article, however, is that he aims principally at verifying his original theory by referring to evidence that supports his views, but according to the legendary Popper (1963) theories can only be corroborated by means of falsification of contrasting evidence and approaches. Indeed, Carneiro could have engaged more with his counterparts and critics, including Henri Claessen and Jan Vansina, who have both drawn attention to the role of ideology in the constitution of early state societies, which in their view could not have sustained the allegedly repressive regimes, sometimes over a period of several centuries, without a reciprocal and, therefore, more positive relationship with their rulers. The Arab Spring is the most recent testimony of that hypothesis, which has gained wider acceptance over the past few decades, for example, in the debate on nationalism (see below). Indeed, the terms of the debate about the rise of the early states have changed since Carneiro published his paper in 1970, and it is somewhat disappointing that his views have not moved along.
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