290 Speaker: Inequality as a Multiscalar Concept: Lessons from the African Past

Monday, February 6, 2017 - 14:00 to 16:00

Social inequality manifests at multiple, nested scales and seems inescapable. Yet, archaeological studies demonstrate that inequality is not an inevitable consequence of complexity, as social levelling mechanisms also operate at each scale. In this talk, I focus on southern Africa during the first millenium CE, when communities living at the edge of the Kalahari Desert engaged with proto-global trade across the Indian Ocean without being subsumed under a hegemonic elite. Through the use of spatial archaeometry and material culture such as beads and ceramics, I trace the changing sociopolitical order through connections among trade ports, polities, and villages as Indian Ocean goods became incorporated within local systems. Exotic objects, imbued with spiritual and economic cachet, shaped regional relationships among distant African trade partners and marked people who had access to these social networks. As populations confronted globalization at the local level, long-standing concepts of status and environmental factors clashed with an emerging political economy. Materials acquired new meaning that altered the forces of inequality in the interior of the continent. In reshaping approaches to stratification of the African past, I illustrate the effectiveness of using multiple scales of inequality in tandem. 

221 Kroeber Hall
university of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-3710
United States