- Researcher —
- Social anthropologist
- High North —
COMPLEXITY is situated at the intersection of anthropology and ecology and deals with the evolution of political complexity.
The project is financed by The European Research Council.
The prevalent view of the evolution of complex societies favours agriculture as the main factor.
How do we then explain the rise of nomadic empires?
One common explanation refers to conflict, and large-scale conflict with China has been presented as the central element in the rise of, for example, the Mongol Empire.
Thus, pastoralists could only develop complex levels of organisation when facing strong agricultural neighbours.
But this cannot explain how pastoralists transitioned from small, kin-based groups to complex stratified societies.
Noteworthy, it is almost impossible for pastoralists to survive without cooperative labour investment and help from other households
By viewing cooperative herding groups as the building blocks of nomadic societies, COMPLEXITY aims to increase our understanding of the evolution of political complexity based on a new theoretical explanation of pastoral political organisation.
While cooperative herding has been documented, previous studies have been based on single case studies.
Evidence is also fragmented, and little systematic attempts have been made to understand general patterns of pastoral cooperation.
The first step of COMPLEXITY is thus to cross-culturally analyse and document the prevalence of cooperative herding groups by using the existing ethnographic literature and a cross-cultural database
This will be used to select four field sites in Africa and Inner Asia.
Understanding cross-cultural diversity and patterns in behaviour is a central goal of human behavioural ecology.
Nevertheless, the predominant view of cooperation is shaped by studies focusing on food sharing among foragers.
In contrast, less focus has been placed on cooperative production, the primary form of cooperation among pastoralists.
There is also a view that livestock, as the primary source of wealth, limits the development of inequalities, making pastoralism unable to support complex organisations.
However, the Gini coefficient for reindeer in Norway indicates that wealth in livestock is more unevenly distributed than for Norway in general (see this preprint).
Since we cannot observe the history of nomadic empires, COMPLEXITY’ will model if, for example, livestock as wealth can generate inequalities resulting in hierarchical power structures.
The third step is thus to combine empirical data with Agent-Based Modelling, to investigate whether cooperative herding groups can be considered prototypes for more complex organisations.