Anarchism in Archaeology


Published on

My review assignment for anthropology 410.

1 Like
  • Be the first to comment

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Anarchism in Archaeology

  1. 1. Jeff GrimmAnthropology 410Individual Review Anarchism in ArchaeologyA review of Anarchism and the Archaeology of Anarchic Societies: Resistance to Centralization in the Coast Salish Region of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Anarchism and the Archaeology of Anarchic Societies, is a unique first attempt at findinganarchist theory a seat in the halls of anthropology. Bill Angelbeck and Colin Grier attempt to throw offthe traditional stranglehold that state-centered theory has held over academic theoretical circles byintroducing an anarchist analytical framework to the field of archaeology. Angelbeck and Grier conducted a diachronic archaeological study of cranial deformation vs.class distribution in Coast Salish communities prior to contact with Europeans. The authors explain thatCranial deformation is a sign of elite statues among the Coast Salish. Previous archaeological andethnographic data on the Coast Salish show a mostly egalitarian society with elites in the majority. Datawas collected on 264 burials in total, re-calibrating and correcting radiocarbon dates on several burialsexcavated by other researchers. The two authors found that a rise in cranial deformation distributioncorrelates with elite individual population numbers surpassing commoners. They attempt todemonstrate anarchist analytical technique by explaining why the Coast Salish end up, prior to contact,a fairly economically balanced society. What is asserted by the two archaeologists is that the Coast Salish were expressing coreanarchist political characteristics. They outline criteria taken directly from works by Bakunin andKropotkin to construct this list which they then applied to the Coast Salish. Their ultimate conclusion isthat the Coast Salish valued individuality over the communal which led to a naturally decentralizedsociety. Whenever any one individual or group of people attempted to consolidate a monopoly onresources or power, that monopoly was immediately challenged. This challenge of authority manifested 1
  2. 2. itself in cranial deformation, which became more widespread as commoners manipulated the housealliance system to gain entry into the elite ranks. Angelbeck and Greirs inclusion of anarchism as their theoretical paradigm seems shy andconservative when compared to their stated goal of demonstrating anarchism as a viable analysis tool.While I applaud the authors for taking the risk of challenging the status quo of state-centered theory, Icouldnt help but feel that they played it safe by selecting the Coast Salish as their subjects. I had hopedthat the authors of this article would demonstrate how anarchism as a school of theory could be usedmore universally within anthropology. Marxist theory, which has found its way into many archaeology101 textbooks, is generally accepted as being able to be applied unilaterally throughout all subjects inanthropology. I recognize that the authors are likely “dipping their toe in the water” to test thereceptiveness of unsweetened anarchist theory. Unfortunately, having to compete against wellestablished schools such as Marxism, I felt that there is much to be lost if enough academic ground isnot captured. The very little anarchist theory that is employed within anthropological is often hidden behindterminology that redirects from anarchist affiliations. I believe this is because anarchism by nature isthe enemy of state-centered theoretical approaches and has often been excluded because of thisrelationship. State centered theory has held a monopoly within anthropology (and academia in general)and beginning to allow anarchist theory into anthropological could begin to break this monopoly. Byrecoding the language that anarchist concepts are bundled in, the subject material is allowed a betterprocreate within state centered theoretical environments. This paper is the first article I have ever seenthat actively recognizes anarchist theory as an anthropological theoretical school and call it as such. The research aspect of the paper is fairly straightforward and easy to understand and I have nocriticism. The paper was so easy to understand, its accessibility was one of the papers biggest sellingpoints for me. Angelbeck and Greir provide lots of charts and graphs to visually illustrate their 2
  3. 3. research. Someone could potentially never read the paper and only through the graphics, deduceexactly what these archaeologists were doing. The paper itself was neatly organized into to-the-pointblack sections that dont overwhelm the reader. The language also is very straightforward doesnt seekto ostracize the academically uninitiated. The papers accessibility is very much inline with anarchistprinciples of free information and allow the papers message to freely disseminate. All together I liked most of this paper, I must reiterate that I feel that Angelbeck and Greirssubject material could have been a bit more ambitious. The very fact that this paper exists is testamentto changing attitudes within anthropology and academics toward state society as the end-all of societalliving. I hope that these two archaeologists continue to do research in this field as they obviously seemto be the only ones. Every small step society takes down the anarchist path, is a skirmish won in thewar with the state. 3
  4. 4. Works CitedAngelbeck, Bill, and Colin Grier. "Anarchism and the Archaeology of Anarchic Societies: Resistance to Centralization in the Coast Salish Region of the Pacific Northwest Coast." Current Anthropology 53.5 (2012): 547-87. Jstor. Jstor. Web. 15 Mar. 2013. <>. 4