Chiefdoms, States, Cycling, and World-Systems Evolution: A Review Essay

Thomas D. Hall

Abstract


Why review a series of books and articles on the rise and fall of chiefdoms in this stetother than my obvious penchant for reading and writing about such topics? The brief answer is that the kind of cycling (rise and fall) that occurs in chiefdoms has analogues in state-based world-systems. In particular, the probabalistic nature of the transitions from chiefdom to state means that there are lots of near misses, or examples of failed transitions. The growing literature on such cycling suggests these transitions are the result of Braudelian conjuncturesall the right pieces falling into place at the right time and placebut nonetheless the result of systematic, or I argue world-systematic processes. Furthermore, initial evidence shows that ideology and individual actors play signi?cant roles in such transitions. Kent Flannery (1999) argues that structure and agency rather than being antithetical, are complementary. Via several examples he shows how in certain phases of chiefdom cycling space, or opportunity, is opened for especially potent actions by leaders, and for ideology to play a much stronger than usual role in social, political, and cultural change. Thus, examination of such events gives some insight into the roles of ideology and individuals in system transformation.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2001.190

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