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The Evolution of Leadership

Transitions in Decision Making from Small-Scale to Middle-Range Societies

Edited by Kevin J. Vaughn, Jelmer W. Eerkens, and John Kantner

Leaders make decisions that have significant impacts on the lives of others. They have the ability to influence events and impact the evolutionary trajectories of societies. Leaders exist in all societies, ranging from smaller-scale heads of households to larger-scale elected governing bodies to dictators with vast coercive powers at their disposal. Today, all of us are familiar with and see (and feel) the influence of leaders. Given that leaders and leadership are so influential on human social behavior, and yet are variably represented among different societies in the past and present, generations of scholars have examined these social phenomena from a variety of humanistic and scientific perspectives. This book, the product of an advanced seminar at the School for Advanced Research (SAR), brings together the perspectives of cultural anthropologists and archaeologists to explore why and how leadership emerges and variously becomes institutionalized among disparate small-scale and middle-range human societies.

2010. 366 pp., 29 figures, 15 tables, notes, references, and index, 6 x 9

Contributors: Jeanne E. Arnold, Douglas Bird, Rebecca Bliege Bird, Brenda J. Bowser, Jelmer W. Eerkens, John Kantner, Chapurukha M. Kusimba, Sibel B. Kusimba, John Q. Patton, Timothy R. Pauketat, Charles S. Stanish, Kevin J. Vaughn, Polly Wiessner

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“The main appeal of the book is as a collection of recent studies on the emergence and maintenance of leadership in traditional societies. The breadth of the geographical coverage and the integration of both ethnographic and archaeological studies lend this volume both interest and strength. It strikes me as a reasonable ‘snapshot’ of current approaches to the topic.”
—Vincas P. Steponaitis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“A series of authoritative snapshots describe what archaeology and ethnography can tell us about leadership in small- and medium-sized societies. The geographic coverage is broad, the range of examples impressive. This is an important and timely contribution to the long-standing — and often repetitive — debates about the nature of leadership in smaller-scale societies.”
—Brian Fagan, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, University of California – Santa Barbara


  1. Introduction: The Evolution of Leadership
    Jelmer W. Eerkens, Kevin J. Vaughn, and John Kantner
  2. Competing to Be Leaderless: Food Sharing and Magnanimity among Martu Aborigines
    Douglas W. Bird and Rebecca Bliege Bird
  3. Women’s Leadership: Political Alliance, Economic Resources, and Reproductive Success in the Ecuadorian Amazon
    Brenda J. Bowser and John Q. Patton
  4. Privatization of Resources and the Evolution of Prehistoric Leadership Strategies
    Jelmer W. Eerkens
  5. The Evolution of Managerial Elites in Intermediate Societies
    Charles Stanish
  6. The Role of Politically Charged Property in the Appearance of Institutionalized Leadership: A View from the North American Pacific Coast
    Jeanne E. Arnold
  7. Emergent Leadership in Middle-Range Societies: An Example from Nasca, Peru
    Kevin J. Vaughn
  8. Of Leaders and Legacies in Native North America
    Timothy R. Pauketat
  9. The Power of One? Big Men Revisited
    Polly Wiessner
  10. Leadership in Middle-Range African Societies
    Chapurukha M. Kusimba and Sibel B. Kusimba
  11. Identifying the Pathways to Permanent Leadership
    John Kantner
There are no working papers for this book at the present time.