Friday, April 21, 2006

Seven theories of state formation

Here's a nice cribsheet (outline notes) of seven theories of state formation (there are no citations or bibliography so its hard to match the ideas with a source):

1. The social surplus theory (V. Gordon Childe)
2. The circumscription theory (Robert Carniero)
3. The success in competition theory (William Sanders and Barbara Price)
4. The war finance theory (David Webster)
5. The managerial benefits theory (Elman Service)
6. The economics of population growth theory (Allen Johnson and Timothy Earle)
7. The resource-deficient core theory (William Rathje)

A. From Brumfiel's theory: "small-scale local chiefs might want to make their precarious positions more secure, to do so, they might choose to ally with each other, forming a larger political unit." This sounds similar to the centralization step in Di Cosmo's model of the state formation that accompanies mobilization of a society for warfare after a crisis:

[Di Cosmo's paper: (Nicola Di Cosmo, “State Formation and Periodization in Inner Asian History,” Journal of World History 10:1 (Spring 1999): 1-40., pp. 10-26), this weblog's entry]

[Also summarized here: Fernquest, Jon (2005) “Min-gyi-nyo, the Shan invasions of Ava (1524-27, and the beginnings of expansionary warfare in Toungoo Burma: 1486-1539, SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 3, No. 2, Autumn 2005, in "A model of state formation and expansion" p. 373-377, Link1, Link2].

B. The ubiquitous human agency vs deterministic structure (social, environmental) distinction that looms so large in many histories and the philosophy of history (e.g. Isaiah Berlin) is hiding among the theories:

"Individual people formulate goals and strategies based on the opportunities available to them, these may be affected by:
- ecological circumstances
- social circumstances
- their current social position, gender, class, etc."

And: "...states (or, for our purposes, civilizations) emerge as the cumulative effect of certain kinds of strategies used by leaders to maintain and extend their power."

C. Intensification of production is the centerpiece of the "economics of population growth theory of Allen Johnson and Timothy Earle, like the intensification of rice production in Ava period Toungoo that might have spurred expansionary warfare put forth as a hypothesis in Lieberman's Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in a Global Context.

The notes hypothesize that the intensification of production leads to:

Result 1. Increased risk of insufficient production
Result 2. Increased competition
Result 3. Increased demand for capital investments (public works, etc)
Result 4. Increased trade

Result 3 implies irrigation along the lines of O'Connor's argument in: O'Connor, R. 1995. Agricultural Change and Ethnic Succession in Southeast Asian States: A case for Regional Anthropology. Journal of Asian Studies. 54(4):

"O'Connor hypothesized that the development of wet-rice agriculture and the resulting complex political and social structure required to sustain the irrigation system ultimately resulted in Tai dominance over the Mon-Khmer."

"In Southeast Asia, a dependable rice crop produces more calories per acre than any other grain and can support rapid population growth and expansion. Tai irrigation methods ensured reliable rice production and, ultimately, a well-fed population. For the Tai irrigation system to work, the minimal political unit was village-sized, requiring a complex division of labor to ensure system functionality. Alternatively, the Mon-Khmer opted for a less complex system — each family labored independently to grow and harvest rice crops and relied on the elements for adequate rainfall."

"Tai agricultural success resulted in growing population numbers, causing groups of Tai to migrate from their region of origin to other, geographically-similar areas favoring wet-rice agriculture." (Source)

Lieberman cites and adapts O'Connor's argument to support the intensification of agriculture as a spur to state expansion hypothesis mentioned above. Result 2 above also implies that intensification is a spur to warfare:

"Result 2. Increased competition
--Because intensified production requires scarce resources such as good farmland, and because the land has to be improved by clearing, planting, irrigation works, etc., there is more to be gained by taking a neighbor's property. The potential benefits of violent conflict increase.
------groups form alliances, organize for defense, build walls, etc.
----Effect on society:
------These strategies create opportunities for management, leadership, and class differences to develop."

Archaeological rather than textual evidence is essential to support an intensification hypothesis. A lot of the theories in these notes seem to have been developed in the context of Meso-American archaeology (e.g. for Mayan civilization). The archaeology of Burma and Yunnan is much less well-developed.

Alas, there are so many theories. Naming would at least reify their content and make them more comparable with the aid of search engine technologies, the way Wikipedia is currently standardizing terminology for many people through its naming conventions.