Applications of Group Processes Theory to Understand How Early Polities Solve Collective Action Problems

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 27 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Pamela EMANUELSON, North Dakota State University, USA
David WILLER, University of South Carolina, USA
This paper explores how chiefdom and early state social structures resolve collective action problems. In particular, the paper applies advances in social psychological theory to understand practical solutions to collective action problems in prehistory. The theory includes actor and structure level assumptions.  Solutions to problems of collective action are two-fold; incentive systems discourage free-riding and encourage individuals to act and organization combines individuals’ acts. Broadly stated, we argue that influence and power, once organized into the hands of one or a small sub-group of individuals, can be used to administer incentive systems that motivate others in the community to act. Those incentive systems, in turn, can shape collective activities such as warfare and defense. Drawing on experimentally grounded theory in sociology, we model forms of social organization and discuss the relation of each to collective action. In particular, we argue that simple chiefdoms solve problems of collective action through the well-ordered influence relations in their status lineage structures, while coercive chiefdoms, to the same purpose, exercise power through threat of force. As in coercive chiefdoms, early states solve collective action problems through coercive relations but, where chiefs coerce only directly, heads of territorial states use bureaucratic systems of administration to exercise coercive power over vast geographic and social distances.