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ANGELBECK, Bill and Colin GRIER, "Anarchism and the Archaeology of Anarchic Societies"
Resistance to Centralization in the Coast Salish Region of the Pacific Northwest Coast
Article published on 19 April 2013
last modification on 18 April 2013

by r-c.
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Current Anthropology Volume 53, Number 5, October 2012 pp. 547-587

This article is followed by a number of comments by other anthropologists and a reply by the authors.

Authors’ Summary

Throughout human history, people have lived in societies without formalized government. We argue that the theory
of anarchism presents a productive framework for analyzing decentralized societies. Anarchism encompasses a broad
array of interrelated principles for organizing societies without the centralization of authority. Moreover, its theory
of history emphasizes an ongoing and active resistance to concentrations of power. We present an anarchist analysis
of the development of social power, authority, and status within the Coast Salish region of the Northwest Coast.
Coast Salish peoples exhibited complex displays of chiefly authority and class stratification but without centralized
political organization. Ethnographically, their sociopolitical formation is unique in allowing a majority of “highclass”
people and a minority of commoners and slaves, or what Wayne Suttles described as an “inverted-pear”
society. We present the development of this sociopolitical structure through an analysis of cranial deformation from
burial data and assess it in relation to periods of warfare. We determine that many aspects of Coast Salish culture
include practices that resist concentrations of power. Our central point is that anarchism is useful for understanding
decentralized (or anarchic) networks—those that allow for complex intergroup relations while staving off the
establishment of centralized political authority.


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