The Rise of Early States. Political Infrastructures in Comparative Perspective.

Presented by Rita Wright, New York University, at the Center for Historical Research, Department of History at The Ohio State University on February 20, 2015.

The results of cross-cultural and comparative studies of early states have revolutionized anthropological and archaeological conceptions of pathways to complexity. The paper draws on this rising scholarship, first to re-examine long-held views such as the lists of attributes provided by of V. Gordon Childe (still useful and instructive perhaps), Wittfogel’s political centralization of the control of landscape and waterways, Weber’s patrimonial models and Eisenstadt’s views on “the west and the rest.” Second, in distinction to these earlier works in which the state was viewed as a powerful machine with a single body that lacked engines and gears, current analyses give emphasis to an infrastructural base comprised of mid and lower level contributors as the forces that moved state’s forward. My argument centers on cooperation, collective action and networks, drawn from archaeological field research in the New and Old World, as core elements of state infrastructures. A view inclusive of these factors results in a more holistic understanding of early states in which one size does not fit all. More strongly focused on the Near East and South Asia, my primary case study is the Indus civilization, where artisans and merchants formed the core of the civilization’s infrastructure.

The Ohio State University Center for Historical Research in the Department of History provides a stimulating intellectual environment for studying important historical issues around the world. Each year the Center brings together scholars from various disciplines to examine issues of broad contemporary relevance in historical perspective.