Last week I was informed that my project proposal “From small-scale cooperative herding groups to nomadic empires – a cross-cultural approach (COMPLEXITY)” was funded through the ERC Consolidator Grant scheme.
Had to wait to announce it since it was not official until 12:00 17.03.2022 when ERC announces their press release with all the successful grants. The press release can be found here.
The overall aim of the Consolidator Grant is to “… support mid-career researchers and will help them consolidate their teams and conduct pioneering research on topics and with methods of their choosing” (from press release).
COMPLEXITY is situated at the intersection of anthropology and ecology and deals with the evolution of political complexity.
The prevalent view of the evolution of complex societies favours agriculture as the main factor.
How do we then explain the rise of nomadic empires?
One common explanation refers to conflict, and large-scale conflict with China has been presented as the central element in the rise of, for example, the Mongol Empire.
Thus, pastoralists could only develop complex levels of organisation when facing strong agricultural neighbours.
But this cannot explain how pastoralists transitioned from small, kin-based groups to complex stratified societies.
COMPLEXITY’s central thesis is that before large-scale conflict is even possible, a level of within-group cooperation must be present.
Noteworthy, it is almost impossible for pastoralists to survive without cooperative labour investment and help from other households
By viewing cooperative herding groups as the building blocks of nomadic societies, COMPLEXITY aims to increase our understanding of the evolution of political complexity based on a new theoretical explanation of pastoral political organisation.
COMPLEXITY adds to state of the art through three steps.
While cooperative herding has been documented, previous studies have been based on single case studies.
Evidence is also fragmented, and little systematic attempts have been made to understand general patterns of pastoral cooperation.
This will be used to select four field sites in Africa and Inner Asia:
Cooperation, performance and the rise of pastoral inequality
Understanding cross-cultural diversity and patterns in behaviour is a central goal of human behavioural ecology.
Nevertheless, the predominant view of cooperation is shaped by studies focusing on food sharing among foragers.
In contrast, less focus has been placed on cooperative production, the primary form of cooperation among pastoralists.
The evolution of political complexity: from small-scale cooperative group to empires?
There is also a view that livestock, as the primary source of wealth, limits the development of inequalities, making pastoralism unable to support complex organisations.
However, the Gini coefficient for reindeer in Norway indicates that wealth in livestock is more unevenly distributed than for Norway in general (see this preprint https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/zv92t).
Since we cannot observe the history of nomadic empires, COMPLEXITY’ will model if, for example, livestock as wealth can generate inequalities resulting in hierarchical power structures.
The funding makes it possible to hire 2 postdocs and 2 Phds working alongside me in Tromsø!
So stay tuned for job openings!