Can political complexity evolve from small-scale cooperative herding groups?

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).

Central thesis

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.

In 1242, Europe stood on the precipice of destruction. Based in Hungary and Serbia, the Mongol armies were poised for conquering the rest of Europe. Only the death of the Great Khan halted the Mongol advance, sparing Europe from the fate of an inevitable conquest. Twenty-five years after the withdrawal, the Mongol Empire reached its peak with the establishment of the Yuan dynasty – making it the largest land empire in history, stretching from the Sea of Japan to the Mediterranean Sea and the Carpathian Mountains.

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.

Structure

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.

The preliminary extent of cooperative herding groups.

Evidence is also fragmented, and little systematic attempts have been made to understand general patterns of pastoral cooperation.

The first step of COMPLEXITY is thus to cross-culturally analyse and document the prevalence of cooperative herding groups by using the existing ethnographic literature and a cross-cultural database

This will be used to select four field sites in Africa and Inner Asia: 

Study design where the overall starting point is to select two communities at two sites within each region. Arrows indicate levels of comparison undertaken in the project: between regions; between sites; and between communities. Coloured areas on the map indicate the already documented presence of herding groups while animal figures indicate the traditional Old World nomadic pastoral zones defined by the key cultural animal

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.

A conceptual overview of the domain, focus, problem, mechanisms and research load in evolutionary aspects of cooperation in anthropology. Food sharing has been a focus because it carries a cost for the giver: the giver must share parts of their food without knowing if the action will be reciprocated. Thus, sharing is a collective action dilemma, i.e., a situation where free-riders can thwart cooperation. Sharing labour is not riddled with the same dilemma: it is mutually beneficial and, thus, represent a coordination problem. Since individuals who share labour have common interests and share preferences, they always benefit from cooperation. Also referred to as mutualism, coordination has been argued to be a better representation for many situations of human cooperation. Nevertheless, they have been viewed as less interesting and trivial than collective action dilemmas: when everyone benefits from collective action, the cooperative solution should be obvious.

In contrast, less focus has been placed on cooperative production, the primary form of cooperation among pastoralists.

Consequently, COMPLEXITY’s second step is to use field studies to comparatively investigate to what degree pastoral cooperation is structured by evolutionary factors and investigate how cooperation affects pastoral performance.

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).   

Temporal trends in wealth inequality measured as reindeer numbers for (A) the Saami reindeer husbandry in Norway and (B) the Saami reindeer husbandry in the North and South (Fig 1.). The Gini coefficient ranges from 0 (perfect equality; everyone owns equally) to 1 (perfect inequality; one individual owns everything). Data for Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for Norway downloaded from Statistics of Norway (https://www.ssb.no/). See preprint https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/zv92t for details.

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 third step is thus to combine empirical data with Agent-Based Modelling, to investigate whether cooperative herding groups can be considered prototypes for more complex organisations.

The funding makes it possible to hire 2 postdocs and 2 Phds working alongside me in Tromsø!

So stay tuned for job openings!

Using Python to summarize articles

Earlier this year I got an article published in Acta Borealia.

The paper, The Sami cooperative herding group: the siida system from past to present, is open access.

I usually publish a short summary on this blog, but recently I’ve been learning to analyze text using Python so I thought I should try to leverage Python to help me summarize my own paper.

The result? Have a look (I’ve only removed citations and reorganized the sentences for flow):

Background

The Sami – both pastoralists and hunters – in Norway had a larger unit than the family, i.e., the siida.

History

Historically, it has been characterized as a relatively small group based on kinship.

The siida could refer to both the territory, its resources and the people that use it.

The core institutions are the baiki (household) and the siida (band).

Names of siidas were, in other words, local.

Moreover, it was informally led by a wealthy and skillful person whose authority was primarily related to herding.

One of these groups’ critical aspects is that they are dynamic: composition and size change according to the season, and members are free to join and leave groups as they see fit.

Results

Only two herders reported to have changed summer and winter siida since 2000.

Furthermore, while the siida continues to be family-based, leadership is becoming more formal.

Nevertheless, decision-making continues to be influenced by concerns of equality.

Code

The code is shown below. Lacks a bit in comments, but should work for documents. I’ve load the text used from a docx file.

Imports

import numpy as np
import os
import sys
import nltk
from nltk.corpus import stopwords
import re
import textacy # have installed spacy==3.0 and textacy==0.11
import textacy.preprocessing as tprep
import docx
import networkx as nx
from sklearn.feature_extraction.text import TfidfVectorizer
import nltk
import os
import warnings
warnings.filterwarnings("ignore")

stop_words = nltk.corpus.stopwords.words('english')
wtk = nltk.tokenize.RegexpTokenizer(r'\w+')
wnl = nltk.stem.wordnet.WordNetLemmatizer()

Loading file

doc = docx.Document('your_filename.docx')

Functions for processing and summarizing text

def extract_text_doc(doc):
    paras = [p.text for p in doc.paragraphs if p.text]
    revised_paras = [p for p in paras if len(p.split('.')) >1]
    text = " ".join(revised_paras)
    return text

def normalize_document(paper):
    '''
    Tokenize ++
    '''
    paper = paper.lower()
    paper_tokens = [token.strip() for token in wtk.tokenize(paper)]
    paper_tokens = [wnl.lemmatize(token) for token in paper_tokens if not token.isnumeric()]
    paper_tokens = [token for token in paper_tokens if len(token) >2]
    paper_tokens = [token for token in paper_tokens if token not in stop_words]

    doc = ' '.join(paper_tokens)
    return doc

def normalize(text):
    '''
    Normalizes text, string as input, returns normalized string
    '''
    text = tprep.normalize.hyphenated_words(text)
    text = tprep.normalize.quotation_marks(text)
    text = tprep.normalize.unicode(text)
    text = tprep.remove.accents(text)
    return text

def text_rank_summarizer(norm_sentences, original_sentences, num_sent):
    if len(sentences) < num_sent:
        num_sent -=1
    else:
        num_sent=num_sent

    tv_p = TfidfVectorizer(min_df=1, max_df=1, ngram_range=(1,1), use_idf=True)
    dt_matrix = tv_p.fit_transform(norm_sentences)
    dt_matrix = dt_matrix.toarray()

    vocab = tv_p.get_feature_names()
    td_matrix = dt_matrix.T

    similarity_matrix = np.matmul(dt_matrix, dt_matrix.T)


    similarity_graph = nx.from_numpy_array(similarity_matrix)

    scores = nx.pagerank(similarity_graph)

    ranked_sentences = sorted(((score,index) for index, score in scores.items()))

    top_sentence_indices = [ranked_sentences[index][1] for index in range(num_sent)]
    top_sentence_indices.sort()
    summary = "\n".join(np.array(original_sentences)[top_sentence_indices])
    return summary

Processing text

normalize_corpus = np.vectorize(normalize_document)
text = extract_text_doc(doc)
text1 = normalize(text)
sentences = nltk.sent_tokenize(text1)
norm_sentences = normalize_corpus(sentences)
summary = text_rank_summarizer(norm_sentences, sentences, 10)
print(summary)

Historically, it has been characterized as a relatively small group based on kinship.
Moreover, it was informally led by a wealthy and skilful person whose authority was primarily related to herding.
Only two herders reported to have changed summer and winter siida since 2000.
Furthermore, while the siida continues to be family-based, leadership is becoming more formal.
Nevertheless, decision-making continues to be influenced by concerns of equality.
One of these groups' critical aspects is that they are dynamic: composition and size changes according to the season, and members are free to join and leave groups as they see fit.
Lowie (1945) writes that the Sami – both pastoralists and hunters – in Norway had a larger unit than the family, i.e., the siida.
Names of siidas were, in other words, local.
The siida could refer to both the territory, its resources and the people that use it (see also Riseth 2000, 120).
The core institutions are the baiki (household) and the siida (band).

For more options and better ways of summarizing text, check out https://pypi.org/project/sumy/ with its many summarizer classes. For example, TextRankSummarizer is similar (but way better) than the approach taken here.

But similarly, it conceptualizes the relationship between sentences as a graph: each sentence is considered as vertex and each vertex is linked to the other vertex. But, rather than using PageRank from networkx for similarity, it uses Jaccard Similarity.

New research paper about cooperation in groups of Saami reindeer herders

The Tangled Woof of Fact

People rely on one another in fundamental ways, but cooperation in groups can be fragile. Every day, we face tensions between acting in a socially responsible manner and following our own self-interest. These situations are called social dilemmas and they come in varying shades of subtlety, from littering and eBay to overpopulation and climate change. Overcoming these dilemmas can make all the difference, especially for marginalised groups such as pastoralists – people who make their living from herding animals.

Pastoralists use about a quarter of the world’s land for grazing their herds. Nowadays, all over the world, governments are privatising many of their pastures, and so herders must work together in increasingly fragmented places.

We wanted to learn how groups of Saami reindeer herders living in Norway’s Arctic Circle worked together. Our study, just published in the journal Human Ecology, found that cooperation pivoted around the ‘siida’: a…

View original post 420 more words

Tibetan lives: Hunting

I’ve just got a paper accepted in Land Use Policy about nomadic pastoralists in Tibet and hunting. As we all know, space is limited in scientific journals, so here is additional text as well as pictures. Continue reading “Tibetan lives: Hunting”

Reindeer Husbandry in a Globalizing North – resilience, adaptations and pathways for Actions (ReiGN)

It’s the time of the year when we eagerly await the results from the year’s (many) research proposals.

Continue reading “Reindeer Husbandry in a Globalizing North – resilience, adaptations and pathways for Actions (ReiGN)”

Predatory or prey – the rise of nomadic empires

In 1227 Genghis Khan died leaving behind a legacy of conquest and the largest land empire in history, only fully realized by his Grandson Kubhlai Khan with the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty in 1267 (Chaliand 2004). Continue reading “Predatory or prey – the rise of nomadic empires”

Workshop in Tromsø February 18

In connection with the project “The Erosion of Cooperative Networks and the Evolution of Social Hierarchies: A Comparative Approach” and NIKU‘s 20th anniversary,  a workshop will be arranged on Wednesday 18th of February in Tromsø, Norway.

Time: Wednesday February 18 12:30-16:00 Continue reading “Workshop in Tromsø February 18”

HIERARCHIES: New research project from the Research Council of Norway

Last week I got the news that I got a 4 year research grant funded by the Research Council of Norway.

Continue reading “HIERARCHIES: New research project from the Research Council of Norway”

What’s killing the reindeer?

Predatory species compete with humans for the use of resources such as livestock and an important tool for managing possible conflicts is damage compensation schemes distributing the costs between those who benefit from conservation and those who suffer the costs of damage.

Continue reading “What’s killing the reindeer?”