Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The acquisition of social status by males in small-scale human societies (with an emphasis on the Tsimane of Bolivia)
by von Rueden, Christopher Robert, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2011, 262; 3495771
Abstract (Summary)

Male status hierarchies are a human universal. In all societies, men with a greater ability to inflict costs (i.e. dominance) or confer benefits (i.e. prestige) gain differential access to contested resources. However, our knowledge of how human societies compare in the determinants and outcomes of status is limited. Ethnographies are typically anecdotal; they explore the link between only one particular trait and social status, or lack a longitudinal design to assess causal relationships. Filling this knowledge gap in fast-disappearing small-scale societies is critical, given their relevance to understanding human evolution and transitions in socio-political complexity over human history.

Among the Tsimane horticulturalists of Bolivia, I find that there is a high level of inequality in status acquisition across men, even though they lack formal, authoritative government. The consensus-based decision-making in small-scale societies does not preclude significant inter-individual power differentials beyond those due to age and sex. I compare status acquisition in different domains (dyadic fighting ability, getting one's way in groups, community-wide influence, and respect from peers), which differ in the extent to which they reflect dominance versus prestige. Physical size best predicts fighting ability while social support from allies, both kin and non-kin, best predicts success in the other status domains. Market-related skills are growing contributors to community-wide influence, which is more unequally distributed in more modernized Tsimane villages. Greater access to private, material wealth in these more modernized villages does not undercut the sharing of food and labor across households, which are important means of securing allies and, ultimately, influence.

I also evaluate the reproductive outcomes of status acquisition. I find that more influential Tsimane men have more surviving offspring within their marital unions, due to marrying young wives and to the support of allies, but they also experience more extra-marital affairs. The strong relationship between status and fertility (both legitimate and illegitimate) across small-scale societies suggests men do not pursue status solely to improve their access to mates but also to benefit their families.

This dissertation is the first multivariate analysis of social status to consider different determinants or outcomes of status simultaneously and is also the first to present longitudinal data on status acquisition in a small-scale society.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gurven, Michael
Commitee: Cosmides, Leda, Gaulin, Steve, Tooby, John
School: University of California, Santa Barbara
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 73/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, Behavioral psychology, Social psychology, Political science
Keywords: Bolivia, Cultural anthropology, Hierarchy, Leadership, Small-scale society, Social status, Stratificaition, Tsimane
Publication Number: 3495771
ISBN: 978-1-267-19579-1
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