Saturday, March 16, 2013

evolution of political systems research

oxford | The overall aim of this project is to investigate the role of ritual in the evolution of social complexity, using a combination of archaeological, historical, and ethnographic evidence together with mathematical models simulating patterns of socio-political evolution over time. It is funded by an ESRC Large Grant on Ritual, Community and Conflict and SSHRC funding for a Cultural Evolution of Religion Consortium.
Much of the archaeological work has  focused on the early Neolithic site at Çatalhöyük where significant changes in ritual life accompanied the shift from foraging to agriculture and the emergence of the first complex societies. The work of Harvey WhitehouseCamilla Mazzucato (Oxford) and Quentin Atkinson (Auckland) in collaboration with Ian Hodder and his team suggests that the domestication of animals and plants required increasingly routinized forms of collaborative labour, achieved through an increase in the frequency of communal rituals and the homogenization of cultural identity markers. To test our hypotheses further, we are currently building a regional database covering more than 60 sites in Anatolia and the Levant starting with the late epipaleolithic and ending at the start of the chalcolithic. An independently-funded research student (Mick Gantley) has been recruited to assist with this work, supervised by Whitehouse and Oxford archaeologists Amy Bogaard.

Since June 2011, Harvey Whitehouse, Peter Turchin and Pieter Francois are currently spearheading the construction of a large historical database addressing the same hypotheses as in the archaeological work and resulting in a coding rubric that is closely overlapping. The scope of the historical database is global and covers the past 5000 years covering variables on social complexity, ritual and warfare. Data are collected for every hundred years for over 200 polities. These polities have been chosen following a grid structure based on the Universal Transverse Mercator geographic coordinate system. In summer 2012 this project will be form part of the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium (CERC), supported by a six-year $3 million grant from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), as part of their new Partnership Grant initiative. CERC's research committee comprises Vancouver-based researchers Edward Slingerland (PI), Joseph Henrich, Ara Norenzayan, and Mark Collard, and European partners Armin Geertz and Jesper Sørensen (Aarhus University) and Harvey Whitehouse (Oxford University).