david wengrow

david wengrow.png

intro’d first via his and David Graeber‘s human history

human history:

graeber/wengrow back & forth law

graeber/wengrow never stupid law

graeber/wengrow top down law

david & david on stupid savage

dawn of everything:

david on dawn of everything

graeber readingsgraeber and wengrow freedom law

doe as anarchist history (article)

doe – david w anand

doe in nyt

doe online community

doe – deresiewicz on doe and graeber

doe at lse

david (w) at ted 2022

david (w) on freedom

david (w) on history

david (w) on human history

then following his tweets on agri ness:

David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 2:11 PM on Wed, Nov 21, 2018:
Could never see why the Origins of the State required an Agricultural Revolution. Hunting is the one cultural obsession of political elites that transcends every major ideological rupture, from Ashurbanipal to Vladimir Putin.

(@AnnemiekeMiks): doesn’t shift to elitism of hunting require agriculture first? Without agriculture/sedentism/domestication, hunting is just a necessary part of everyday subsistence. It becomes supplementary w/ shift to agriculture

(@davidwengrow): But what do you make of hunter/fisher/forager groups like the NW Coast Kwakiutl, Tsimshian, and so on who had aristocratic households, kept slaves, etc. all without agriculture? Or cases like the Calusa of Florida Keys where this led to full-blown monarchy, but still no farming..

(@davidwengrow): Or Amazonian groups where hunting and capturing other people to make them “pets” is a basic way of establishing power relations – my friend Luiz Costa has a great new book on this called “The Owners of Kinship.”


Through a comprehensive ethnography of the Kanamari, Luiz Costa shows how this relationship is centered around the bond created between the feeder and the fed.

imagining – if we all were part of the feeding.. so that all are fed (which .. 1\ all aren’t fed today 2\ if all part of feeding.. less feeling obliged to ie: bs jobs .. in order to pay the feeder)

and reading his books.. ie:

what makes civilization

owners of kinship

(@elliot_sperber): Non-sedentary, non-agricultural people are able to walk away from coercive power? (i.e., hunter class exploits agricultural class, and that’s why they love hunting/hunting symbolism, asserting their dominance, isn’t that the idea?)

(@davidwengrow): Well it’s one part of the story but let’s recall that (non-agricultural) hunting peoples have just as often preyed on each other for tribute, slaves, etc. While on the other hand we have examples of agrarian cities with no evidence of predatory elites taking control.

(@elliot_sperber): Could it be that agriculture is a necessary but insufficient factor?

(@davidwengrow): I don’t think so. Take the Calusa of pre-columbian Florida. Sacred monarchy, slaves, well organised military and industry. No farming.

(@elliot_sperber): Were they sedentary? Maybe that’s it, and sedentariness is conflated with agriculture?

(@davidwengrow): Unless you’re an agro- pastoralist ;) We’re going in circles. I guess the point is it’s silly to try and organise human history by modes of subsistencebut people still do it, despite the obvious objections

(@elliot_sperber): Well yes, it’s silly, but an agricultural revolution makes for a pretty good origin story, especially as it flatters “civilization,” so it’s very potent ideologically. As ideology it makes sense that it would persist despite objections

(@bschlatter): I think I’ve read an essay once on compared mythology, in which you could see traces of hunter societies actually imposing coercion over agricultural ones in stories like Perseus and other warriors-wanderers defeating snake-goddesses and such. It was a compelling point.

(@davidwengrow): Yes it’s amazing how all this gets ignored in the usual version of social evolution based on “modes of subsistence”

(@flintsparc): Economic surplus that can be hoarded us a requirement for specialized classes aristocrats and professional soldiers. Agriculture is the easiest way to achieve that. Hunting surplus tends to very geographically specific.

(@davidwengrow): But again this ignores all the evidence for storage, surplus, and stratification in foraging societies: check responses elsewhere in thread. And of course you can also exert power directly over people by capturing, raiding, taking slaves, tribute – quite common among hunter-gs

(@davidconstable6): Hunted from their country estates, didn’t they? Estates that were primarily agricultural? Their hunting was what Marshal McLuhan called an obsolete technology becoming a hobby craft for those who could afford it…the content (hunting for fun) of the new technology (agric).

(@davidwengrow): There always seems to be much more to it politically than just fun or magic. Thomas Allsen wrote a book called “The Royal Hunt in Eurasian History” about it. Or Vidal-Naquet’s “The Black Hunter”.

(@davidconstable6): My thinking was they did not hunt because they had to, because of needs like ,say, pre 1850 bison people in North America’s plains. I can see hunting as replaying identity like a legendary hunter of yore., not need for food, tools and clothing. Thanks for the book titles!

2 days later

David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 2:56 PM on Fri, Nov 23, 2018:
In fact the relationship is stronger. Key elements of the State are Sovereignty and Bureaucracy, transferable skills from Hunting (outsiders, criminals) and Gathering (information, taxes). The myth that food production drives history blinds us to these transformations. https://t.co/RDosd4mhLm

food production. .or food surplus. .? which also requires bureaucracy as violence et al

(@davidwengrow): Thanks – yes it’s something I’m trying to think through for the book I’m writing with @davidgraeber – still thinking through the implications of this point so this feedback is useful


now taking him in here (1 hr talk w David mar 2018 – Slavery and Its Rejection Among Foragers on the Pacific Coast of North America: A Case of Schismogenesis?):

schismogenesis: creation of division – In his 1936 book Naven, Bateson defined schismogenesis as “a process of differentiation in the norms of individual behaviour resulting from cumulative interaction between individuals” (p. 175).



6 min – g: we got into this when we got into agri..  and ie: h/g’s didn’t live in bands, early cities were robustly egalitarian


7 min – w: we’re not in the business of drawing analogies between archaeological and anthropological record.. but we were really struck when it came to thinking about the origins of agri.. just how much the ethnographic record is still being pressed into service as a sort of surrogate/replacement for archeological evidence which is how we found ourselves drawn in to this lit.. because the aboriginal people of the w coast of n america .. more than any other.. seemed to have become emblematic of a kind of evolutionism and the sort of sociological reductionism which would have them all categorized as roughly the same thing.. call it complex/storing/affluent h/g ..whereas in fact what struck us immediately were the contrasts between the two major culture areas as classically defined as california.. and the nw coast.. which were originally defined as food areas..

8 min – w: food being a crucial vector of differentiation between these to macro areas

12 min – w: they were all foragers.. and should emphasize that all the groups we’re talking about today did not practice farming.. there’s a trend these days to write about them as if they were farmers and did a great deal of landscape management/alteration.. but these are precisely the groups that resisted.. which makes it even more extraordinary that they’re often held up as exemplars of what human societies might have been like before the origins of farming.. in the sense that they’re the last people on earth you should probably look at.. so it’s a strange sort of evolutionism..

w: but what is pointed out (in this non read paper w bad title).. is they exhibit almost every bit of protestant ethic in the absence obviously of industrialization, wage labor, and the principle of monetary interest.. they have money.. shell money.. but what goldschmidt points out is that they also have this moral obligation to work hard and to conspicuously be seen to work hard.. to make money but not show it off.. really just the principle of abstinence..

w: it’s a very systematic through analysis which ought to have had historical implications.. if can show foragers who have developed a moral/ethical system extraordinarily similar to that of late medieval early modern europe before explosion of capitalism you’d have thought that has .. sort of .. implications comparatively.. but it’s been completely ignored

14 min – the other paper – talking about the neighbors of these protestant foragers who turn out to be rather feudal nobility who keep hereditary slaves and as far as any one can remember have a long history of raiding one another for people.. they’re proper capturing societies

15 min – g: very important to emphasize.. been written out of the nw coast.. something like 20% of population appears to have been slaves.. written out of history

16 min – w: so i think we sort of assumed.. that someone must have asked the question .. what happened when these people ran into each other.. there’s not physical border.. these are all decentralized groups of foragers distributed along the pacific.. continuous trade/interaction.. by canoe going back thousands of years and yet remarkably.. nobody seems to have addressed the question of how you end up w two apparently such different societies living on one another’s doorstep.. the closest we got was that amazing little book by the world systems guy

chase dunn? https://scahome.org/publications/proceedings/Proceedings.05Chase.pdf

17 min – w: he points out that these were migrants from nw coast down into the area – of modern day california –  and in process of moving .. seem to have lost .. as he puts it.. some of these hierarchical practices/institutions..

18 min – w: the argument that we ended up with.. and we’ve just realized we’ve never really talked to anybody except each other about this particular piece of research.. but the argument we ended up with is that they didn’t lose these (hierarchical) institutions at all.. they quite consciously rejected them..t

22 min – w: there’s something else going on (no official borders/lines) it’s happening from the bottom up

23 min – g: i was looking for writings of what these people (these two groups) thought of each other

24 min – w: we ran into prejudice of foragers – have two clearly diametrically opposed societies.. no one would dream of lumping them together.. no one would dream of doing this.. except with foragers..

brian hayden’s feisting societies – all lumped together on the basis that they feast.. and are feasting foragers who might have been the kind of people who invented farming had the not been the kind of people who in fact resisted farming.. that’s how we got started


25 min – w: everybody feasts in one way or another.. and if you actually look at their feasting practices. .they couldn’t be more different

w: we wrote it up – diverse/fairly-positive review.. the critical on grounds of racism stereotyping and ethnocentrism came largely from the archaeologists.. whereas the cultural anthropologists who actually works w descendants of these groups said.. yes at last somebody is actually writing their history.. so all we can conclude from this is that nobody actually talks to each other in n america.. although they’re in the same dept

26 min – w: feasting.. if look at description of ceremonial feasting in this part of california ie: deer skin dances and periodic trade fairs.. it’s almost like a potlatch in reverse.. ie: don’t compete w luxury foods.. it’s mostly about staple foods and sharing them (repetitive acorn style food); none of this ranked seating order that you get in potlatch;

potlatch: (among North American Indian peoples of the northwest coast) an opulent ceremonial feast at which possessions are given away or destroyed to display wealth or enhance prestige.

27 min – w: you actually get this very generous sharing of treasures and valuables.. via a dance.. they lovingly wrap/rap(?) and look after each others’ valuables

28 min – w: so to describe them all as doing the same thing.. as hayden’s book does.. seems to do an incredible amount of violence of the data.. that’s not to say that nobody gained anything by hosting these feasts.. it’s clear there were organizers and big men.. who benefited monetarily from hosting them..

w: he (napolean shanion?) thought the californian feasting cycle was really more about buffering and leveling out resources

and california topographically (why archeologists find ca so fascinating) i think it resembles more than any other region on earth the area around the jordan valley and fertile crescent where farming actually was invented 10 000 yrs ago.. you have this tight compression diff ecologies ie: mtns, foothills, river valley, desert and coastline.. all compressed together in a very tight framework.. and yet in america situation it’s one of the very last places to adopt farming.. which show you how pointless environ determinization really is

begs a nother way

29 min  – that’s what set us off determined to find differences and what emboldened us was

g: oh this little story

33 min – g: significance of the story is it brings up this value of thinness and fatness.. people from north.. very warlike.. show up and take lots of slaves.. but the very fact that they do so is their undoing.. they become fatter/stupider.. the slaves go one being clever and well organized.. to the point where they just run away.. and they’re too fat to chase them.. it’s a simple encoding of a value which you can see in the opposition between this potlatches (basically celebrations of fat) and california – (acorn drools and fit thru little sweat house holes).. and if they’re potlatching anything they’re potlatching work.. so slaves.. get water and drag wood.. and california’s initiation rituals are getting water and dragging wood

35 min – w: you’re jumping ahead to the end.. the schismogenesis.. the lit that we found out there was mostly from perspective of human behavior ecology.. some felt we were opposed to what they were doing but quite to the contrary.. one particularly fascinating piece we found called – why acorns before salmon – it does address some of the contrasts.. but starts w eco puzzle of nw california.. very rich in aquatic resources/fish/salmon.. high ranking foods to foragers.. can cage enough for year.. and store up oils et al.. whereas acorns/nuts have been preferred staple.. are ranked for amt of labor.. ranked pretty low.. very labor intensive..

37 min – w: what they (boettiger and ?) come up with is that it’s all about predation and risks of raiding.. labor in prepping for first fish run.. then convert to storable foods.. concentrated labor..

38 min – g: front loaded labor.. then have something good to go.. so enormous amt of labor – slaves – at first.. then stays for long time.. unlike acorns.. exact opposite.. whole point.. not worth stealing acorns.. because still have to do all the work after you steal it..t

39 min – w: so what they argue is that this might explain other institutional features of the societies we’re talking about in the sense that the societies that rely very heavily on harvesting fish on seasonal basis are kind of making a noose for their own necks in that they’re creating this great stock of stored processed resources which are very tempting to raiders and thieves.. t.. and that this somehow might explain some of the other institutional differences between nw coast and california..

like agri surplus.. ness

40 min – w: we thought this was important to think about but also not quite satisfactory.. t..i mean if it worked as an explanation.. we can just go home .. no point in doing the analysis we’re doing.

w: one of the obvious problems is that most of the raiding which is documented on the nw coast actually doesn’t seem to be for food it seems to be for people.. and the reason people raid for people is to process the food..t.. it’s not primarily an ecological thing.. there’s no shortage of labor as far as we can gather.. the point is that a great number of people concerned are aristocrats that wouldn’t be seen dead doing most of this work.. it’s not an actual shortage of hands they can get on this seasonal basis.. it’s a shortage of controllable labor.. t.. so also capturing a lot of invested knowledge/skill

41 min – w: another thing that occurred to us is that maybe it is a sort of jim scott situation.. wherein the same way there’s no point in stealing acorns.. there’s not much point in stealing acorn eaters.. because what are you going to do w them.. keeping slaves comes at a certain cost.. if they can’t speak same language..

g: and they don’t know how to do any of the things you want them to do

w: but this is purely hypothetically.. this set us off looking at that zone in more detail.. and actually wondering whether there was some other kind of explanation which has more to do with these.. quite conscious decisions to create another sort of society by groups which had been exposed to but rejected the kinds of societies described on the nw coast.. t

42 min – w: and once we started looking.. we were quite staggered by number of ie’s instances where you can point to what seems like more/less a direct inversion.. in a very gregory bateson like schismogenetic sense.. i think we came up w 7 major points of major schismogenesis.. and this is what we will finish on


44 min – w: n oregon once they got horses did actually start slaving and incorp ing potlatch .. but what’s interesting is that it’s very clear that this is regarded as an anomoly

g: and then other people were self consciously resisting it..  in fact some of the ways people org’d war was quite self consciously to make it impossible for a slave trading society to develop

w: shismogenetic point 1: legal.. against raiding..(the yuruk) had legal systems in place that required winners of a fight to pay individual compensation for every life taken at the going rate for murder.. this makes raiding fiscally pointless

45 min – w: some points like protestant views..  tales that if you do this this will happen to you.. and then there were the little details of rituals.. how to chop/carry wood.. no noble would be seen doing these.. so.. advertises status as a slave.. californian groups take this form of labor and turn it into the focus of a ritual

47 min – w; (goldschmidt on initiation rites) – not exploitation.. (gathering wood).. means of acquiring luck.. for sweating.. constant thinking about the acquisition of riches.. the sweating itself is reverse for potlatch

48 min – w: they seemed to be very aware of these reversals..

49 min – g: fraud and delusion – theatricality.. the word for ritual is illusion.. could mean fraud/fake.. a constant idea that sacred involves a play of false surfaces.. attach names like masks.. whereas in california it’s all about reality..  mental exercises in forms of meditation.. finding the real world.. what you’re basically doing in ritual.. finding yourself..

51 min – w: california rituals about authenticity.. finding self.. ie: weeping/sweating to show how hard you are working.. g: releasing of water.. to show you’re real

52 min – g: no where in california did they ever use masks

53 min – w: buckley – 1865 – as he becomes more clean.. sees himself as more real and world as more beautiful.. rather than setting for story of intellectual knowledge.. tears as manifestation as earning/openness.. et al

54 min – w; still from buckley.. when someone else’s purpose in life is in interference w you.. he must be stopped.. lest you become his slave/pet

55 min – w: maybe we should stop there.. having convinced ourselves and maybe 3 regional experts.. that there is something going on here.. and obviously it’s going to take decades more research.. this is just really opening up questions.. we don’t claim by any means to have reconstructed what went on here..

w: as evidence accumulates and put together w history.. it seems at very least to be a worthwhile question.. ‘at what point does this divergence occur..’  millenium centuries..

w: and then underneath that the sheer diversity/dynamism/contrast.. of foraging societies has been so horrible underrated

g: yeah people really do see foragers as slaves to their environ to some degree.. if not.. some sort of default of raw/egalitarian simplicity.. not seen as people who engage in politics.. and i think this is one of the key things we were trying to bring back.. t..

g: that these are people conscious of diff political/sociological/organizational possibility in same way people were moving back and forth seasonally in many places.. between alt social structure..

g: they were aware of social possibilities and developing a set of values that rejected some and accepted others.. often in contrast w their neighbors in a mutual process of schismogenesis and this is how politics has worked thru much of human history and it doesn’t start w agriculture and the rise of cities.. people have always been like this..t

this was a huge grasping moment for me (i think.. i hope.. of what all this is about.. ie: why they are looking into this.. not so much that h/g were/weren’t egalitarian.. and something changed us.. but that they consciously chose how to be from the get go

57 min – w: that’s right.. in the end of this venture.. we’ve learned almost nothing about the origins of farming (we have other theories about that) but we learned something about the political possibilities w/o farming..t

g: even though we didn’t come up w something useful for our original premise.. it just seemed to important to point out.. why is no one talking about this

w: esp since these same groups are even described as being incipiently hierarchical or having sort of emergent hierarchies.. i mean presumably if you are hereditary slaves.. there’s nothing incipient about this..t

incipient: in an initial stage; beginning to happen or develop..developing into a specified type or role.

g: but if other people have self consciously formed an anti slavery ideology.. which is what seems to have happened here.. that’s very historically interesting..  and then the fact that no one’s ever even pointed it out or considered it something worth discussing is itself rather startling..t

w: and that’s all we wanted to say in the end

58 min – q&a

1:01 – (philippe descola): slaves were a byproduct of ill conduct in a way – if youth did something wrong and couldn’t pay.. became a slave – debt slaves


1:03 – g: zones of creativity.. in these zones of chaotic transformation (schismogenesis ness)..

1:05 – g: it’s these zones where everybody is mixed up that these political institution building really comes out

testart storage law:

1:07 – (philippe descola) – ineq not on shift to agri but on stockpiling/accumulation.. whether thru agri or foraging.. the control of the stock becomes the central point precisely not interpreted in terms of the immediate ecological analysis.. but the point to understanding the emergence of social control/protection

yes that

referencing alain testart

1:08 – w: yes.. i can see that .. but at the same time i find it very hard to envisage.. how a situation of endemic raiding between relatively small scale foraging groups could ever have produced a farming economy.. because you never have the kind of stability that would lead to incremental return on investments.. which is implied by agri.. so i think the point (testart) makes that really interested me was actually about another schismogenetic possibility (which is something we’re working on) .. testart made a fascinating observation in the 80s which seems to have been completely ignored (anglaphone lit) and he seems to have worked quite a lot w archeologists.. and we’re certainly aware of head-taking and head-focused rituals and skull poachings .. he said ritual wasn’t necessarily meaning they were doing that violence.. what would be interesting is to see if there was that (violence) in contemporary foraging societies.. which increasingly i think might be the case.. so once again you could have rituals which are really about the care of the head juxtaposed to something which is .. it’s just a theory we’re playing with

1:11 – g: one theory .. seems almost reverse.. rather than agri leading to ie: class structures.. you have something like a stratified society already emerging.. and it’s quite possible that the agri people are just sort of running away from that.. 1st agri more egalitarian esp women

1:12 – g: and one of the most cogent signs of this you can actually see is their attitudes toward heads.. just seems like there’s a lot of severed heads/sacrifice.. and at same time.. carefully nurturing heads of ancestors

w: what testart seems to have done is make the pre historians confront this increasingly compelling evidence for extremely violent raiding and slave holding way back into pre history.. it goes back as far as you want to look.. but the scale of it in pre history in europe is really quite striking.. mass burials.. particularly in germany and i think there ‘s a lot of thinking to be done about generally the role of slavery.. which is something not much talked about because it seems too hypothetical but the evidence now is so compelling in terms of body mutilation .. mass burial.. and evidence of warfare



find/follow David:

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archaeologist & author of ‘What Makes Civilization?’ & ‘The Origins of Monsters’





David Wengrow is a professor of comparative archaeology at University College London. He is the author of The Origins of Monstersand What Makes Civilization?


David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 6:30 AM on Wed, Dec 26, 2018:
“The Archaeology of Strikes and Revolutions”
– transcript of a teach-out I gave with some excellent colleagues @UCLarchaeology when reckless pension reforms started #USSstrikes earlier this year. Thanks again to our students for their strong solidarity:  https://t.co/yx1DBUJgZb

Which leads to the conclusion that organised civil disobedience and strikes may have been much more common in ancient history than indicated by written sources altogether and needs to be dug out.


David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 7:18 AM on Sat, Dec 29, 2018:
Looking forward to spending a chunk of my 2019 investigating new approaches to the history of images, with colleagues @UniFreiburg – among other things, continuities from pre-digital to digital techniques. They’ve already made a start, with an ancient counterpart to pixel media. https://t.co/CoLZS5HPGS

Rethinking Order and Disorder?


David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 4:32 AM on Tue, Oct 02, 2018:
Why do we cling to a concept of “Civilisation” that’s elitist, authoritarian, and systematically excludes the contributions of women? Current events in the Middle East tell us it’s time to rethink #civilisations – my new ideas piece @aeonmag

A history of true civilisation is not one of monuments – written oct 2018

Civilisation is a way of talking about human history on the largest scale. From the cave paintings of Lascaux to the latest MoMA exhibition, it binds human history together..But in at least one essential aspect, the concept of civilisation remains fundamentally exclusionary.

Civilisation could be found in material things, but above all it referred to a potential in human societies. In Mauss’s view, civilisation is what happens when discrete societies share morally and materially across boundaries, forming durable relationships that transcend differences. It might seem an abstract debate, but it’s not. Let me try to explain.

There is something wrong here. The word ‘civilisation’ stems from a very different source and ideal. In ancient times, civilis meant those qualities of political wisdom and mutual aid that permit societies to organise themselves through voluntary coalition

When people use the term ‘early civilisation’, they are mostly referring to Pharaonic Egypt, Inca Peru, Aztec Mexico, Han China, Imperial Rome, Ancient Greece or other ancient societies of a certain scale and monumentality. All of these were deeply stratified societies, held together mostly by authoritarian government, violence and the radical subordination of women. Sacrifice is the shadow lurking behind this concept of civilisation; the sacrifice of freedoms, of life itself, for the sake of something always out of reach – an idea of world order, the mandate of heaven, blessings from those insatiable gods

Physical evidence left behind by common forms of domestic life, ritual and hospitality shows us this deep history of civilisation. It’s in some ways much more inspiring than monuments. The most important findings of modern archaeology might in fact be these vibrant and far-flung networks, where others expected to find only backward and isolated ‘tribes’.

These small prehistoric communities formed civilisations in the true sense of extended moral communities. Without permanent kings, bureaucrats or standing armies, they fostered the growth of mathematical and calendrical knowledge; advanced metallurgy, the cultivation of olives, vines and date palms, the invention of leavened bread and wheat beer. They developed the major textile technologies applied to fabrics and basketry, the potter’s wheel, stone industries and bead-work, the sail and maritime navigation. Through ties of kinship and commerce, they distributed these invaluable and cherished qualities of true civilisation.

A moment’s reflection shows that women, their work, their concerns and innovations are at the core of this more accurate understanding of civilisation. Tracing the place of women in societies without writing often means using clues left, quite literally, in the fabric of material culture, such as painted ceramics that mimic both textile designs and female bodies in their forms and elaborate decorative structures. To take just one example, it’s hard to believe that the kind of complex mathematical knowledge displayed in early cuneiform documents, or in the layout of urban temples, sprang fully formed from the mind of a male scribe, like Athena from the head of Zeus. Far more likely, these represent knowledge accumulated in preliterate times, through concrete practices such as the applied calculus and solid geometry of weaving and beadwork. What until now has passed for ‘civilisation’ might in fact be nothing more than a gendered appropriation – by men, etching their claims in stone – of some earlier system of knowledge that had women at its centre.

There can be no justification for the wanton destruction of ancient monuments. But let’s not confuse that with the living pulse of civilisation, which often resides in what at first glance seems small, domestic or mundane. There we will find it, beating patiently, waiting for the light.

bauwens civilization collapse law


what makes civilizationon hold – thanks library

wengrow/graeber top down law

david on dawn of everything


on labour and property and math and men

Very good case made by @MeeraSabaratnamthis am. for decolonising the curriculum on @BBCr4today, but I wish she’d gone further: presenting, say, John Locke’s views on property or liberty without addressing the colonial context actually is just “bad history” .. 1/4

Locke’s (1690) ‘Second Treatise of Government,’ for instance, argued that many Indigenous Americans had no rights to their own land, because “property” was to be legally defined only in terms of “labour” invested in fixed plots of territory .. 2/4


David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 2:58 AM on Mon, Feb 18, 2019:
And “labour” was to be understood only in terms that could be readily quantified, as raw numbers of work hours (i.e. on the model wage labour, sold on the open market). Aboriginal peoples who questioned this were to be “destroyed” like “savage beasts,” according to Locke 3/4

math and men

David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 2:59 AM on Mon, Feb 18, 2019:
And this is another good reason why we should be circumspect about any approach to human history, that reduces the cultural achievements of all past societies to a single measure or scale of value 4/4

stop measuring


David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 2:02 AM on Thu, Feb 28, 2019:
Have to confess (as a specialist in Egyptian archaeology) I’ve never found the idea of stacking thousands of massive stones on top of each other that creative. It’s the sort of thing states come up with for people to do, when they’ve run of other ways to make themselves relevant. https://t.co/dJJnQrIAaR

The purpose of this lecture is to show that some aspects of Gaudi’s counterarguments on the relationship between increasing population density and the emergence of the state, as well as its later writings, urbanization and bureaucracy, need to be reconsidered, partly as an alternative to this new wave of uniformist theories about population and political structure. I will develop Gudy’s arguments in two ways:

  1. a)there is no logical or necessary connection between the density of the population and the emergence of centralized management or political structures;
  2. b)populated centers can develop and sustain themselves for a long time through very different, more egalitarian ways of integration, even without the stimulus of predatory interference from neighboring states.

But I would also depart from the guides of Guoda and later studies, arguing in the second part of my speech that the early emergence of “cities without a state” is not an exclusive feature for either sub-Saharan Africa or subtropical zones as a whole. Instead, I will assume that cities that have organized “from below” and on relatively egalitarian principles can be found in the heart of urban civilization in Eurasia.

The initial gap between bureaucracy and scale

Technological systems have transfer properties that are different from one innovation to another, and they can not be compared to institutional changes.

Thus, writing has become a decisive characteristic of urban elites, and the main tool of their socialization to certain institutes and skills of thinking.

writing ness

Here, I want to emphasize that, according to Guddy, there was no universal or principled link between urban life, state sovereignty and bureaucracy. Instead, they are part of a separate “set of” events that are united in a certain set of historical circumstances. ..there were no necessary causal relationships, but rather a series of “clutches” that, after education, were easily transmitted in a wider Eurasian context.

this creates some obvious problems for recent theoretical studies on the size of groups..For example, it is often argued that groups of up to 150 people, that is, approximately the size of the Neolithic settlement, do not need administrative systems to control things. People need appropriate social thinking to support group cohesion through personal interaction, moral pressure, and natural memorization of debts and obligations. The existence in the deep prehistoric times of the city-wide governance questioned the whole idea of ​​bureaucracy as a functional response to “scalar stress.” Equally problematic for these theoretical models is the phenomenon of settlements, which were certainly urban in size, but did not have the expected features, such as administrative hierarchies or management elites.

? – so no b control.. but *moral pressure.. debts/obligations..?

no.. i don’t think so.. not for natural-humanity/undisturbed-ecosystem

high-density societies are able to cope well with large-scale bottom-up resource management, that is, on the basis of voluntary associations that make decisions by consensus.

and am thinking.. if org’d by cure ios city wouldn’t even need to go consensus route


David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 4:52 PM on Fri, Apr 12, 2019:
Yep – Dunbars Number is really among the main casualties of this new study.

David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 8:32 AM on Sat, Apr 13, 2019:
Check out the article – if they’re right (and I think they are) then the Social Brain Hypothesis is a dead duck,  or at least needs to be completely rethought from the ground up.

googled: The social brain hypothesis was proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who argues that human intelligence did not evolve primarily as a means to solve ecological problems, but rather as a means of surviving and reproducing in large and complex social groups.

more dunbar ness :

David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 1:24 AM on Fri, Apr 19, 2019:
Just noticed I’m following exactly 150 people on Twitter. Why does this feel weirdly comfortable? Have I reached my cognitive ceiling? Should I stop now, before my brain explodes?

@para_paramoney: you should keep following new people, but be ruthless with unfollowing at least the same amount

@davidwengrow: See how quickly the little cruelties of life will multiply, if we see our world through the lens of evolutionary psychology.

black science of people/whales law


via David Wengrow

David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 6:08 AM on Sat, May 25, 2019:
.@BritishAcademy_ asked me to write a “provocation” about social cohesion. Think I’ll tackle the assumption that human societies become less cohesive/more coercive as they grow in scale. Archaeology has different stories to tell, of egalitarian cities, indigenous republics . . . https://t.co/JymM1ZT5sz

jo freeman and structurelessness ness.. et al


Samuel Pfister (@pfister_samuel) tweeted at 4:46 AM on Thu, Jun 06, 2019:
So I’m happy that Twitter has emerged as a platform outside of these traditional frames of knowledge production for people to clear the air, work through these complex themes, and begin to develop alternatives frameworks of thinking (strong kudos, @davidwengrow)


@davidwengrow: Was trying to imagine how Twitter would be if we subjected all our tweets to academic peer-review. But think I’ll go back to my breakfast, then probably tweet some more ideas about things I’m working on. You can use my if you just want the other stuff.

@davidwengrow: Well, except there’s a large body of data already published on this topic, for the region in question. If you’re not familiar with it, that’s fine. But please don’t assume that goes for others who’ve been studying these things for decades, and want to share their thoughts here.


state ness (and

David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 2:15 AM on Sat, Aug 10, 2019:
After a short break am slowly turning my thoughts back to book writing with @davidgraeber. So why do theories of state formation always fail? First thought: most confuse the state’s idea of itself with the realities of power. Effectively they are studying a mirage, an aspiration.

Christopher Smith (@rometostandrews) tweeted at 6:19 AM – 11 Aug 2019 :
Clearly a prescient conversation, given @davidwengrow @davidgraeber ‘s project… This is an argument with consequences! https://t.co/cS5IsQUckp (http://twitter.com/rometostandrews/status/1160526046967599104?s=17)

Christopher Smith (@rometostandrews) tweeted at 12:56 PM – 20 Jun 2019 :
@LyndseyStonebri Archaeologists who are arguing about the state would benefit from reading this article. ‘The state is not the reality which stands behind the mask of political practice. It is itself the mask which prevents our seeing political practice as it is.’ Super prompt! (http://twitter.com/rometostandrews/status/1141781806016077824?s=17)

David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 2:27 AM – 10 Aug 2019 :
@GeoffreyFHughe1 @davidgraeber Yup, it’s a very cool essay: “The task of the sociologist is to demystify; and in this context that means attending to the senses in which the state does not exist rather than to those in which it does.”
https://t.co/LnpdRvvVax (http://twitter.com/davidwengrow/status/1160105367759720450?s=17)

David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 2:40 AM – 10 Aug 2019 :
@GeoffreyFHughe1 @davidgraeber Was just hanging out with @TPauketat last month, but frustratingly never got to discussing these particular issues. It’s a problem with academic conferences – so often you end up in the company of people you really wanna talk to about something other than the conference theme! (http://twitter.com/davidwengrow/status/1160108611739312134?s=17)

2 convers as infra

Geoffrey F Hughes (@GeoffreyFHughe1) tweeted at 2:22 AM – 10 Aug 2019 :
@davidwengrow @davidgraeber I just love Abrams’ line about how the state is not the reality that lies behind the mask of political practice–the state is the mask. (http://twitter.com/GeoffreyFHughe1/status/1160104118272299013?s=17)

Geoffrey F Hughes (@GeoffreyFHughe1) tweeted at 1:01 AM on Sun, Aug 11, 2019:
States have historically had a lot of resources to invest in studying “the origins of the state”. Indeed, I would argue it’s one of the key things that almost all states seem to do–though I’m less sure about the Americas… https://t.co/7zxeXbvu3m

@rometostandrews @davidwengrow for me, it all turns on the prior assumption there is one entity called “the state” and any sign of large-scale organisation must therefore be evidence that one is around. Why do we assume this?

Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/davidgraeber/status/1160135867358490625


David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 4:42 AM on Wed, Sep 04, 2019:
“Calling for citizens’ assemblies to tackle climate change is not going against the grain of history or social evolution, but with its flow.”
My new essay on the past and future of cities, for @BritishAcademy_ “Rethinking Cities, from the Ground Up”

rethinking cities


David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 11:15 AM on Sun, Jan 05, 2020:
Not for the first time I’m asked to write a letter supporting the promotion of a female colleague who nurtured my own academic development, and who I consider (in the true sense of professional achievement) to be vastly my senior. I’m the product of a system that has to change.

credential ness to daily curiosity as only label


David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 4:58 PM on Tue, Feb 04, 2020:
Has anyone worked on the rejection of numeracy as a conscious strategy of avoidance (e.g. of social rank, or wealth-based inequalities?)
I guess Amazonia would be one place to start, with groups like the Yąnomamö who prefer not to go beyond 2 . .

i believe i have (last 10 ish yrs experimentation).. but probably not in the sense you’re looking for..  (probably not academic enough.. meaning no paper on it.. which is kind of the point of what i found).. adding numeracy page


David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 10:10 AM on Fri, Apr 03, 2020:
Nope. All this because we keep telling ourselves the same Garden of Eden story instead of actually learning from history.

would like to know more about this..

i’m thinking more that our history is based on whales in sea world.. and that if we let go of that assumingness.. we might actually get back to the place of enough ness


davidwengrow continues: “Mutual aid, social cooperation, civic activism, hospitality, or simply caring for others: these are the kind of things that actually go to make civilisations. In which case, the true history of civilisation is only just starting to be written….”
Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/johnthackara/status/1304325441340178435

black science of people/whales law.. tragedy of the non common.. et al


@LewisBorck @ikramghabriel @SomaliHeritage Perhaps, after years of doing it wrong! Or at least, less right. Another powerful reason why teachers in HE need job security and the freedom to trip up, learn their craft, and pass things on.
Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/davidwengrow/status/1308851362751549442

job: graeber job\less law

security: gershenfeld something else law


Just submitted the last research article I wrote with @davidgraeber to a well-known archaeology journal. We finished back in spring but with one thing and another.. In case they don’t want it and someone else does it’s called: “Cultural schismogenesis and the origins of farming.”
Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/davidwengrow/status/1317886450608885760


graeber readings


@notmobydick @RealDealDelRio @AnnemiekeMilks I’ve never quite made my mind up about the “archaeology of violence” argument. Need to give it more thought. Thanks for the reminder.
Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/davidwengrow/status/1324102569011150849


David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 5:13 PM on Fri, Nov 13, 2020:
“The priest-king is dead. The Indus civilization was egalitarian, but this is not because it lacked complexity; rather, it is because a ruling class is not a prerequisite for social complexity.” Yup. https://t.co/ucVH2Uw7Tb