Specialized craft production and craft producers have a prominent place in archaeological studies of early states and empires. Social and economic differentiation are defining characteristics of such societies, and through analyses of material remains and the contexts of their production and consumption, archaeologists can examine both the organization of production and the social, economic, and political statuses and inter-relations of producers and consumers of craft goods. In this work, I examine the social and political significance of craft production and consumption in the Vijayanagara empire, an expansive polity that dominated much of South India from the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries AD.
My study of the political economy of specialized craft production in historic South India situates both political economy and specialized production in the broadest possible frame. I view “political economy” as the relations between political structures and systems (including the constitution of political authority) and the economic realms of production, consumption and exchange (e.g., G. Stein 2001: 356). “Specialized craft production” is understood as the investment of labor by (more or less) skilled practitioners in the production of diverse goods that are in turn consumed by non-producers. My goals are both to learn more about Vijayanagara and the lives and products of the diverse subjects of this large and complex empire, and to contribute to broader theoretical understandings of empires, imperial economies, specialized production, and archaeological and historical approaches to the study of states in South Asia and beyond.