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A Model of Fluctuating Labor Value and the Establishment of State Power: An Application to the Prehispanic Maya

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Elliot M. Abrams*
Affiliation:
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701

Abstract

Assessment of the nature of intrasocietal relationships in the context of the origin of state-level power is a critical area of study within anthropological archaeology. A well-established model of such emergent political relations (Wittfogel 1957) posits that differential access to land, coupled with intensification of agriculture, places common farmers in a position of inferiority, and thus subjects them to exploitation by the elite controllers of intensive agriculture. The central thesis of this article is that the initial relationship between the elite controllers and the common laborers in an intensive agricultural system was mutually beneficial, with the state only capable of exercising more exploitative power some generations after the establishment of intensive agriculture. I argue that the economic measure of marginal productivity may best reflect each farmer’s personal contribution to agriculture, and that, in a largely kin-based system, it is difficult for the emergent elite to exercise exploitative power when the marginal productivity of labor is high. I support the thesis on the basis of the simulated trajectory of marginal productivity, which indicates that marginal product increases with intensification. I explore the model further in a consideration of the rise of the Classic Maya kingdom of Copán, Honduras.

La evaluación del carácter de las relaciones intrasociales en el contexto del origen del poder al nivel del estado es un área crítica de estudio dentro de la arqueología antropológica. Un modelo bien establecido de tales relaciones políticas emergentes (Wittfogel 1957) propone que el acceso diferencial a la tierra, junto con la intensificación de la agricultura, pone a los campesinos en una posición de inferioridad, y los sujeta a explotación por parte de las élites controladoras de la agricultura intensiva. La tesis central de este artículo es que la relación inicial entre las élites controladoras y los trabajadores comunes en un sistema intensivo de agricultura era mutuamente benéfica, con el estado solamente capaz de ejercer un poder más explotador algunas generaciones después del establecimiento de la agricultura intensiva. Planteo que la medida económica de la producción marginal refleja la contribución personal de cada campesino a la agricultura mejor que el producto total, y que en una sistema familiar, es dificil para una elite emergente ejercer poder explotador cuando la productividad marginal de trabajo está alta. Amparo la tesis a base de la trayectoría simulada de productividad marginal, que indica que el producto marginal se incrementa con la intensificación. Exploro este modelo con mayor extensión por considerar el establecimiento del reino Clásico Maya de Copán, Honduras.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Society for American Archaeology 1995

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