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Resisting Diversity: a Long-Term Archaeological Study

Margaret C Nelson
Michelle Hegmon, Arizona State University
Stephanie R Kulow, Arizona State University
Matthew A Peeples, Arizona State University
Keith W Kintigh, Arizona State University
Ann P Kinzig, Arizona State University


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The value of “diversity” in social and ecological systems is frequently asserted in academic and policy literature. Diversity is thought to enhance the resilience of social-ecological systems to varied and potentially uncertain future conditions. Yet there are trade-offs; diversity in ecological and social domains has costs as well as benefits. In this paper, we examine social diversity, specifically its costs and benefits in terms of decision making in middle range or tribal societies, using archaeological evidence spanning seven centuries from four regions of the U.S. Southwest. In these nonstate societies, social diversity may detract from the capacity for collective action. We ask whether as population density increases, making collective action increasingly difficult, social diversity declines. Further, we trace the cases of low diversity and high population density across our long-temporal sequences to see how they associate with the most dramatic transformations. This latter analysis is inspired by the claim in resilience literature that reduction of diversity may contribute to reduction in resilience to varied conditions. Using archaeological data, we examine social diversity and conformity through the material culture (pottery styles) of past societies. Our research contributes to an enhanced understanding of how population density may limit social diversity and suggests the role that this association may play in some contexts of dramatic social transformation.

Key words

archaeology; long-term; resilience; social diversity; vulnerability

Copyright © 2011 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087