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Hierarchy in the Forest

Hierarchy in the Forest

The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior

Christopher Boehm

ISBN 9780674028449

Publication date: 07/01/2009

Are humans by nature hierarchical or egalitarian? Hierarchy in the Forest addresses this question by examining the evolutionary origins of social and political behavior. Christopher Boehm, an anthropologist whose fieldwork has focused on the political arrangements of human and nonhuman primate groups, postulates that egalitarianism is in effect a hierarchy in which the weak combine forces to dominate the strong.

The political flexibility of our species is formidable: we can be quite egalitarian, we can be quite despotic. Hierarchy in the Forest traces the roots of these contradictory traits in chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla, and early human societies. Boehm looks at the loose group structures of hunter-gatherers, then at tribal segmentation, and finally at present-day governments to see how these conflicting tendencies are reflected.

Hierarchy in the Forest claims new territory for biological anthropology and evolutionary biology by extending the domain of these sciences into a crucial aspect of human political and social behavior. This book will be a key document in the study of the evolutionary basis of genuine altruism.

Praise

  • This well-written book, geared toward an audience with background in the behavioral and evolutionary sciences but accessible to a broad readership, raises two general questions: 'What is an egalitarian society?' and 'How have these societies evolved?'...[Christopher Boehm] takes the reader on a journey from the Arctic to the Americas, from Australia to Africa, in search of hunter-gatherer and tribal societies that emanate the egalitarian ethos--one that promotes generosity, altruism and sharing but forbids upstartism, aggression and egoism. Throughout this journey, Boehm tantalizes the reader with vivid anthropological accounts of ridicule, criticism, ostracism and even execution--prevalent tactics used by subordinates in egalitarian societies to level the social playing field...Hierarchy in the Forest is an interesting and thought-provoking book that is surely an important contribution to perspectives on human sociality and politics.

    —Ryan Earley, American Scientist

Author

  • Christopher Boehm is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Jane Goodall Research Center at the University of Southern California.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press

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