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Introduction: the ends of egalitarianism

Buitron, Natalia and Steinmüller, Hans ORCID: 0000-0002-5921-421X (2020) Introduction: the ends of egalitarianism. L'homme, 236 (3). 5 - 44. ISSN 0439-4216

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Identification Number: 10.4000/lhomme.37923


If human collectives live in freedom and autonomy, know nothing of command and obedience, and value spontaneous sharing and flexible mutuality—can we call such collectives ‘egalitarian’? Even when there are no states, no legislations and no social sanctions that would make everyone equal, can we identify egalitarianism avant la lettre, that is, as a lived social practice in places where no notion of ‘egalitarianism’ exists? Real-existing egalitarianism of this kind has been central to the anthropological imagination and hunter-gatherer societies are commonly described by anthropologists as ‘egalitarian societies’. This themed section engages critically with the concept of egalitarianism in anthropology, emphasising how this concept misrepresents particular forms of sociality from an external point of view. It suggests that anthropologists should be wary of using the term to describe the perceived freedoms and shared welfare—that is, the autonomy and mutuality—of small-scale, decentralised societies. The notion of ‘egalitarianism’ presupposes that social action in certain collectives can be reduced to one shared purpose, which is equality. Anthropologists have used the term to describe collectives that know nothing of such a shared purpose and even refrain from evaluating social action against a single common measurement. What is more, ‘egalitarianism’ tends to conceal the lines of exclusion drawn around those to whom the term is applied, while obscuring the fundamental co-implication of equality and hierarchy…

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2020 École des hautes études en sciences sociales
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2020 16:12
Last Modified: 01 Apr 2024 08:32

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