The Origins of Entrepreneurship and the Market Process. An Archaeological Assessment of Competitive Feasting, Trade, and Social Cooperation

Crystal A. Dozier

The market system is traditionally characterized as a complex mechanism through which goods and services are distributed according to the laws of supply and demand. The mechanics of this system are crucial to understanding the complex world in which we live today; no place on earth remains untouched by the globalizing forces of the market system. The market is not simply the rush of numbers across the news ticker; there are foundational cultural practices and beliefs that allow for market exchanges to occur and that dictate the nature of those exchanges (Lavoie and Chamlee-Wright 2000; Chamlee-Wright 1997; Storr 2010, 2013). While the modern market system of exchange—goods and labor for pieces of paper or numbers on a computer screen—seems second nature to those within this complex maelstrom, humanity has only fairly recently adopted this system of exchange.

Various researchers have explored reasons why Western capitalistic systems have historically dominated (e.g., Diamond 1999; McCloskey 2010b; A. Smith 1982); the origins of complex trading and the accompanying incentive systems, however, predate written history. Several phenomena are often cited as contributing factors within the development of market systems; I discuss three of these phenomena here: property, specialization, and long-distance trade. These three hallmarks of the market order are not inherent to the human condition. Only in the last ten thousand years is there evidence for sedentism and territoriality (property), the creation of specialized occupations (specialization), and trade across natural, large geographical areas (long-distance trade). The sociocultural circumstances under which private property, division of labor, and long-distance trade emerges, however, seem to have been catalyzed by competitive feasting. Although sociocultural circumstances are similar in the development of these important economic traits, there is diversity in the geographic and temporal situations in the development of complex foraging traditions (Arnold et al. 2015) and thereby the origins of the market process.

Competitive feasting, as will be expounded in the following pages, requires competing individuals to host increasingly excessive events (Hayden 2014b). The host of the feast provides material goods, such as special foods or symbolic totems, to their guests, and in turn, gains great social status. These feasts provide a mechanism through which different groups of people get together for long-distance trade, plan marital/political unions, and allow for intensification in division of labor, as new specialized goods and services are desired. Competitive feasting allows for individuals to gain social (and biological) influence while enhancing the experience of the group at large. These aggran- dizers utilize entrepreneurial awareness to create avenues for sociocultural and economic complexity.

I argue, as archaeologists have done before, that increasing population pressure during stable climatic periods results in intensified action across the landscape (e.g., Binford 1968, 2001). Social coordination is required in order to maintain peaceful relationships in increasingly populated areas (Richerson and Boyd 1995). In these situations, where population pressure is mounting, putting diverse and competing groups of people in contact with one another, a similar phenomenon, competitive feasting, is observed.

To illustrate this mechanism at work, I present three archaeological examples of competitive feasting. I chose my three examples (Neolithic Anatolia, Bronze Age European Celts, and Late Prehistoric Texas) to represent three different continents at three different periods of time. All three examples are preceded by a period of low population densities of hunter- fisher-gatherers; with climatic stability and increasing population densities, all three examples show archaeological evidence of competitive feasting. Evidence for competitive feasting is correlated with the first evidence in each respective region for territoriality, creation of specialized labor, and long-distance trade. These three expressions of increasing sociocultural complexity arose prior to and independently of the adoption of agriculture (c.f. Arnold et al. 2015), and in the Texas example, farming was not practiced in the region until European colonization.

In the following pages, I present archaeological evidence to support the interpretation of competitive feasting regimes as catalysts in the development of pillars of the market order. In order to do so, I highlight the theoretical, ethnographic, and archaeological evidence that informs on the mechanisms of competitive feasting, as well as the sociocultural and material repercussions of feasting regimes. I analyze how this theoretical framework differs from other conceptualizations of the market order. In conclusion, I find that competitive feasting mechanisms are consistent with neo-evolutionary understandings of social entrepreneurship and human hypersociality. Feasting studies reaffirm the importance of cultural systems as predicating economic action.

But in order to do so, I must start at the beginning of human orders.

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