Stateless society
A stateless society is a society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 that is not governed
Government refers to the legislators, administrators, and arbitrators in the administrative bureaucracy who control a state at a given time, and to the system of government by which they are organized...

 by a state
State (polity)
A state is an organized political community, living under a government. States may be sovereign and may enjoy a monopoly on the legal initiation of force and are not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state. Many states are federated states which participate in a federal union...

. In stateless societies, there is little concentration
Centralisation, or centralization , is the process by which the activities of an organisation, particularly those regarding planning and decision-making, become concentrated within a particular location and/or group....

 of authority
The word Authority is derived mainly from the Latin word auctoritas, meaning invention, advice, opinion, influence, or command. In English, the word 'authority' can be used to mean power given by the state or by academic knowledge of an area .-Authority in Philosophy:In...

; most positions of authority that do exist are very limited in power
Political power
Political power is a type of power held by a group in a society which allows administration of some or all of public resources, including labour, and wealth. There are many ways to obtain possession of such power. At the nation-state level political legitimacy for political power is held by the...

 and are generally not permanently held positions; and social bodies that resolve disputes through predefined rules tend to be small. Stateless societies are highly variable in economic organization, and cultural practices.

Few stateless societies exist today. Uncontacted peoples
Uncontacted peoples
Uncontacted people, also referred to as isolated people or lost tribes, are communities who live, or have lived, either by choice or by circumstance, without significant contact with globalized civilisation....

 may be considered de facto stateless societies, unaware of the states that have de jure authority over their territory. In some regions nominal state authorities may be very weak and wield little or no actual power
Failed state
The term failed state is often used by political commentators and journalists to describe a state perceived as having failed at some of the basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government...

. Over history most stateless peoples have been integrated with the state-based societies around them.

Prehistoric peoples

In archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

, cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans, collecting data about the impact of global economic and political processes on local cultural realities. Anthropologists use a variety of methods, including participant observation,...

 and history
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

, a stateless society denotes a less complex human community without a state, such as a tribal society, a clan
A clan is a group of people united by actual or perceived kinship and descent. Even if lineage details are unknown, clan members may be organized around a founding member or apical ancestor. The kinship-based bonds may be symbolical, whereby the clan shares a "stipulated" common ancestor that is a...

, a band society
Band society
A band society is the simplest form of human society. A band generally consists of a small kin group, no larger than an extended family or clan; it has been defined as consisting of no more than 30 to 50 individuals.Bands have a loose organization...

 or a chiefdom
A chiefdom is a political economy that organizes regional populations through a hierarchy of the chief.In anthropological theory, one model of human social development rooted in ideas of cultural evolution describes a chiefdom as a form of social organization more complex than a tribe or a band...

. The main criterion of "complexity" used is the extent to which a division of labor has occurred such that many people are permanently specialized in particular forms of production or other activity, and depend on others for goods and services through trade or sophisticated reciprocal obligations governed by custom
Convention (norm)
A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms or criteria, often taking the form of a custom....

 and laws. An additional criterion is population size
Population size
In population genetics and population ecology, population size is the number of individual organisms in a population.The effective population size is defined as "the number of breeding individuals in an idealized population that would show the same amount of dispersion of allele frequencies under...

. The bigger the population, the more relationships have to be reckoned with.

Evidence of the earliest known city-states has been found in ancient Mesopotamia around 3700 BC, suggesting that the history of the state is in truth less than 6,000 years old; thus, for most of human prehistory
Prehistory is the span of time before recorded history. Prehistory can refer to the period of human existence before the availability of those written records with which recorded history begins. More broadly, it refers to all the time preceding human existence and the invention of writing...

 the state did not exist. Since Homo sapiens has existed for about 200,000 years, it implies that state-organized societies have existed for at most 3% of the whole epoch of recognizably "human" history.

The anthropologist Robert L. Carneiro
Robert L. Carneiro
Robert Leonard Carneiro is a prominent American anthropologist and curator of the American Museum of Natural History. Carneiro earned a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1957....

One could dispute about "157 autonomous political units" (sovereign states) insofar as regional governments can, in large countries, also function more or less autonomously, but the general historical trend is undeniable. Generally speaking, the archaeological evidence suggests that the state emerged out of stateless communities only when a fairly large population (at least tens of thousands of people) was more or less settled together in a particular territory, and practiced agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

, rather than being nomadic hunters and gatherers. Indeed, one of the typical functions of the state is the defense of territory. Nevertheless, there are exceptions: Lawrence Krader
Lawrence Krader
Lawrence Krader was an important American socialist anthropologist and ethnologist. At the Philosophy Department of the City College of New York from 1936 onwards he studied Aristotle with Abraham Edel, Leibniz with Philipp P. Wiener and mathematical logic and linguistics with Alfred Tarski...

 for example describes the case of the Tatar state, a political authority arising among confederations of clans of nomadic or semi-nomadic herdsmen.

Characteristically the state functionaries (royal dynasties, soldiers, scribes, servants, administrators, lawyers, tax collectors, religious authorities etc.) are mainly not self-supporting, but rather materially supported and financed by taxes and tributes contributed by the rest of the working population. This assumes a sufficient level of labor-productivity per capita
Per capita
Per capita is a Latin prepositional phrase: per and capita . The phrase thus means "by heads" or "for each head", i.e. per individual or per person...

 which at least makes possible a permanent surplus product
Surplus product
Surplus product is a concept explicitly theorised by Karl Marx in his critique of political economy. Marx first began to work out his idea of surplus product in his 1844 notes on James Mill's Elements of political economy...

 (principally foodstuffs) appropriated by the state authority to sustain the activities of state functionaries. Such permanent surpluses were generally not produced on a significant scale in smaller tribal or clan societies.

The archaeologist Gregory Possehl
Gregory Possehl
Gregory Louis Possehl was a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and curator of the Asian Collections at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology...

 has argued however that there is no evidence that the relatively sophisticated, urbanized Harappan civilization, which flourished from about 2,500 to 1,900 BC in the Indus region, featured anything like a centralized state apparatus. No evidence has yet been excavated locally of palaces, temples, a ruling sovereign or royal graves, a centralized administrative bureaucracy keeping records, or a state religion - all of which are elsewhere usually associated with the existence of a state apparatus.

Similarly, in the earliest large-scale human settlements of the stone age
Stone Age
The Stone Age is a broad prehistoric period, lasting about 2.5 million years , during which humans and their predecessor species in the genus Homo, as well as the earlier partly contemporary genera Australopithecus and Paranthropus, widely used exclusively stone as their hard material in the...

 which have been discovered, such as Çatal Höyük and Jericho
Jericho ; is a city located near the Jordan River in the West Bank of the Palestinian territories. It is the capital of the Jericho Governorate and has a population of more than 20,000. Situated well below sea level on an east-west route north of the Dead Sea, Jericho is the lowest permanently...

, no evidence was found of the existence of a state authority. The Çatal Höyük settlement of a farming community (7,300 BC to circa 6,200 BC) spanned circa 13 hectares (32 acres) and probably had about 5,000 to 10,000 inhabitants..

Modern state based societies regularly pushed out stateless indigenous populations as their settlements expanded.

Social and economic organization

Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 have found that social stratification is not the standard among all societies. John Gowdy writes, "Assumptions about human behaviour that members of market societies believe to be universal, that humans are naturally competitive and acquisitive, and that social stratification is natural, do not apply to many hunter-gatherer peoples."

The economies of stateless agricultural societies tend to focus and organize subsistence agriculture
Subsistence agriculture
Subsistence agriculture is self-sufficiency farming in which the farmers focus on growing enough food to feed their families. The typical subsistence farm has a range of crops and animals needed by the family to eat and clothe themselves during the year. Planting decisions are made with an eye...

 at the community level, and tend to diversify their production rather than specializing in a particular crop.

In many stateless societies, conflicts between families are resolved by appealing to the community. Each of the sides of the dispute will voice their concerns, and the community, often voicing its will through village elders will reach a judgment on the situation. Even when there is no legal or coercive authority to enforce these community decisions, people tend to adhere to them, due to a desire to be held in esteem by the community.

See also

  • Anarchism
    Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, or alternatively as opposing authority in the conduct of human relations...

  • Communism
    Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

  • Community
    The term community has two distinct meanings:*a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group that shares some common values, and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household...

  • James C. Scott
    James C. Scott
    James C. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science, formerly Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Anthropology at Yale University. He is also the director of the Program in Agrarian Studies. By training, he is a southeast Asianist.- Research topics :James Scott's work focuses...

  • State of nature
    State of nature
    State of nature is a term in political philosophy used in social contract theories to describe the hypothetical condition that preceded governments...

  • Uncontacted people
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