Chiefdoms: From Archaic Polities to Modern Terrorist Organizations

Authors: Grinin, Leonid; Korotayev, Andrey
Almanac: Evolution:Evolutionary Trends, Aspects, and Patterns


The chiefdom concept is one of the most productive in social anthropology and political evolution. It helps to deeply understand the process of complication of society's structure and the development path from stateless society to early states. However, even when states spread everywhere, chiefdoms still remained political and administrative actors. At present one can find some features of chiefdoms in developing countries (e.g., in some regions of Africa) and in different kinds of organizations especially in illegal and terrorist ones. Thus, using chiefdom theories one can clarify a few basics of such kind of organization as well. Therefore, it makes sense to show how such chiefdom-like structures preserve and develop the features of ancient polities within them.

Thus, in the modern world, along with states, one can find numerous alternative social and political organizations, which, to a greater or lesser extent, have some features that are similar to certain ancient polities. How and why is this possible? We hope that this paper will shed some light on this question. However, it requires and deserves further study.

Keywords: chiefdom, polity, pre-state polities, chieftaincies, complex polities, stateless societies, A1-Qaeda, ISIL, societal complexity.