Tuesday, January 16, 2007

In search of how societies work

Here's the abstract from what looks like a really interesting working paper. The author, David Ronfeldt, coedited a collection on netwar recently.

RAND | Working Papers | IN SEARCH OF HOW SOCIETIES WORK: Tribes — The First and Forever Form

The latest in a string of efforts to develop a theoretical framework about social evolution, based on how people develop their societies by using four forms of organization — tribes, hierarchical institutions, markets, and networks — this installment focuses on the tribal form. The tribal form was the first to emerge and mature, beginning thousands of years ago. Its main dynamic is kinship, which gives people a distinct sense of identity and belonging-the basic elements of culture, as manifested still today in matters ranging from nationalism to fan clubs. This report provides a lead-off chapter that sketches the entire framework, plus a “rethinking” chapter that shows why David Ronfeldt thinks that social evolution revolves around four forms of organization. A chapter then traces the evolution of tribes and clans, and the final chapter describes modern manifestations of the tribal form. An appendix reprints three op-ed pieces that sprang from Ronfeldt’s efforts to understand the tribal form and its continuing relevance. Ronfeldt maintains that societies advance by learning to use and combine all four forms, in a preferred progression. What ultimately matters is how the forms are added and how well they function together. They are not substitutes for each other; they are complements. Historically, a society’s advance — its progress — depends on its ability to use all four forms and combine them into a coherent, well-balanced, well-functioning whole. Essentially monoform tribal/clan societies and biform chiefdoms and clan-states, some dressed in the trappings of nation-states and capitalist economies, remain a ruling reality in vast areas of the world. It therefore behooves analysts and strategists who mostly think about states and markets to gain a better grip on roles the tribal form plays in both national development and national security.

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