The Evolution of Inequality: From the Pleistocene to the 21st Century

Spring semester 2021 | MA Seminar: Philosophy of Science (WP), Political, Legal, and Economic Philosophy (PP) | Seminar | 475739 | EN | 7 ECTS | Dienstag 14:15-16:00 | Unitobler Seminar Room F004

Ancestral forager societies are often depicted as egalitarian. However, with the rise of sedentary societies during the transition to the Holocene (about 25 kya– 12 kya), an increase in social scale and inequality seems to emerge in the material record. The continued and expanded role of cooperation despite increasing inequality is puzzling since, under these conditions, theory predicts a sharp reduction in the stability of cooperation over time. In this seminar, we will explore the origins and potential explanations of this puzzling pattern and discuss the extent to which the mechanisms that explain it play a role in explaining contemporary political and economic inequalities. Particular attention will be given to the role of direct and indirect forms of reciprocity, environmental and climate (in)stability, the mechanisms of wealth transmissibility and economic defensibility, and the relationship between horizontal forms of inequality and violent conflict. We will draw heavily on archeological and anthropological data, experimental evidence in social psychology, comparative data on political and economic inequality, as well as the UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Data Set. Previous knowledge of statistics is not required.

Work required for credits:
1. Handout: Each student will take care of presenting at least one of the assigned weekly readings. A handout should be handed in on the day of the assignment. Length: 2000 words max. Weight: 50%.
2. Final paper (due: June 24): Each student will have the opportunity to improve on his previous paper or write a paper from scratch based on one of the topics discussed through the seminar. Length: 6000 words max. Weight: 50%.

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