Flashcards for Political Organization
Topics 1-2:  Introduction, Bands, and Tribes
(18 cards)

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Copyright © 2004 by Dennis O'Neil. All rights reserved.


(as defined in this tutorial)

competition for power over people and things

political symbol

an idea or physical thing that is used by politicians as a tool for focusing the attention and emotions of people (e.g., a national flag or a patriotic song)

levels of political integration

A term referring to general types of political systems used to organize and manage societies. As a society's population size and territory grow, it must develop new political solutions to keep from splitting apart. Bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states are examples.

the four different methods used by different societies for succession to political offices

inheritance, election, achievement, and appointment

acephalous society

A society in which political power is diffused to the degree that they lack institutionalized political leadership roles such as chiefs and kings. These societies are highly egalitarian for adults.


The level of political integration in which a society consists only of an association of families living together. Societies with this kind of political system are loosely allied by marriage, descent, friendship, and common interest. There is no economic class differentiation. All adults of the same gender are more or less equal as far as community decision making is concerned. However, some individuals may stand out for their skills and knowledge and become informal leaders. The total number of people within these mostly foraging societies rarely exceeds a few dozen.


The level of political integration in which pantribal associations are created in order to provide a sense of unity. There usually is a headman, but his authority is limited—he must lead by persuasion primarily. Tribes are more complex acephalous societies than bands due largely to the fact that they have more people and they use pantribal associations as integrating mechanisms that help to prevent the disintegration of society. This kind of political system has been common among horticultural, pastoral, equestrian foraging, and rich aquatic foraging societies.

the primary integrating mechanism of bands

kinship ties

the primary integrating mechanism of tribes

pantribal associations (e.g. councils, groups of elder men or more rarely women who are members of the same age set, secret societies, warrior societies, and religious cults)

the way that people commonly acquire leadership roles in bands

Most often they are given authority by community consensus arrived at through casual discussion without the need for a formal vote.

social velocity

(Richard Lee coined this term as a result of observing the phenomenon among the ju/'hoansi of southwest Africa.)

The common band social phenomenon in which disruptive interpersonal conflicts increasingly occur as the number of people in a society grows. Band fissioning commonly occurs before a community reaches the full carrying capacity of the environment. Families decide to leave and form their own bands because the conflict settling mechanisms are not adequate to resolve differences. It is not food scarcity but, rather, social discord that usually is the cause of the break-up.

the approximate number of band level societies that survive today with their traditional form of political organization intact

Very few if any survive today, but many did in isolated areas until the end of the 19th century.

how high the level of political power and status of women was in most foraging bands compared to those living in pastoralist and agricultural societies

The political power and status of women in most pedestrian foraging bands was surprisingly high. However, women in bands of aquatic and equestrian foragers had much less power and lower status than men due to the fact that men generally provided most of the food in these societies. Likewise, the power and status of women in pastoralist and agricultural societies was and still is comparatively low.

the political system that is found in societies with more people

(Is it a band or a tribe?)


(Tribes usually have hundreds of people, multiple communities, and other social sub-divisions, while bands rarely have more than a few dozen people and only one community.)

subsistence patterns most commonly associated with tribes

horticulture and pastoralism

(Tribes also have been found in some large equestrian and rich aquatic foraging societies.)

the part of the world where there are societies in which all men traditionally lived together communally in a "big house” (women and children lived elsewhere)

New Guinea

the level(s) of political integration characteristic of societies that are egalitarian and in which there are no full time political, economic, or religious specialists

bands and tribes

what the “big men” of New Guinea most often gave away in their complex ritualized redistributive systems that were intended to increase their status