AAA Annual Meeting Program

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Paper Information:
Type: Paper
Paper Title: THE SOCIAL ENFORCEMENT OF DEBT AT THE INDIVIDUAL, HOUSEHOLD, AND GROUP LEVEL
Author: MONICA SMITH (University of California-Los Angeles)   
Date/Time: Fri., 4:30 PM
Co-Author(s): MONICA SMITH (University of California-Los Angeles) 
Abstract: Intergenerational debt is a hallmark of human societies. Within a single family, the young and the old expend energy in ways that cannot be repaid, a form of mutual interdependence that carries strong social prescriptions of household rights, duties, and obligations. Between families, debts can be incurred at a number of time-scales ranging from the temporary loan of goods (e.g., to tide over one season’s bad harvest) to long-term assistance (e.g., to compensate for the premature loss of a prime adult provider). At an even larger social scale, permanent bonds of debt and obligation beyond the household can be found in the relationships among strangers. The development of caste is one such configuration, a process in which groups are defined by economic specialization, endogamy, and moral overtones of enforced social segregation. The historical record of the Indian subcontinent, eastern Africa, and other regions with caste structures shows that while lower-caste groups are despised, they paradoxically provide essential services such as pottery, metallurgy, cleaning, haircutting, and burial of the dead. Using Amartya Sen’s concept of “entitlement,” I will explore caste as a historical adjustment to periods of sudden scarcities evident at the inception of social complexity. At times of precipitous economic decline (including unstable governments and famine), groups negotiate for economic survival through specialization in essential activities while accepting a low social status with accompanying restrictions on commensality and marriage. These caste arrangements result in mutual long-term debts of support and obligation among individuals, households, and groups.

Program Number: 3-0830
Session Title: MATERIALIZING AND EMBODYING DEBT
Session Sponsor: Archaeology Division
Session Date/Time: Fri., 1:45 PM-5:30 PM
Organizer(s): CHARLES COBB, MARK HAUSER (Northwestern University) 
Chair(s): ANN STAHL (University of Victoria)  
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