The establishment and defeat of hierarchy: Inalienable possessions and the history of collective prestige structures in the Pueblo Southwest

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The role of social valuables in establishing and defeating hierarchies in prestate societies is explored through the use of Annette Weiner's concept of "inalienable possessions." Inalienable possessions are objects made to be kept (not exchanged), have symbolic and economic power that cannot be transferred, and are often used to authenticate the ritual authority of corporate groups. Ethnographic examples from Zuni are used to understand the range of individually and collectively owned inalienable objects in Pueblo societies. I then use three classes of these objects from archaeological contexts to gain insight into the history of collective prestige structures in the Southwest. I argue that inalienable goods are more useful than prestige goods for understanding the role of social valuables in many nonstate societies, especially those in which inequalities are based on ritual knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)238-251
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2004



  • Archaeology
  • Inalienable possessions
  • Materiality
  • Pueblos
  • Social memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology

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