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Political participation and long-term resilience in pre-Columbian societies

Peter Neal Peregrine (Department of Anthropology, Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin, USA) (Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 5 June 2017

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine the political participation in pre-Columbian societies to determine empirically if greater local participation in political decision-making provides greater resilience to natural disasters.

Design/methodology/approach

A cross-cultural analysis of 21 archeologically known societies bracketing the period 100 years prior to and 100 years following 15 catastrophic natural disasters is conducted to identify relationships between political participation and long-term societal resilience.

Findings

Societies which encourage greater political participation at multiple levels of hierarchy show greater resilience in population, regional organization and communal ritual than societies that restrict political participation.

Research limitations/implications

The sample employed is small and non-random, and the data are coarse-grained, thus the results must be taken cautiously. However, because the use of archeological information allows for both empirical evaluation of presumed causal relationships and the examination of societies across a range of scales and degrees of political integration, the flaws in the sample and data may be less important than the unique insights provided through the broad and diachronic perspective of archeology.

Practical implications

The paper’s findings are consistent with current literature on societal resilience and disaster management, specifically those that emphasize local empowerment and the building of social capital as means to increase resilience, and thus serve as an empirical confirmation of those approaches.

Originality/value

This paper is unique undertaking a systematic cross-cultural analysis of archeological data in order to empirically test whether greater political participation increases long-term societal resilience.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Research presented here was conducted as part of the Natural Hazards and Cultural Transformations project funded by the National Science Foundation (Award no. SMA-1416651) and supported through the HRAF Advanced Research Center at Yale University. The author wishes to thank the hard-working students who coded the data used here: Joseph Bazydlo, Megan Davidson and Kristina Verhasselt. The author also wishes to thank Carol R. Ember, Eric Jones and Ann Kinzig for their insightful comments and criticisms on earlier drafts of this paper.

Citation

Peregrine, P.N. (2017), "Political participation and long-term resilience in pre-Columbian societies", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 26 No. 3, pp. 314-329. https://doi.org/10.1108/DPM-01-2017-0013

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited