Anthropology, Department of


First Advisor

Raymond B. Hames

Committee Members

Raymond Hames, Wayne Babchuk

Date of this Version


Document Type



A thesis presented to the faculty of Department of Anthropology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Bachelor of Arts Degree

Majors: Anthropology, Psychology

Advisor: Raymond Hames


Copyright (c) 2012, Zachary Garfield


Egalitarian societies have been the subject of significant academic attention for their unique cultural qualities, both as a representation of a distinct political category, and as a base line in the context of biological and cultural evolution. Although the domains and degrees of egalitarianism vary cross-culturally, certain characteristics seem universal. Egalitarian societies are nonstratified social systems that lack hereditary statuses with ascribed coercive power. In egalitarian societies leadership is achieved and dependent upon personal qualities and individual behavior. Leaders are granted authority but lack coercive power and rely on techniques such as persuasion to exert influence over others. Multiple theories on status and egalitarianism have been proposed, but are without cross-cultural validation. This research investigates the importance of prosocial behaviors, or behaviors that benefit the group, in determining relative social standing or status and evaluates several theoretical explanations of status attainment with cross-cultural investigation. Focusing on the merits of prestige that lead to high status, as documented in the ethnographic record and accessed through the Electronic HRAF, I have identified and categorized behaviors and qualities that increase social status in egalitarian societies. Data collected on a comprehensive sample of egalitarian societies in the eHRAF have been classified under the domains of economics, politics, ritual, arts, personality, and physical characteristics, which together encompass a total of 22 status categories. Recurrent in my findings are the status categories of shamanism, hunting, warfare, and generosity. Descriptive and multivariate results reveal cross-cultural patterns of social values, suggesting a critical component of the egalitarian ethos is promoting and rewarding prosociality with differential prestige and status. This research evaluates and synthesizes the theoretical literature with supporting quantitative data on the issue of status and egalitarianism.

Advisor: Raymond Hames