Dealing with inequality in Early Bronze Age Crete
This study seeks to shed light on problems associated with current views of social inequality as they have been applied to the Early Bronze Age in Crete. The aim is to elucidate the epistemological status of the concept of inequality in Aegean archaeological discourse and to disclose the tacit assumptions that have made problematic our dealings with the phenomenon of inequality. My critique of classic approaches to inequality stems from two facts: first, from their inclination to treat inequality as a phenomenon limited in time and space and second, from their largely untheorised treatment of the relationship between wealth and relational inequalities when it is exactly this relationship that needs to be brought into the open. Wishing to deal with critique in a constructive manner, I suggest a few ways in which one may go beyond current approaches to inequality, toward a new and more rewarding way of inquiring into the matter. This is supported with an archeological example from the Early Bronze Age cemetery at the site of Mochlos. The central argument is that inequality is a universal social fact and that by continuing to pursue its origins we perpetuate the arbitrary and misleading ethnocentric constructions of modernity. There is no such thing as a division between egalitarian and hierarchical social formations but rather societies as moral communities. Being is not fixed but is recursively formed through processes of valuation always presenced within the realm of social practice and interaction. Both power and what we call 'status' are transactional affairs as well as practical accomplishments. People do not simply find themselves in relations of power; they achieve, perpetuate, reinvent or resist debts and structures of influence. The value of different resources, the efficacy of debt obligations and structures of influence are realised in usage. In the case of resources this is achieved in the manner of their employment, in that of debts and influence this is attained as lived commitments among agents. Drawing upon the concept of performance, I suggest that an alternative approach can enable us both to rethink inequality along more productive lines and to answer questions that previous accounts have been proved incapable of dealing with.