Prestige-goods Theory

Prestige goods theory was developed to understand the political relationships between historically and living populations. Specifically, that social value can be centrally controlled over. This control extends to acquisition, production, and distribution of these social values and  effect hierarchical political structures. Therefore,  theses social valuables become fundamental for defining , reproduction and enforcing relationship between the supernatural and people. The assumption is that links form between gifts and social bonds that they are universal. So the fact that gift-giving is important to every social role, then those that can control the flow of these social valuables can literally control social identity and connections. Furthermore, control at this level means that a small group can control social status and health of a larger group. The process that social valuables flow from the centralized sources to their dependance is exchange (Urban and Schortman 2012).

Localized control and distribution of these goods can be used as strategies to create political power structures,  Blanton (1996) suggest that their are two strategies:

Network Strategy

Control of exchange goods allow the elite to monopolize network exchange,  by reducing the number of households in a local system that can acquire goods  in a network- based political economy. Therefore Elite Networks with indefinable relationships.

Corporate Strategy

The corporate strategy implies reduced consumption of prestige items with a larger degree of wealth equality in he society. Therefore No elites.


This particular approach is not main stream in American Political economy or in the Historic archaeology, however, it does have it’s roots in Marxism. It is an interesting approach because most economic and political economy does not include the notion of gifts and the agency within those gifts.

References Cited

Blanton, Richard E., Gary M. Feinman, Stephen A. Kowalewski and Peter N. Peregrine
1996    A Dual-Processual Theory for the Evolution of Mesoamerican Civilization. Current Anthropology 37(1):1-14.
Urban, Patricia and Edward Schortman
2012    Archaeological Theory in Practice. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California.


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