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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Nov 12;364(1533):3289-99. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0115.

The evolutionary and ecological roots of human social organization.

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Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA.


Social organization among human foragers is characterized by a three-generational system of resource provisioning within families, long-term pair-bonding between men and women, high levels of cooperation between kin and non-kin, and relatively egalitarian social relationships. In this paper, we suggest that these core features of human sociality result from the learning- and skill-intensive human foraging niche, which is distinguished by a late age-peak in caloric production, high complementarity between male and female inputs to offspring viability, high gains to cooperation in production and risk-reduction, and a lack of economically defensible resources. We present an explanatory framework for understanding variation in social organization across human societies, highlighting the interactive effects of four key ecological and economic variables: (i) the role of skill in resource production; (ii) the degree of complementarity in male and female inputs into production; (iii) economies of scale in cooperative production and competition; and (iv) the economic defensibility of physical inputs into production. Finally, we apply this framework to understanding variation in social and political organization across foraging, horticulturalist, pastoralist and agriculturalist societies.

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