Peter Gronn: Early human society hunted, gathered – and worked without 'leaders'

Share
Related Topics

For about 94,000 of the 100,000 years of human history, people lived and organised themselves as hunter-gatherers without a centralized leadership apparatus. Hunter-gatherers began the transition to early chiefdoms and embryonic states between 3,000 and 6,000 years ago. Only in the previous 100-500 years have there been state-level polities.

The earliest human societies were acephalous: they existed without formal rulers or leaders. For this reason, they were also probably without heroes, a pattern which is starkly at odds with what has been claimed of human history generally and which also contrasts with the contemporary leadership field.

Here, thanks to the influence of charismatic and transformational leadership, a cult of exceptionality or a hero paradigm has influenced leadership strongly during its re-emergence. In hunter-gatherer societies, however, nomadic individuals had "no real authority over each other" and there was "the closest approximation to equality known in any human societies". Distinctions based on power, wealth, prestige and rank, although not gender, were largely eliminated.

A major co-ordination problem for hunter-gatherers was the capture and killing of game: male band members worked together to achieve a kill as they (and their families) were dependent on one another for this food source.

There may have been nominal or incipient chiefs and leaders, "sometimes women but usually men" and usually adult heads of households, but these were kept in line by a strict regime of scorn, ridicule, criticism, irony, intimidation, ostracism, disobedience, desertion, expulsion and even killing. A wise hunter with pretentions to lead, therefore would learn to sit quietly with the other men, and "[allow] the blood on his arrow shaft to speak for him". At best, we have evidence here of a rudimentary division of leadership labour. In practice a headman or an informal leader might step forward to make decisions only "as long as the band welcomes him to do so", with bands having a series of such individuals "who come forward when their particular expertise is needed".

Taken from the inaugural lecture by the Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge, 'Leadership: Its genealogy, configuration and trajectory'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

 

Naturism criminalised: Why not being able to bare all is a bummer

Simon Usborne
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on