Power and Property in Twenty-First Century Foragers: a Critical Examination.

“As the world’s indigenous peoples have merged rapidly into the underclass of First World, Third World, and post-Socialist social formations, those who continue to occupy ancestral land and preserve access to resources, do so as encapsulated minorities within a larger system. The condition of ‘encapsulation’, whether partial or full, is accompanied by the penetration of market forces into their subsistence and small-scale exchange-based economies. Today all former foragers find their economic order partially to fully enmeshed with the commerce of their surrounding region and beyond.” (Lee 2005, 16 – 17).

This journal attempts to define the parameters in which modern hunter-gatherers have adapted to an ever increasingly globalised world as well as the social and political confines in which they often find themselves encapsulated. Lee states this “’encapsulation’ refers to the process by which formerly autonomous groups are drawn into the orbit of regional social formations and eventually undergo incorporation into state-level entities (Lee 2005, 17).” Lee goes on to argue that this encapsulation brings forth socio-political change on such an intrinsic level that it leads to extremes of exclusion by the very society that is forcing these people to be included and dominates them until all forms of independence are effectively stripped away. (Lee 2005, 18).

In ‘The Anthropology of the State in the Age of Globalisation’ Trouillot states that “the power of the national state sometimes seems more visible and encroaching and sometimes less effective and less relevant (Trouillot 2001, 126).” Trouillot takes this point further by suggesting that “the declining significance of geopolitics in the post-cold war era, means quite concretely that chunks of humankind are seen by the world political and economic leaders as superfluous (Trouillot 2001, 129)”. However Lee illustrates the fact that despite the all-consuming changes brought forth by the state, there are in fact exceptions to the rule. (Lee 2005, 28). While both Trouillot and Lee are working from similar concepts, their approach and interpretation of how these societies react to globalisation appears to be largely at odds with each other. While it is true there are similarities, particularly when discussing the inequalities forced upon these societies by more dominant forces, Lee is able to show that it is possible to not only compromise but perhaps even transcend the boundaries that are created through globalised encapsulation. (Lee 2005, 27 -29).

There is a distinct undercurrent that runs through Lee’s writing on these foraging societies which seems to allude to the fact that for many of these groups there is a quantifiable inability to cope with what approximates to generational change being imposed in a relatively short time. Having to effectively modernise over-night has led to many indigenous populations turning to self-destructive behaviour in an effort to escape from their new alien way of living. Furthermore the discrimination and living conditions often caused by the former mean they are consistently treated as the lowest levels of their new society.

However it is clear that some societies, such as the Baka pygmy have proven that it is possible to monopolise on their new world and have found a way to co-exist with it. Additionally, many indigenous people have been making more and far-reaching strides at being accepted into the political discussion, so that they might set forth their own vision for their people in the future. I would like to believe that this suggests in time that there will be greater cohesion and understanding between these peoples and their self-proclaimed masters. While it may take longer than others to achieve this, it can only benefit both sides in the end. It is actually realising that, and finding a way of establishing common ground that may be the biggest hurdle to overcome.



Lee, R. 2005. Power and Property in Twenty-First Century Foragers: a Critical Examination. Property and Equality Vol 2: Encapsulation, commercialisation, discrimination. 16 – 31. Oxford: Berghahn Books

Trouillot, M. 2001. The Anthropology of the State in the Age of Globalization: Close Encounters of the Deceptive Kind. Current Anthroplogy 42 – 1. 125 – 137. Chicago: University of Chicago Press


About The Archaeological Anarchist

I am an Archaeologist from jolly old England, a father, Renaissance man, blogger & Indiana Jones wannabe. View all posts by The Archaeological Anarchist

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