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176 7 • Why Everyday Life at Chan Matters In chapter 6 I lay out what everyday life was like at Chan for its myriad residents. Understanding the technical and religious innovations, social and environmental sustainability, and political strategies developed by Chan’s residents across their daily lives illustrates the kinds of significant insights into human society that would be missed without a lens focused on studying everyday life. In this chapter I explore how everyday life at Chan relates back to broader questions in archaeology, anthropology, and indeed across the social sciences. Understanding the intricacies of everyday life and addressing broader theoretical concerns about human societies are not mutually exclusive exercises; in fact, as I argue in this chapter, failure to take everyday life into account in the development of theoretical models of human societies leads to a silencing of the very people whose lives researchers are attempting to theorize, particularly a silencing of the lives of ordinary people in the past. Developing a critical understanding of farmers’ everyday lives at Chan challenges researchers to rethink and to reformulate a wide range of anthropological theories about the constitution of human societies and the nature of human agency and to consider a greater role for ordinary people in the past. The explorations of everyday life at Chan undertaken in chapter 6 prompt the revision of prominent anthropological concepts, such as the role of population pressure and state control in the emergence of intensive agriculture; the relationship between ideology, false consciousness, and power; the nature of political economies; and the relationship between cities and rural producers. By comparing and contrasting the Chan study to archaeological models of farmers in complex societies that do not consider everyday life, I illustrate Why Everyday Life at Chan Matters · 177 how archaeologists’ models of the past may be flawed when researchers fail to take everyday life into account. Population Pressure and State Control in the Emergence of Intensive Agriculture Although the subjects of wide-ranging critique, the pioneering ideas of Ester Boserup and Karl Wittfogel remain as much discussed today as they were half a century ago (Fedick 1995; Marcus and Stanish 2006). The work of economist Ester Boserup (1965) in The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure furthers the idea that farmers will undertake labor-intensive agricultural techniques only under the duress of expanding populations. The work of historian Karl Wittfogel (1957) in Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power concludes that centralized bureaucratic control and technological knowledge are required for the construction of large-scale irrigation works for intensive agricultural systems. In Boserup’s and Wittfogel ’s model, traditional farmers’ daily agricultural production is unchanging , based on rudimentary techniques and extensive production. Intensive agriculture involving more complex technologies and greater labor investment emerges only because of forces external to farmers’ everyday lives, such as population pressure or state control. Boserup’s critical intervention into the study of agriculture growth is to interrogate a simple and undeniable equation: when there are more people, they will need more food. This remains the lasting contribution of Boserup’s work and a raison d’être for the enduring nature of her research: there is a relationship between population growth and food production. At issue with Boserup’s work is that she sees a single, unilinear, causal relationship between population growth and agricultural intensification, not the potential for multiple, historically and contextually situated relationships between the two. Prior to Boserup’s work, prevailing scholarship on the development of agricultural intensification followed the work of Thomas Malthus (1798), who posited the converse relationship between population growth and agricultural intensification: as people innovated new technologies and increased production, population growth became possible. For Boserup, the opposite is the case: as populations rise, there are new pressures placed on 178 · Everyday Life Matters: Maya Farmers at Chan the natural environment. In order to maintain an adequate food supply, people must respond by intensifying their agricultural production; thus, “necessity is the mother of invention.” When populations are low, agricultural production will be extensive and involve low labor inputs, such as in slash-and-burn agriculture, in which farmers rotate fields after each crop cycle and allow fallowing to restore fertility. Following an evolutionary progression, only when population pressure demands, will agricultural intensification happen. For Malthus, war, disease, natural disasters, and so on were what would keep population expansion in check, leading to a very pessimistic view of the future of humanity and the implications of the...


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