Leadership, Authority, and “Egalitarianism”

Karen J. Brison

in Just Talk

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 1992 | ISBN: 9780520077003
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520912182 | DOI:
Leadership, Authority, and “Egalitarianism”

Show Summary Details


This chapter examines principles of hierarchy and mechanisms of equality in Kwanga society, and also reexamines some of the literature on leadership in Melanesia. The relative “egalitarianism” of Melanesian societies is often noted, but the concept is ambiguous and takes on different meaning in different contexts. Leadership achieved through demonstration of superiority had intrinsic constraints and was unlikely to last even for an individual's lifetime. Expanding his dominance involved the big-man in increasingly large prestations and was likely to alienate his supporters, whose harvests he tapped; this also became increasingly difficult as his physical strength waned with age. It was only where an ambitious individual “came to power” by attaining an “office” of legitimate leadership with associated sanctions, that power could be consolidated over time and space.

Keywords: hierarchy; equality; Kwanga; leadership; Melanesia; egalitarianism; superiority; power; office

Chapter.  6211 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Anthropology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.