Leadership in an Egalitarian Society
Leadership is instrumental to resolution of collective action dilemmas, particularly in large, heterogeneous groups. Less is known about the characteristics or effectiveness of leadership in small-scale, homogeneous, and relatively egalitarian societies, in which humans have spent most of our existence. Among Tsimane’ forager-horticulturalists of Bolivia, we (1) assess traits of elected leaders under experimental and naturalistic conditions and (2) test whether leaders impact or differentially benefit from collective action outcomes. We find that elected leaders are physically strong and have more kin and other exchange partners. Their ranks on physical dominance, kin support, and trustworthiness predict how well their groups perform, but only where group members have a history of collaborative interaction. Leaders do not take more of the spoils. We discuss why physically strong leaders can be compatible with egalitarianism, and we suggest that leaders in egalitarian societies may be more motivated by maintaining an altruistic reputation than by short-term rewards of collective action.
Copyright © 2016 Springer International Publishing. This article first appeared in Human Nature 25:4 (2014), 538-566.
von Rueden, Christopher, Michael Gurven, Hillard Kaplan, and Jonathan Stieglitz. "Leadership in an Egalitarian Society." Human Nature 25, no. 4 (December 2014): 538-66. doi:10.1007/s12110-014-9213-4.