Ultimate vs proximate causations


Today’s big excitement….

Every once in a while I come across a succinct comment that ties into something I’ve been thinking about, as happened this morning when I found a link to a transcript of a 2005 lecture by Patrick V. Kirch, and took a look at it. Writes Kirch:

Any compelling theory of change will need to attend to both ultimate and proximate causations, to long-term context and process, and to short-term dynamism and agency.*

Data and research questions are interlinked. Duh.

I’m interested in, most generally, the evolution of political economies or sociopolitical change and continuity. Kirch is right. To assess change, you have to look at data from a range of temporal scales, and thus causation over that same range. This means issues such as demography, subsistence including production and market/exchange, and ideology all are in play.

Over time, trends toward increasing population (even at the slow scale of multiple generations) mean that subsistence strategies (including the production of non-subsistence goods) must intensify. And that right there is what I keep coming back to. The evolution of political economy is tied to strategies for intensification, in the broadest sense. And intensification often involves centralization…and we’re off!

* From the published version of a 2005 lecture (pg. 37) at BYU by Patrick V. Kirch, an archaeologist at UC Berkeley who works in Hawai’i and across the Pacific.

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