Presentation on theme: "Approaches to Ancient History Week 8: Society. The idea of society Always an essentially contested concept ; even its existence, but certainly its nature."— Presentation transcript:
Approaches to Ancient History Week 8: Society
The idea of society Always an essentially contested concept ; even its existence, but certainly its nature and the best way to study it, always in dispute. Firstly, used as a general term for relatively large community and/or way of life. Contrast with community, or traditional and modern. Secondly, particular aspect of human life: arena of social relationships contrasted with (but linked to) economic or political.
How to study society Actors or observers concepts? Discuss ancient society in ancients own terms; but risk of accepting self-serving descriptions at face value, loss of perspective, incoherent. Anthropology: focus on kin groups, tribes, clans; not wholly appropriate for sophisticated classical societies? But useful models for social interaction: reciprocity, commensality.
Modern concepts 1: status Society divided into status groups, normally hierarchical, defined by birth, legal status, wealth, education, way of life. Linked to, but not mapped exactly onto, political power. Different elements can reinforce or conflict with one another; always negotiable. Close to ancient perspectives; explains emphasis on apparently trivial behaviour. Descriptive not analytical? Social cohesion?
Modern concepts 2: Class Confusing; popular usage more like status, technical Marxist definition focuses on location in production – and Marx never properly defined. Key issues: is class consciousness necessary for class to exist? Are there only ever two classes? Always bound up with class struggle; society seen as arena of conflict, zero-sum game.
Key examples Classical Athens: the exception that proves the rule, with genuine power of masses? Mass versus elite, struggles over freedom. The Roman Republic: expropriation of free peasants to make way for slaves; mass versus elite in politics; slave revolts? Late Antiquity: legal divide, honestiores and humiliores; growing wealth divisions; mass alienation from society?