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The Political Landscape

Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities

Adam T Smith (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 346 pages
ISBN: 9780520237506
October 2003
$36.95, £31.00
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How do landscapes—defined in the broadest sense to incorporate the physical contours of the built environment, the aesthetics of form, and the imaginative reflections of spatial representations—contribute to the making of politics? Shifting through the archaeological, epigraphic, and artistic remains of early complex societies, this provocative and far-reaching book is the first systematic attempt to explain the links between spatial organization and politics from an anthropological point of view.

The Classic-period Maya, the kingdom of Urartu, and the cities of early southern Mesopotamia provide the focal points for this multidimensional account of human polities. Are the cities and villages in which we live and work, the lands that are woven into our senses of cultural and personal identity, and the national territories we occupy merely stages on which historical processes and political rituals are enacted? Or do the forms of buildings and streets, the evocative sensibilities of architecture and vista, the aesthetics of place conjured in art and media constitute political landscapes—broad sets of spatial practices critical to the formation, operation, and overthrow of polities, regimes, and institutions? Smith brings together contemporary theoretical developments from geography and social theory with anthropological perspectives and archaeological data to pursue these questions.
List of Illustrations

Introduction: Surveying the Political Landscape
1. Sublimated Spaces
2. Archaeologies of Political Authority
3. Geopolitics
4. Polities
5. Regimes
6. Institutions
Conclusion: Toward a Cartography of Political Landscapes

References Cited
Adam T. Smith is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and in the College of the University of Chicago. He is the coeditor of Archaeology in the Borderlands: Investigations in Caucasia and Beyond (2003).
“One of the most stimulating and innovative books I have read in the past few years. . . . One can only admire the skill with which Smith forges a platform for his research, drawing from an astonishingly broad theoretical palette to create a consice and coherent framework that marries social theory, politics, landscape studies and aesthetics.”—K.E. Spence Antiquity
"This highly original and challenging book defies every easy form of classification. Ostensibly about early polities, its penetrating and erudite asides extend with equal facility into contemporary politics and the symmetrical deficiencies of modernism and postmodernism. To my knowledge, imaginative reflections of spatial representations have never previously found their way into the theoretical base of what has been thought of as an essentially materialistic archaeological science. It is a pleasure and a discovery to see the permanent and rightful place Adam Smith has now fashioned for them."—Robert McC. Adams, Secretary Emeritus, The Smithsonian Institution

"If social theory in cultural anthropology was transformed in the last decades by a 'linguistic turn,' research by archaeologists into the development and practices of early states now seems to be undergoing a 'geographic turn.' Adam Smith's book, although drawing from modern currents in geography, anthropology, sociology, and political philosophy, brings original archaeological contributions to social theory by examining the making and re-making of landscapes in early complex polities (especially in Mesopotamian, Urartian, and Maya states). Smith observes these (and other) early states as 'political landscapes,' in which monuments come to constitute authority and shape memories. Smith's book represents a comprehensive turn from metahistorical reifications of the state to investigations of how the content of social roles was determined through the production of landscapes. The landscape of archaeology will be changed decisively by this book."—Norman Yoffee, Professor, Dept. of Near Eastern Studies and Dept. of Anthropology, University of Michigan.

"This book emerges as both a remarkable scholarly achievement and something of a manifesto for contemporary political thinking and engagement."—Susan E. Alcock, author of Archaeologies of the Greek Past: Landscape, Monuments, and Memories

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