Northwestern University

Mon 4:00 PM

Socio-Cultural Supercomplexity Without State: The 13th - 19th Centuries Benin Kingdom as Megacommuni

When: Monday, October 21, 2013
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM  

Where: 620 Library Place, Conference Room, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public

Contact: Program of African Studies   847.491.7323

Group: Program of African Studies

Category: Lectures & Meetings

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Socio-Cultural Supercomplexity Without State: The 13th - 19th Centuries Benin Kingdom as Megacommunity

Dmitri M. Bondarenko, Ph.D., D.Sc
Vice-Director for Research, Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences

Abstract: The paper provides an anthropological analysis of the socio-political system of the Benin Kingdom during the longest and most important period of her history: from coming to power of the ruling up to now Second (Oba) dynasty presumably in the 13th century till the British colonial conquest in 1897. The course of this system formation and its basic characteristic features are outlined. It is argued that the Benin Kingdom of the 13th – 19th centuries was a supercomplex society which yet was not a state, as it was lack of the latter’s fundamental parameters. Particularly, the Benin society was not based on suprakin (territorial) social ties and there was no professional (bureaucratic) administration in it. The kin-based extended family community always remained this society’s focus, and the supracommunal institutions were built up by its matrix, what is impossible in a state. So, notwithstanding its overall socio-cultural supercomplexity, Benin was not a state but rather a specific alternative to it, labeled “megacommunity”. Its structure can be depicted as four concentric circles forming an upset cone: the extended family, the community, the chiefdom, and finally the kingdom. A number of other African and non-African examples of this underconceptualized and understudied by now type of socio-political organization are offered.

Bio: Dmitri Bondarenko is an African anthropologist and historian. He graduated with M.A. (cum laude) in World History and Anthropology from Lomonosov Moscow University in 1990, completed Ph.D. in 1993 at the Russian Academy of Sciences from which since 2000 he also holds the D.Sc. (Doctor of Sciences) degree. Dmitri is Vice-Director for Research of the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Full Professor with the Center of Social Anthropology of the Russian State University for the Humanities (both in Moscow). He was Visiting Scholar with the Program of African Studies of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL., USA) in 1993/94, Max Planck Institute of History (Goettingen, Germany) in 2003 and 2006, and Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (Paris, France) in 2005. Besides several Moscow-based universities, Dmitri has taught at the Higher Institute of Educational Sciences of Angola of the Agostinho Neto University. He has delivered guest lectures at universities of the U.S.A. (including Yale and Harvard), Egypt, Tanzania, and Slovenia. Bondarenko is a member of a number of professional associations, including American Anthropological Association, African Studies Association, Societé des Africanistes, and European Association of Social Anthropologists (for which he serves as the Africanist Network Executive Committee Member and served as the Committee Chairperson in 2006–2008).

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