Feasting, craft specialization, and the ritual mode of production in small-scale societies

Katherine A. Spielmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

263 Scopus citations


Economic intensification has been documented in a diversity of small-scale societies. The existing archaeological theory concerning such intensification has tended to privilege economic and political explanations and largely ignores social action and ritual performance as motivations for economic change. In this article, I use both ethnographic and archaeological data to argue that ceremonial feasting and the need for socially valued goods, which are critical for ritual performance and necessary for a variety of social transactions, create the demand that underwrites and sustains economic intensification in small-scale societies. Food for large-scale feasts is acquired through the intensification of food production and procurement targeted specifically for feasting, rather than from the surplus available from routine subsistence production. Large-scale demands for socially valued goods tend to result in specialization on the production of "extraordinary" material culture, which is characterized by two modes of circulation, in networks of social obligations or as offerings in sacred locations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-207
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2002


  • Craft specialization
  • Exchange
  • Feasting
  • Ritual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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