Social transformation and its human costs in the prehispanic U.S. southwest

Michelle Hegmon, Matthew Peeples, Ann Kinzig, Stephanie Kulow, Cathryn M. Meegan, Margaret Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations


Change is inevitable, but some changes and transformations are more dramatic and fraught with suffering than others. Resilience theory suggests the concept of a 'rigidity trap' as an explanation for these differences. In rigidity traps, a high degree of connectivity and the suppression of innovation prolong an increasingly rigid state, with the result that the eventual transformation is harsh. Three archaeological cases from the U.S. Southwest (Mimbres, Mesa Verde, and Hohokam) and new methods for assessing transformations and rigidity are used to evaluate this concept. They reveal the expected association between the severity of transformation and degree of rigidity, suggesting that a rigidity trap contributed to the Hohokam decline, which included significant human suffering. Possible causes of rigidity, with implications for today's world, are explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-324
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2008


  • Archaeology
  • Ecological theory
  • Resilience theory
  • Social transformation
  • U.S. Southwest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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