— Simone Wagner (ORCID: 0000-0001-9555-1187)
Heterarchy and hierarchy are closely related concepts. The archaeologist Carole Crumley first developed the concept of heterarchy. While hierarchies produce clear rankings and subordinations, Crumley (1995:3) defines heterarchy “as the relation of elements to one another when they are unranked or when they possess the potential for being ranked in a number of different ways.” According to Crumley (1995:3), complex societies do not have to be organized hierarchically but rather by an interplay of hierarchical and heterarchical characteristics. Hence, heterarchy and hierarchy are not binarily opposed to each other. In order to analyse this interplay, studies have to take in mind that the relationship between hierarchical and heterarchical elements varies. Either different ranking systems co-exist and interact in a specific society or societies are organized heterarchically on one level and hierarchically on another one. A third option is that societies have changed from a heterarchical structure to a hierarchical one – and vice versa.
The KFG has applied the concept of heterarchy to specifically study the mutual formation of urbanity and religion. The concept of heterarchy is crucial for urbanity. On the one hand, the relationship between cities can be heterarchical. Cities often are ranked in several ways – according to different principles. On the other hand, cities are places where power has different sources and diverse social groups compete for it. Religious power and belonging might be one of the possible source of cities’ ranking systems. Similarly, religious organization is not hierarchical per default. The authority of religious specialists or groups can have different sources leading to conflicting rankings. Members of the KFG have applied the concept of heterarchy to case studies ranging from the antique bishop Cyprian to religious gentrification in present-day Acre. Housing projects in Acre are negotiated by several actors and not a top-down process. Nevertheless, they often result in residential units primarily for the Jewish middle class. Heterarchy was the focus of the 2019 UrbRel annual conference (see the conference report by Claudia Heise) and the virtual collected issue on the UrbRel website.
Until now, primarily archaeologists have applied the concept of heterarchy – mostly to settlement studies. This applies to archaeological studies on both Europe and India. Aside from archaeology, some anthropologists explained state formation as a process involving heterarchical elements. In contrast, neither scholars of religious studies nor (European pre-modern) history have widely used the concept. Rather, most works draw on an implicit or explicit assumption that complex societies were deeply hierarchical. In order to challenge this assumption heterarchy still remains a useful analytical tool despite some criticism of the concept. Critics have pointed out that “heterarchy“ is less a theoretical and more a descriptive tool as well that it lacks precision (Brumfield 1995, Yoffee 2005).
Beinhauer-Köhler, Bärbel. 2022. ‘A Muslim-Christian Heterarchy in 12th-Century Cairo. Plural Perspectives on a Patriarch Visiting a Vizier’. Numen 69. 163–184.
Luz, Nimrod. 2022. Religious Gentrification as Heterarchies of Urban Planning. Reflections on the Religious Neighborhood in Acre.’ Numen 69. 212–235.
Parciack, Ronie. Hierarchy into Heterarchy. Reshuffling the Cards of Authority in Urban Spaces between India and the Hijaz.’ Numen 69. 236–257.
Urciuoli, Emiliano. 2022. ’A Divisive Intellectualist Leader. Cyprian’s Management of a Heterarchical Crisis.’ Numen 69. 140–162.
Wagner, Simone. 2022. ’Authority, Processions, and Heterarchies of Monasteries in the Early Modern City of Constance.’ Numen 69. 185–211.
Brumfiel, Elizabeth M. 1995. ‘Heterarchy and the Analysis of Complex Societies: Comments.’ In Heterarchy and the Analysis of Complex Societies. Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 6 edited by Robert M. Ehrenreich, Carole L. Crumley, and Janet E. Levy. Arlington: American Anthropological Association, 125-131.
Crumley, Carole L. 1987. ‘A Dialectical Critique of Hierarchy.’ In Power Relations and State Formation, edited by T. C. Patterson and C. Ward Gailey. Washington, DC: American Anthropological Association, 155-168.
Crumley, Carole L. 1995. ‘Heterarchy and the analysis of complex societies.’ Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 6: 1–5.
Urcuioli, Emiliano. 2022. ‘Heterarchy. A valuable category for the study of Urban Religion.’ Numen 69. 121-139. https://doi.org/10.1163/15685276-12341649.
Vidale, Massimo. 2018. ‘Heterarchic Power in the Ancient Indus Cities.’ In Journal of Asian Civilizations 41. 1-47, 193-200.
Yoffee, Norman (ed.). 2015. The Cambridge World History 3: Early Cities in Comparative Perspective, 4000 BCE-1200 CE. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cite this entry
Wagner, Simone. 2022. ‘Heterarchy’ Urbrel Blog. https://urbrel.hypotheses.org/glossary/heterarchy