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Reciprocity and Redistribution in Andean Civilizations

The 1969 Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures

Prepared by Freda Yancy Wolf and Heather Lechtman
John V. Murra’s Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures, originally given in 1969, are the only major study of the Andean “avenue towards civilization.” Collected and published for the first time here, they offer a powerful and insistent perspective on the Andean region as one of the few places in which a so-called “pristine civilization” developed. Murra sheds light not only on the way civilization was achieved here—which followed a fundamentally different process than that of Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica—he uses that study to shed new light on the general problems of achieving civilization in any world region.
Murra intermixes a study of Andean ecology with an exploration of the ideal of economic self-sufficiency, stressing two foundational socioeconomic forces: reciprocity and redistribution. He shows how both enabled Andean communities to realize direct control of a maximum number of vertically ordered ecological floors and the resources they offered. He famously called this arrangement a “vertical archipelago,” a revolutionary model that is still examined and debated almost fifty years after it was first presented in these lecture. Written in a crisp and elegant style and inspired by decades of ethnographic fieldwork, this set of lectures is nothing less than a lost classic, and it will be sure to inspire new generations of anthropologists and historians working in South America and beyond.

122 pages | 10 color plates | 8 1/2 x 11 | © 2017

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology


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"John Victor Murra (1916–2006) was lauded as the dean of Central Andean studies from the 1960s through the 1980s, particularly because of his championing of the idea of vertical archipelagos, allowing local access to resources in compressed ecological zones as the mechanism of organization and risk reduction for the Inca state, and his downplaying of the importance of the llama caravan trade. Murra’s ideas changed the direction of scholarly research for the next generation and opened new understanding of the Inca state. The editors, two of Murra’s students, transcribed the tapes of his four 1969 Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures, in which he set out in English his complete ideas for vertical ecology, and provide the historical rationale for his arguments. The title topics of the four lectures—archipelago model, reciprocity, the Inca attempt to destroy markets, and Inca structural change in Tawantinsuyu—fairly accurately encompass the arguments in each nearly 50-year-old lecture. The book will be key for students of the history of Andean studies. The volume is supported by 14 figures, a five-page glossary, and scattered footnotes. Recommended."


"This book is a considerable achievement which presents, for the first time, the form of sovereignty that the Andean kingdoms exercised over the varied populations and resources distributed across the different ecological zones of the Andean mountain range. We also learn how the different states and empires built on and transformed traditional village and tribal forms of reciprocity and redistribution to extend their political and religious domination, as well as to extract labor and resources from their subject populations. John Murra hugely advances our understanding of pre-conquest Andean civilizations."

Maurice Godelier, Professor Emeritus, L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris

"The transcriptions in the book bring to life the oral quality of the presentations... They provide a vivid contribution to the interdisciplinary historiography of anthropology, archaeology, and history."

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"John V. Murra gave his 1969 Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures—not then fully written—at a moment when his 'vertical archipelago' model of Andean polity was still hot on the anvil. Two of his students, Heather Lechtman and the late Freda Yancy Wolf, now bring this cardinal moment back to life through their meticulous annotated transcription of the original notes and recordings."

Frank Salomon, John V. Murra Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, University of Iowa

"John Murra revolutionized our understanding of the Incas’ place among 'pristine' states and modes of production: their ecological resourcefulness, 'stretched' forms of reciprocity and redistribution, encouragement of local self-sufficiencies, political performativities, the management of power, etc. A superb speaker, his Morgan lectures come alive in Lechtman and Wolf’s scrupulous transcriptions of the tapes and drafts. In Perú, Murra had realized the connections between archaeology, documentary past, and ethnographic present. Here he frames his findings into a program, gripping listeners with his vision and commitment. An exhilarating experience of one of the most influential voices in Andean anthropology."

Tristan Platt, Emeritus Professor, University of St. Andrews

Table of Contents

Lecture One
The Archipelago Model of Vertical Control in the Andes
Lecture Two
Reciprocity, the Anthropological Alternative to Exotic Explanations
Lecture Three
The Inca Attempt to Destroy the Markets
Lecture Four
Structural Changes in Tawantinsuyu prior to the European Invasion
Mapa Ecológico del Perú
Juhn V. Murra Bibliography
Reference List

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