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  • Cognitive anthropology, methodology (integration of qualitative and quantitative methods), political culture, democracy, public anthropology, Mongolia, Latin America, USA

Paula L.W. Sabloff

External Professor, Santa Fe Institute

Curriculum Vitae

Bio

Click HERE to download maps from my book, 'Mapping Mongolia: Situating Mongolia in the World from Geologic Time to the Present'.

Paula Sabloff, External Professor, holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Brandeis University, with a year at the University of Pennsylvania in-between. A political anthropologist, she is applying network analysis to four databases in order to re-conceptualize democracy in Mongolia, recreating society in Mexico, and the emergence of early states all over the world.

Sabloff continues her work on Mongolians’ changing ideas of democracy and capitalism as they abandon socialism and adapt to democracy and capitalism. She has conducted fieldwork and interviews in the summers from1996 to 2003. She curated an exhibition, “Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan,” which spent five months at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian) in 2002 among other venues. An edited volume by that name is still selling on Amazon. While at the University of Pennsylvania, she organized a four-day symposium on Mongolia in order to challenge the area-studies concept in academia and the US State Department. That volume, Mapping Mongolia: From Geologic Time to the Present, was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press (2011). She contributed a think piece to a new Chinese news agency, Caixin. Her article, "Risk and Democracy in Post-socialist Mongolia," was published in 2012 in Mongolians' Interactions with Each Other and with Natural Resources, edited by Julian Dierkes. Her monograph, Does Everyone Want Democracy? Insights from Mongolia, was published in 2013. She is currently conducting network analysis on the 1,263 open-ended interviews that form the core of her Mongolian research. Her goal is to learn (a) what Mongolian respondents consider to be the essence of democracy, and (b) how they differentiate between democracy and capitalism. The first article is a work in progress with HyeJin Youn, a former SFI postdoctoral fellow; Stefan Thurner, Professor for Science of Complex Systems at the Medical University of Vienna, where he chairs Section for Science of Complex Systems and an external faculty member at SFI; and Rudolf Hanel, a Senior Postdoc also at the Medical University of Vienna’s Section for Science and Complex Systems. In addition to her scholarly pursuit, she has served as expert witness in several court cases when Mongolians sought asylum in the USA.

As part of SFI’s Emergence of Complex Societies project, initiated in 2011 with funding from the John Templeton Foundation, Sabloff has been constructing two databases to pose new questions and new answers to some old questions in comparative archaeology. Working with citizen scientists, interns and researchers at the Institute, she has built timelines for over 280 societal attributes, starting in the Upper Paleolithic and end with the period of state formation (the Bronze Age in the Old World). These attributes span the gamut of archaeological data, from lithic and ceramic technology to settlement and burial patterns, writing and art systems. Work has been completed on 17 traditions. They include societies that emerged as early states, e.g., Upper Kingdom Egypt, Early Dynasty Lower Mesopotamia, Shang China, and the Classic Maya, among others. This database will be used to find universal patterns in state formation, particularly whether or not there is some temporal regularity in the trajectory from stone-tool usage to the early state. Is there some time ratio between first settlement of a geographic area and the development of society into an early state? Is there a set order in which certain technologies are invented or settlement patterns change in order for a state to arise? And is there a cluster of necessary attributes (e.g., pottery, agriculture, a pantheon of gods) in order for a state to emerge from a chiefdom? Sabloff will work with Omidyar Fellow Josh Grochow to test such hypotheses. In addition, the database, which is considered ‘big data’ for archaeology and has seldom been undertaken in that discipline, will also be shared with scholars when it is linked to the Seshat database. The latter, a global history databank, is scheduled to go online in 2016 or 2017.

The second archaeological database focuses on the period when states are still young but mature enough to have a writing system. Drawing on the archaeological and historical literature, Sabloff applied Ralph Linton’s (1936) conceptualization of societies as agglomerations of statuses and roles to analyze and compare early states (primary states that emerged without a model to follow such as Egypt, the Maya, Hawai’I and China as well as some secondary states like Mycenaean Greece) with some non-states (the Tewa and Hopi of the US Southwest and Iceland). Statuses are positions in society, from the ruler and gods to captives and slaves. Our research found 52 possible statuses in the early states. Roles are the behaviors and rights expected of people in particular statuses. For example, the roles of a ruler include expanding or maintaining the boundaries of his territory, monopolizing contact with the chief god, practicing polygamy, and acting as patron to his followers. We found 66 possible roles associated with the different statuses in the early states. Most of these were not found in the non-states.

Network analysis of particular statuses and their associated roles reveal patterns hitherto not mentioned in the archaeological literature. For example, archaeologists and anthropologists have written books and scholarly papers on the function of warfare in organizing chiefdoms into states. But they do not touch on the idea that warfare depends on building alliances to reduce the risk of failure and that long-term alliances are cemented through high-status women. A first description of these findings may be found on SFI’s Working Papers site under the heading, “Status and Role in Early States: A Comparative Analysis,” a paper written with Skyler Cragg that will appear in the SFI volume, Complexity and Society: An Introduction to Complex Adaptive Systems and Human Society. Like the first archaeological database (the longue durée database), the status-and-role database will be linked with the Seshat Project and maintained on the web for scholarly use.

The fourth database brings Sabloff full circle, back to her doctoral dissertation work on Cozumel, Mexico. Using network analysis to examine old material and working with Prof. Sucheta Sucheta Soundajaran of Syracuse University’s Department of Engineering and Computer Science

Sabloff has also been building a new database for analysis. Based on her 1970s dissertation fieldwork, it will be used for the dynamic network analysis of Cozumel Island’s baptismal records dating from the 1890s to the early 1940s. Working with Prof. Sucheta Soundajaran of Syracuse University’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, she will link the analysis with political and economic patterns to learn how godparenthood (compadrazgo) ties reflect or even boost individuals’ politico-economic standing in the island. This will form the core of a larger project on how Cozumel Islanders recreated society when they relocated to the island during the Caste War of Yucatan in 1847.

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