Sociology Mind
2014. Vol.4, No.1, 36-44
Published Online January 2014 in SciRes (
Structures of Human Societies*
Karl M. van Meter
Equipe GRECO, CMH-Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France
Received August 15th, 2013; revised October 2nd, 2013; accepte d November 6th, 2013
Copyright © 2014 Karl M. van Meter. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which pe rmits unrestricted use, distribu tion, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited. In accordance of the Creative Commons Attribution License all Copyrights ©
2014 are reserved for SCIRP and the owner of the intellectual property Karl M. van Meter. All Copyright ©
2014 are guarded by law and by SCIRP as a guardian.
We have previously shown (“How People See Society: The Network Structure of Public Opinion Con-
cerning Social Conflicts”, Connections, 2004, 26(1): 71-89) that opinions on social conflict are structured
in very stable networks at the level of individuals, of arbitrary collections of individuals, of structured so-
cial groups and of representative samples of the French population, for more than thirty years. Similar
surveys in Great Britain and Russia, for over ten years in Costa Rica, show the stability and extent of ap-
plication of these results. Our first working hypothesis is that this network structure with two axes
openness/closure and emotional/non-emotional—applies to all human societies. For this, we look at re-
cent developments in archaeology, which describe two and only two types of structure for Neolithic hu-
man groups: hierarchical structures and cooperative structures. We show that these two types of structure
are the poles delimiting the openness/closure axis, that there are no other stable structures, and that human
societies can thus be characterized by the set of “tools” elaborated in common, this is, so cially, for man-
aging social conflicts inherent in any viable and stable group of human beings. And finally, these “tools”
form the system of “values” characteristic of each society.
Keywords: Social Conflict; Trunk Questions; Opinion Polls; Archaeology; Social Structure; Social
One may legitimately ask what is there in common between,
on one hand, a representative sample of the current French po-
pulation and a representative sample of the French media de-
bate concerning topics of social conflict, and, on the other, a
formal sampling grid of an archaeological site dating bac k more
than 6000 years around the ancient city of Tell Brak in what is
now northern Iraq? But these rather distinct research projects
from different scientific fields tend toward a similar conclusion
concerning the types of stable social structures we human be-
ings have developed over time. Indeed, the objective of this
article is to show that the convergence of several different re-
search projects points toward this rather unexpected conclusion.
Let us first begin with the representative samples of the French
population and the public debate concerning topics of social
“Trunk” Questio ns & Their Structure
What Are “Trunk” Questio ns?
Over the last thirty years, more or less annually, the French
research organization, Agoramétrie (1987), has carried out sur-
veys of French public opinion on social conflict using an uni-
que methodology involving: the representative sampling of both
the French population and of the media discourse on social con-
flict; the construction of a closed questionnaire based on this
sampling of conflicts; and a face-to-face questionnaire survey
to gather data that are then analyzed by principal components
analysis, among other methods (Durand et al., 1990). The re-
sults are often presented as a two-dimensional diagram on
which the themes/questions of social conflict are positioned.
See for example the graphic on page 78 of van Meter (2004) at
One of the surprising results of thirty years of research by
Agoramétrie on French public opinion concerning social con-
flict is that a small group of about 30 to 40 “trunk” questions
(see Table 1) appear in each representative sampling of media
coverage of social conflict, regardless of the economic context
(booming economy or economic crisis), regardless of the natio-
nal political context (right or left in power), regardless of the in-
ternational political context (situation of war or of peace), or of
the environmental context (drought, flooding, rain), and regard-
less of other contextual events. These “trunk” issues—such as
Are there too many immigrant workers?”, “Are doctors trust-
This article is based on the author’s key note presentation,
Réseaux et
structures des sociétés humaines
Societies), given at the Seconde journée d
étude du
Analyse des réseaux sociauxQuoi de neuf?”
m.pdf), held at the Université de Toulouse II Le Mirail, in Toulouse, on
-17 Mar
ch 2010, and organized mainly by Ainhoa de Federico, Catherine
Comet and Michel Grossetti. RT26
( is the Social Networks
section of the
French Sociological Association (AFS).
Table 1.
Certain major recurring “trunk” question themes in the French surveys.
Liberalize Abortion—In 19 surveys
Build Nuclear Power Plants
GOD exists
Equalize Revenues
Confidenc e in Justice
Reduce Military Expenditures
Government ineffective
Feeling of Insecurity
Too Many Immigrant WorkersIn 18 surveys
Against Working
Concerned about the Energy Crisis
End [Bring back] the Death PenaltyIn 17 Surveys
Taken for idiots by Television
Censor Some Books
Inheritance Should B e Limited
Against Pornography
Help Under-Developed Countries
For My CountryIn 16 surveys
Encourage Natality
Maintain Economic Growth
For the 35-Hour Week
Unions are essential
For the FamilyIn 15 surve ys
Defend the Consumer
Against Marriage
Respect Decorum
Support the Environmentalists
Politicians Are Honest
Advertising Is EssentialIn 14 Surveys
Students Are Parasites
GAYS Just like Other People
Too Many Government Officials
Computers Threaten Our Freedom—In 13 Surveys
Earlier Retirement
Nuclear Energy Plants Have Been Essential
For Nuclear ArmementIn 12 surveys
Less Robots
You Can Trust Doctors
For Wome n’ s Liberation
You Don’t Learn Anything at SchoolIn 11 Surveys
You Can Trust Journalists
Free Sale of Hash ish—In 11 Surveys
Note: Translated, respectively, from the French: Liberaliser LAVORTEMENT,
Construire des CENTRALES NUCLEAIRES, DIEU existe, Egaliser LES RE-
GOUVERNEMENT inefficace, Sentiment dINSECURITE, Trop de TRAVAI-
pante, Supprimer LA PEINE DE MORT, Pris pour abrutis à LA TE LEVISION,
CENSURER certains livres, Limiter LES HERITAGES, Contre LA PORNO-
SYNDICATS indispensables, Pour LA FAMILLE, Defense du CONSOMMA-
ble, ETUDIANTS parasites, HOMOSEXUELS comme les autres, Trop de
FONCTIONNAIRES, ORDINATEURS men ace nt n os libe rtés, RETRAITE plus
FRAPPE, Moins de ROBOTS, Confiance aux MEDECINS, Liberation de LA
FEMME, On napprend plus rien à LECOLE, Co nf iance aux JOURNALISTES,
Le HASCHISCH en vente libre, ALCOOL pire des drogues, Liberté de SE
DROGUER. Legend: based on a series of 19 consecutive national representative
French surveys.
worthy?”, Should women have the same rights as men?”, Are
politicians corrupt?”—appear to be basic questions—as we wil l
see—of all human societies, not just of contemporary French
The use of the Agoramétrie method in Russia, Great Britain
and Costa Rica (in this latter country for over ten years) has
reinforced this surprising result concerning the fundamental
importance of trunk questions.
Vladimir O. Rukavishnikov, former deputy director of the In-
stitute of Socio-Political Research of the Russian Academy of
Sciences and deputy editor of the journal, Sotziologicheskie Is-
sledovanija, used the method in opinion surveys in 1991 and
1992 in Russia and presented results during the Current Deve-
lopments in Environmental Sociologysymposium in Woud-
shoth, the Netherlands, in June 1992 (Rukavishnikov, 1992).
He explicitly noted that the Agoramétrie method “shows a re-
markable stability of public opinion structures... The first prin-
cipal component corresponds to the dimension opposing tradi-
tionally -conservative views to modern-radical”. He characte-
rized the second principal component as “material” which
seemed to oppose “frustration to satisfaction” (Rukavishnikov,
1992: 7). See Figure 1.
Rukavishnikov clearly noted: For us, it was an extraordi-
nary insight that even the labels of axes in French colleagues
study were the same as in our one. But we worked independent-
ly.The results also showed a very high degree of similarity
with those of a Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty study (1990).
It should be noted that the Russian survey results were gener-
ated by a set of 38 questions that are quite different from those
found in our French surveys” (Rukavishnikov, 1992: 7).
Rukavichnikov’s use of the Agoramétrie methodology is not
unique in Eastern Europe. Rasa Alisauskiene, former director of
Baltic Surveys Ltd. in Viniius, Lithuania, told the author she
has also been using the methodology. The 1992 “Questionnaire
of a Sociological Study on Public Opinion about Environmental
Risks”, constructed by the Institute of Sociology of the Bulga-
rian Academy of Sciences, consisted of 65 questions largely in-
spired by Agoramétrie research.
In Western Europe, the Agoramétrie approach was used by a
British survey firm, the Mori Institute, for its Living in Britain
1989 study which, like the Russian study, found the same two
principal axes in the structure of public opinion on social con-
flicts See for example the diagram on page 76 in van Meter
(2004) at
Again, the set of questions, generated by the Agoramétrie me-
thod, concerned British media discourse on social conflict and
was not a direct copy of French survey questions.
Outside the Firstand “Second” Worlds, the Agoramétrie
method has been used in Costa Rica at the School of Sociology
of the University of San Jose in opinion research concerning so-
cial conflicts and, once again, similar results were found (Pol-
tronieri, 1999).
How Are Trunk Questions Structured?
How are these trunk questions distributed over the typical
Agoramétrie two-dimensional principal components graphic?
One can see, for example, the graphic on page 80 of van Meter
(2004) at
In the upper right-hand corner (first quadrant), one would find
Figure 1.
Russian public opinion structure (1992)—a plot of the first principal components (Rukavishnikov,
Feeling of insecurity” (“Sentiment d'insécurité), Bring back
the death p enalty ” (“Rétablir la peine de mort) and Too many
immigrant workers” (“Trop de travailleurs immigrés). These
three responses not only characterize the upper right-hand area
of the graph, but also form—in statistical terms—one of the
tightest and most stable networks of opinions. The reader can
easily imagine what sort of person would hold this particular
network of opinions and what other positive and negative ties
with other opinions would likely exist.
In the lower left-hand corner, in the third quadrant, one
would find Hashish on sale in public” (“Hashish en vente li-
bre”), The right to become a French citizen” (“Pouvoir devenir
Français”) and In favor of naked women on TV” (“Pour des
femmes nues à la télé). Here, again, these three items charac-
terize an area of the graph, but they are far less tightly and
stably tied statistically between themselves in a network of
opinions when compared to the three preceding items (to which
they are in strong statistical opposition [negative correlation]).
In the upper left-hand corner, in the second quadrant, one
would find Earlier retirement” (“Retraite plus jeune), “Equa-
lize revenues” (“Egaliser les revenus) and [there are] Major
industrial risks” (“Risques industriels importants”) which are
also relatively loosely associated statistically between them-
selves and to that area of the graph.
In the lower right-hand corner, in the fourth quadrant, one
would see, closely grouped together, Nuclear pow er plants have
been necessary” (“Il fallait des centrales nucléaires”), “Confi-
dence in the legal system” (“Confiance en la Justice”), “Politi-
cians are honest” (“Hommes politiques integers”), “Police does
its job” (“La police remplit sa mission). They provide a clear
characterization of this area of the graph, but without forming a
statistically tight or stable network of opinions.
On the right-hand limit of the first or horizontal axis, one
finds “For my country” (“Pour la patrie”), “God exists” (“Dieu
existe) and For [my country’s] nuclear armament” (“Pour la
force de dissuasion), characterizing a clearly conservative atti-
tude toward society and social conflict. On the opposite left-
hand limit of the first axis, one finds For the 35-hour working
week” (“Pour les 35 heures”), “Against working” (“Contre le
travail”) and Homosexuals just like other people” (“Homose-
xuels comme les autres), characterizing a clear rejection of do-
minant social attitudes.
On the second or vertical axis, we find, at the top, Fewer
robots” (“Moins de robots), Energy crisis is preoccupying
(“Crise de l’énergie préoccupante), Europe will never work
(“L’Europe ne marchera jamais), and, at the bottom, “Long
live the Euro” (“Vive l’Euro”), Increase taxes on diesel fuel
(“Augmenter le diesel”), “Build Europe with the East” (“Con-
struire l’Europe avec lEst), both of which lack apparent the-
matic coherence but do show emotional coherence with “coop-
eration” or a non-emotive response toward the bottom and with
“conflict”, anxiety or emotive responses toward the top.
Double Determinati on by T runk Questions
These same characterizations of the first and second axes,
and the thusly constructed four quadrants, were found in all the
more or less annual surveys in France and the other surveys
abroad mentioned above. Moreover, the preponderant statistical
weight of the trunk questions in the construction of these two-
dimensional graphics means that by Procrustean rotation based
on the trunk questions, the graphic from one year to the another
can be “grafted” on to each other, which is the case for the gra-
phic that was cited above and can be found on page 80 of van
Meter (2004) at
There, the results of the year 1997 were grafted onto the graph-
ic of year 1992. Thus, we not only call the above set of 42 re-
current themes trunk questions of social conflict because they
have systematically come back over time and in different socie-
ties, but also because they statistically for a large part determine
the general structure described by the two principal axes.
This double determination by trunk questions is brought out
by several other statistical results from the analysis of the sur-
vey data. The distribution of item non-response values extends
from “The Boy’s Band is ‘out’” (15.3%), “Give more power to
parliament” (10.6%) and “I like Lady Di” (10.2%) all the way
down to “You can trust doctors” (0.5%) and “Feeling insecure”
(0.4%) (Agoramétrie, 1998: 31). The mean rank (56.83) and the
mean non-response value (3.09%) for trunk questions are not
particularly significant by themselves, but are so when compar-
ed to the mean rank (45.17) and mean non-response value
(4.42%) for “non-trunk” questions.
Another result of these surveys is that trunk questions and 50
to 70 other questions about social conflict that constitute the
Agoramétrie questionnaire each year, define each year a net-
work structure which returns with few changes each year, with
the links, and oppositions, defining the above two-dimensional
factorial structures with: an opposition between an openness
towards society and its problems (social problems and conflicts
can be addressed and dealt with, the idea that society “pro-
gressesor ca n “advance”) and, on the other hand, closure (“we
were better off in the past”, those are societys problems, not
mine); and as a second dimension, an opposition between
emotional and non emotional reactions to social conflicts. Eve-
ry individual, every social group has a network of opinions con-
cerning social conflicts, and these opinions are not arbitrary and
are not linked to each other in an arbitrary manner, but rather
represent specific and socially coherent networks whose ties
show strong resistance to deformation by external events and
only evolve slowly over time (van Meter, 2004).
In summary, trunk questions provide a topographical back-
ground map on to which society projects how it sees social con-
flict. The major “landmarks” or trunk questions are known and
change position or amplitude only very slowly. It’s the “current”
or immediate terrain which can change far more quickly. But
even if this result seems fairly well established, it does not go
far toward answering the question of “why” or how widely ap-
plicable to human society this result is, which is the objective
of the following part of this article.
Scale of Application, Individual Affect Laterality
Other research associated with Agrométrie work has shown
that the results mentioned above are independent of the scale of
application (scale freein current terminology). Concretely,
this means that the two-dimensional structure, openness/clo-
sure and emotional/non-emotional, and the set of truck ques-
tions are found at all levels of questionnaire surveys, be it at the
level of a representative sample of a country, of a structured or
defined social group (Corneloup, 1993), or an arbitrary collec-
tion of individuals (Quillet, 1998). Indeed, Corneloup distribut-
ed the Agormétrie questionnaire to over one hundred rock clim-
bers in Fontainebleau to see if such a structured and homoge-
neous group, a priori militant pro-ecologists, would reproduce
the same structure for themes of social conflict, which was in-
deed the case. Quillet went a step further and distributed the
Agoramétrie questionnaire to all students in her Master’s de-
gree program and to all family members of those students, a
priori an unstructured and non-homogeneous subpopulation.
Again, the results showed the same structure of themes of so-
cial conflict. One can thus deduce that the structure is indepen-
dent of the so cietal s cale of sampl ing and t he social cha racte ris-
tics of the sample.
This implies the existence of a fractal structure and raises the
question of its interpretation on the lower end of the scale
which means the individual level, and therefore the level of in-
dividual behavior or brain activity during individual manage-
ment of social conflict (Pochon, 2008). Indeed, research in neu-
ro-functional anatomy, in particular at the Laboratory for Af-
fective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
under the direction of Richard J. Davidson, has revealed the la-
terality of frontal cortex brain activity in response to emotional
images of social situations. In Affective Style and Affective
Disorders: Perspectives from Affective Neuroscience, David-
son (1998) reviewed the research of his laboratory on the role
of the prefrontal cortex (see Figure 2) and the amygdala in in-
dividual differences in emotional reactivity (what the author
calls the affect style of an individual) and affective disorders
(Davidson, 1998: 325):
In particular, left prefrontal activation appears to facilitate
two processes simultaneously: 1) it maintains representations
of behavioural reinforcement contingencies in working memory
(Thorpe et al., 1983); 2) it inhibits the amygdala. In this way,
Figure 2.
Dispositional positive and negative affect (from scores on the
PANAS-General Positive and Negative Affect Scale) in sub-
jects who were classified as extreme and stable left-frontally
active (N = 14) and extreme and stable right-frontally active
(N = 13) on the basis of electro-physiological measures of
baseline activation asy mmetries on t wo occasion s separated b y
three weeks. Fro m Tomarken et al. (1992) [reproduced in Da-
vidson 1998: 316, Figure 1].
the time course of negative affect is shortened whereas the time
course of positive affect is accentuated.
Davidson (1998: 325-326) concludes that:
Affective neuroscience seeks to understand the underlying
proximal neural substrates of elementary constituents of emo-
tional processing. In this article, I have provided a model of the
functional neuroanatomy of approach and withdrawal motiva-
tional/emotional systems and illustrated the many varieties of
individual differences that might occur in these systems. Re-
search on prefrontal asymmetries associated with affective style
and psychopathology was used to illustrate the potential prom-
ise of some initial approaches to the study of these questions.
In Davidson and Irwin (1999), the authors review studies of
brain lesions and neuro-imaging of affect style and emotion,
focusing on the normal mechanisms of emotion. This neuro-
imaging work is based on analysis by PET (positron-emission
tomography) and by fMRI (functional magnetic resonance im-
aging). As for negative affect Davidson et al. (2000: 85) note
These findings support the hypothesis of right-sided anterior
cortical activation during anxiety and indicate that the combi-
nation of EEG and heart rate changes during anticipation ac-
count for substantial variance in reported negative effe ct.
The scientific contribution of this model of affect laterality or
affect style, often referred to as the Davidson model, is recog-
nized in the specialized literature, but not without a certain
reserve (Papousek & Schulter, 2006: 275):
Many details of hemispheric specialization in the area of
emotion and psychopathology still remain unclear, in particu-
lar hemispheric specialization for the experience of emotion or
particular types of emotion, the significance of interindividual
differences, and the participation of certain cortical regions or
In conclusion, Papousek and Schulter note that (2006: 288):
in order to make scientific progress, the development of
more sophisticated research designs that allow to specifically
examine certain aspects of cortical laterality and certain as-
pects of emotion, and taking interindividual differences into ac-
count in large samples seems more important than examining
small samples in simply designed studies with much technical
and financial effort.
But Davidson himself has recognized that: “It is indeed quite
conceivable that the first principal axis you describe is indeed
reflecting this very basic dimension of approach and withdraw-
al-related emotional reactions” (personal communication with
the author, 8 December 1999).
Thus we can suggest that this research tends to show that
emotional “right-handedness” is associated with withdrawal re-
actions or closure in the face of emotional social imagery.
“Left-handed” emotional laterality tends to be associated more
with open and curious types of reactions. The similarity with
the first axis of the overall structure of opinions on social con-
flict is obvious and implies that humans carry with them a ca-
pacity selected by evolution which situates their individually
and socially developed responses to social conflict somewhere
along the first axis which we have described (van Meter, 2001).
Whether or not a reaction to social conflict is conscious or un-
conscious depends on how an individual has been influenced
and formed by culture, by education and by development, and
by age and fixity or mobility of emotional reactions, all of
which are research questions that should be pursued by neuros-
cience and social psychology.
Types of Structures of Human Societies
An interesting consequence of the potential association be-
tween the general two-dimensional structure in networks of opi-
nions on social conflict and affect laterality concerning emotio-
nal social situations is that any human society and every social
group of any size would have people distributed along the
openness/closure axis due to natural variability. Any decision
by a group of people to prohibit, exclude, remove, suppress or
eliminate people on any segment of the first axis would be an
endless struggle against biological variability and contrary to
human development.
At different periods of its evolution, a society needs the con-
tribution of people who are situated in different segments of the
first axis. In a situation of war and survival, a maximum of
closure and a minimum of openness may be the best strategy
for survival. In a period of calm and abundant resources, a ma-
ximum of openness and a minimum of closure could be the
most successful strategy. Over long periods of time, a society
that has people associated with any particular segment of the
first axis is at an evolutionary disadvantage in competition with
other societies and would probably be replaced or disappear in
the long term. Therefore, development over time of groups of
human beings should reveal the existence of this variability and
at least two main forms of managing social conflict: a type
more associated with “openness” and another type more asso-
ciated with “closure” (van Meter, 2001).
Archaeological Methodologies & Traces of Structure
The best way to test this hypothesis is to look at the archaeo-
logical traces of human society since the domestication of
grains in Anatolia some 10,000 years ago, which led to the be-
ginning of sedentary groups of human beings, and hence social
conflicts among people living close to each other. Until recently,
the structure proposed for these societies, traditionally known
as archaic”, was a hierarchy; that is, in formal terms, a semi-
lattice with an order relation such that for any set of individuals,
there is one and only one leader, resulting in one “supreme”
leader, or chief for each group. This traditional view has been
challenged by recent work, especially concerning Tell Brak, a
city dating from 6200 to 5900 years ago in the north of what is
now Iraq.
In 2006, during the 71st Annual Meeting of the Society for
American Archaeology, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, during the
session Early Village Society in Global Perspective,Matthew
Bandy gave a 10-page presentation titled The Neolithic Demo-
graphic Transition and Its Consequences”. According to Bandy
(2006: 1-5):
Early village society is fundamentally defined by two factors:
1) a significant commitment to agricultural production as an
economic foundation, and 2) relatively permanent residence in
nucleated population clusters: sedentary village life. ... The ap-
pearance of large villages is significant because it indicates
that the process of village fission has ceased. This in turn im-
plies the development of higher level institutions of social inte-
gration and conflict resolution. ... The situation is considerably
clarified if we consider the manner in which the initial forma-
tion of large villages took place. The cases may be divided into
two types with regard to the manner of large village formation.
On the one hand, in some sequences large villages emerge in
the context of a system of more or less equivalent and auto-
nomous villages. Large villages in these cases are simply first
among equals, and a markedly convex rank-size distribution
may be expected. I will refer to these cases as Type 1. On the
other hand, in some sequences large villages emerge initially
as the capitals of small regional polities: as chiefdom centers.
In these cases the large villages are functionally distinct from
their smalle r contemporaries, serving as seats of political pow-
er, and a primate, primo-convex or even log-normal rank-size
distribution may be expected within the boundaries of the po-
litical unit. I will refer to these cases as Type 2.
As for the role of social conflict in these developments, Ban-
dy is quite explicit (2006: 6):
Growth in community size produced rapidly increasing levels
of internal conflict in these villages. There is reason to believe
that this conflict increased at a rate proportional to the square
of the village population, and that a critical threshold of social
stress, what Roy Rappaport (1968: 116) called the irritation
coefficient of group size”, was quickly reached. Upon reaching
this threshold, village communities were presented with two
options: 1) they could fission into two or more daughter com-
munities, each smaller than the critical threshold size [accord-
ing to the author here provisionally defined as approximately
300 persons”], or 2) they could develop some social mechanism
that regulated and managed internal conflict in such a way as
to make fissioning unnecessary. These conflict management me-
chanisms were frequently of a religious or ritual character.
Bandy provided a list of 33 very old village societies, of
which 16 were type 1 and 13 were type 2 (see Table 2). In our
terminology, type 1 societies are “cooperative” and rely on a
strategy of “openness” towards social conflicts, as opposed to
type 2 societies which are hierarchical and involve a strategy of
“closure” toward social conflict (Bandy, 2006: 10).
As for the critique of the hierarchical model and the specific
study of Tell Brak by A. Jason Ur, Philip and Joan Karsgaard
Oaster in Sc ie nce (Ur et al., 2007), “Early Urban Development
in the Near East”, according to the authors (Ur et al., 2007:
It has been thought that the first cities in the Near East were
spatially extensive and grew outward from a core nucleated
village while maintaining a more or less constant density in
terms of persons or households per unit area. The general ap-
plicability outside the Near East this southern Mesopotamia de-
rived model has been questioned recently, and variations from
it are increasingly recognized. We can now demonstrate that
such variation was present at the beginnings of urbanism in the
Near East as well.
Around the site of Tell Brak (see Figure 3 below), consi-
dered an example of the traditional system of concentric devel-
opment of a large town or city, the authors used (Ur et al., 2007:
S1-S2, Supporting Online Material):
a systematic sampling strategy: collection units were plac-
ed at 50 m intervals in undisturbed areas of high surface visi-
bility (mostly fallow or unplowed non-irrigated agricultural
fields) and intervals of 100 m in disturbed areas or areas of
low visibility (recently plowed ground, or areas of irrigation
agriculture). ... The collection units themselves were 100 m2
areas in 10 m × 10 m squares.
The authors found several villages that had coexisted for a
long time before the creation of Tell Brak and the disappear-
ance of the original villages; that is, the type 1 or “cooperative”
villages existed before the type 2 or “hierarchical” city was
Table 2.
List of Type 1 and Type 2 villages.
Archaeological Example Type
Mexico, Basin of Mexico
Mexico, Valley of Oaxaca 2
Mexico, Southern Gulf Coast
Mexico, Tuxtla Mountains, Veracruz
Colombia, Fuquene Va ll ey 2
Peru, Moche Valley
Bolivia, Southern Titicaca Basin
Ecuador, Valdivia Valley 2
Bolivia, Wankarani (La Joya)
Panama (central)
Canada, Ontario Iroquois 1
USA, South Dakota, Lake Sharpe
USA, SW Colorado 1
USA, Phoenix Basin Hohokam
USA, Mimbres Valley 4
USA, North T exas, Henr i etta Focus 1
China, Central Plain
China, Inner Mongolia (Chifeng) 1
Vietnam, Bac Bo 2
Phillipines, Negros Island
Phillipine s, Northern Luzon 2
Pakistan, Indus Valley 3
Iraq, Mesopotamia
Israel/Jordan, Southern Levant
Egypt, Nile Valley 1
Sudan, Khartoum Neoli t hic
Denmark, TRB
Cyprus 2
Poland, Southeast (Baden)
Spain, Southeast (Los Millares) 2
Greece, Thes s al y
Ukraine, Cucuteni-Tripolye
Papua New Guinea, highl and 4
Note: *These type 3 and type 4 villages were not tre ated in B andy’ s presentat ion.
Even among the Mayans, who are considered a people whose
society was strongly hierarchical, such “cooperative” groupings
also existed, according to the work of Philip Nondédéo con-
cerning Rio Bec, Mexico (2005: 112):
Unlike the majority sites of the Maya area, and Rio Bec si tes
in the region to which it lent its name, consist of a large num-
ber of habitat groups of small size and scattered in space, sug-
gesting a relatively fragmented organization. ... Something ra-
ther unexpected: the presence in that territory and during the
same period of a second socio-political system, radically op-
posed, a hegemonic and centralized royal dynasty, in the image
of the main sites of the Maya Peten tradition1.
Two & Only Two Stable Structures
Bandy, Ur, Nondédéo and several other archaeologists have
found that there are two types of structures for early human so-
cieties, but we have not been able to find any authors who ar-
gue that these are the only two types of structures to be found.
However, such an assertion seems to us to be fairly obvious.
1Translation from the French by the author.
Figure 3.
Distribution of collection units on the outer mounds of Tell Brak (Ur et al., 2007: Figure S1) Legend: Gray shaded
relief represents the limits of detailed topographic data. Contour internal 1 m (with permission of the authors).
In a quiet environment with available resources, a hierarchical
structure is among the least efficient system for resource alloca-
tion and management of a society and its conflicts. Indeed, such
a society would be at a disadvantage compared to more decen-
tralized and cooperative structures, and would risk being “out
competed” in the long term if the surrounding conditions did
not change. History provides multiple examples of this phe-
nomenon, but one of the most striking in contemporary history
is that of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
In the other direction, that of creating hierarchical structures
from cooperative structures, it is clear that this would happen if
environmental conditions change from calm, with resources
availablewhen there is an armed invasion, a drought, a flood,
an epidemic, or any other phenomenon commonly called cata-
strophic”. Under such conditions, “cooperative” management of
conflicts and resources becomes very difficult, if not impossible
and comparatively inefficient. The only alternative that human
societies have found under such circumstances is a hierarchical
structure that takes over the resources and distribution, conflict
management and the survival of society.
It is clear that once established, a hierarchical structure can
be replaced by another, or by a new set of leaders, and the
structure can continue to exist and even prevail in a given pop-
ulation. Only on a long term basis and in an environment of
calm and plentiful resources can such hierarchies be dissolved
or displaced by cooperative structures. That is why we suggest
the hypothesis that there are in the long term only two types of
stable structures for human societies: cooperative structures and
hierarchical structures.
This is not to say that both types of structures cannot coexist
at the same time; Nondédéo has already demonstrated that pos-
sibility, but not for the same groups or at the same levels of
organization. For example, the United Nations is a cooperative
venture involving nations which are hierarchical structures. At
the same time, these nations have, at different levels, coopera-
tive structures, while the inner workings of the United Nations
adopt a hierarchical structure.
It is especially in the long term and with relatively frequent
changes in environmental conditions that the existence of these
two types of structures and the lack of other types of stable
structures seems to be imposed. An exciting research project
would be to see under what circumstances the villages that
preceded Tell Brak gave birth to this city, and under what cir-
cumstances the villages studied by Nondédéo disappeared.
Indeed, all of Bandy’s 16 type 1 villages could be studied to see
under what circumstances they either disappeared or became
type 2 villages. This query can be extended to a large number
of “catastrophic” changes recorded by archeology.
Two Structures, but Only One Set of Tools
If the structure of human societies can evolve between “co-
operative” and “hierarchical”, what does this means for the
evolution in the management of social conflicts? If indeed the
trunk questions that we have described above are the reflection
of the more fundamental conflicts of all societies, is there a re-
lationship between these questions and the two types of social
structure described above? From what has proceeded, when so-
cial structures change, trunk question and the network they form
should not be fundamentally changed, although probably “re-
modeled” under “catastrophic” conditions.
A priori, changes in the general structure of a society do not
remove the fundamental sources of conflict between individuals
or social groups. However, such changes in general may im-
Coll ection Units
Field Scatter (100 m
Surf Collection (4 m
0300 m
pose certain solutions to specific conflicts and eliminate certain
alternative solutions. A sudden change, even a “catastrophic”
change, of all leaders of a society does not eliminate the trunk
questions of social conflict such as: Can we trust our leaders?
On the other hand, the results presented above imply that the
trunk questions are common to all human societies, which is
another way of saying that every human society has necessarily
to address these issues and the associated conflicts, whatever
the general structure of the society. If the trunk questions and
these conflicts are not addressed, a society runs the risk of
weakened cohesion and, in the long term, dissolution or disin-
tegration. Conversely, if a society has existed long enough, this
implies that it has developed “tools” to manage these conflicts
and to address trunk questions.
Thus, we arrive at a definition of human society as any group
of human beings which has developed a common set of “tools”
to manage the conflicts inherent in living together, and these
“tools” perform well enough for the group to be able to exist for
at least several generations, even centuries.
It seems clear that a change in the general structure of a so-
ciety may modify or replace some of these “tools”, but can
hardly create or impose a completely different set. On the other
hand, relations between most individuals in a society and indi-
vidual representatives of the general structure of a society, a
society’s “leaders”, are among the most fundamental trunk
questions and a source of constant conflict, and therefore those
relations do not escape the system of more-or-less open “debate”
within the society. Thus we can say that every human society is
characterized, perhaps uniquely, by the set of conflict manage-
ment “tools” associated with trunk questions.
It is clear that some or even most "tools" can be institutiona-
lized by a society. The institutions of justice and police manage
a majority of conflicts in societies that are called “modern”. In
other societies, certain “tools” can be withdrawn from social
debate and become sacred”; that is to say, cannot be debated
or amended except by privileged sectors of society, often the
clergy (spiritual authority) or an oligarchy (political authority),
which are systematically associated with a dogma that can only
be interpreted for society in general by these privileged sectors
of society.
From another point of view, societies, “modern” or not, have
a strong tendency to identify with the set of “tools” that charac-
terize them. This attachment, identification or rendering sacred
certain toolscan result in the set of “tools” becoming what
are called the “values” of a given society. Conversely, social
“values”, “de-sacralizedand without attachment or identifica-
tion with a specific society, function as “tools” to solve social
conflicts associated with trunk questions. A well-known exam-
ple would be the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The clergy, and the religions with which they are associated,
have lost much of their involvement in the management of so-
cial conflict, and also in the development of knowledge in most
“modern” societies, but they are the keepers of the sacred ele-
ments, the dogma and certain “values” associated with their
religions and the societies in which they developed and evolved.
These “values”, including some more directly a ssociated with a
society, or a tribe, or a nation, such as patriotism” or “natio-
nalismhave a strong emotional component or evoke attach-
ment that can obscure their aspects and functions as “tools” for
managing conflict. One cannot ignore the fact that in Ago-
ramétrie data there is a network of opinions, which are highly
correlated statistically, concerning the trunk questions: God
exists”, You can trust your doctor”, The police do their job”,
Politicians are honest”, and Our children are obtaining an
education at school”. Here, the subtle intertwining of religion,
government and social conflict is obvious. It is interesting to
note that even if this particular system of opinions is well lo-
cated close to the “closure” pole on the first axis, it is in the
middle of the emotional/unemotional axis and somewhat on the
unemotional side.
Conclusions & Future Research
The associatio n b et w een “tools” for managing social conflict,
as presented above in relation to trunk questions, and “values
of a society opens a very interesting path for the study the “va-
lue systemsdeveloped by Ronald Inglehart (2008) and Shalom
Schwartz (2005), and some work has already been done in this
direction, revealing many similarities. One should also add the
work on the Big Fiveof social psychology, the five major
personality “factors”, and their relations with systems of “val-
ues”, religions (Saroglou, 2002), and trunk questions. Further
work by Saroglou (Saroglou et al., 2003) has addressed the is-
sue of “cognitive closureand religion that approaches certain
considerations mentioned above.
Perhaps, the work closest to our own on social conflict and
its social representation is in social psychology on the central
core theory of social representations, particularly the work of
Jean-Claude Abric in Pratiques sociales et représentations
(Abric, 2006). Chapter 3 is entirely on the question of the for-
mation of this “core” and it reveals a very close similarity with
the development trunk questions we described above. To the
extent that social representations are based on the core and have
Knowledge Functions” (“Fonctions de savoir”) which allow
understanding, “Identi ty Functions” which define and help pre-
serve group identity and specificity, “Orientation Functions”
which guide behaviors and practices (Abric, 2006: 15-16), this
comes very close to saying that they are what we have called
“tools” for managing social conflict.
Another line of research would be, from the point of view of
trunk questions and the social “tools” associated with them, to
examine more closely the behavior of individuals with Wil-
liams syndrome who are unable to experience social conflict
and consider everyone their friend (Santos et al., 2007). What
regions of the brain are affected by Williams syndrome and do
Davidson’s findings not apply at all to these persons?
It is especially clear that what we propose here can be taken
up, reviewed and revised by those who are interested in explor-
ing the micro-meso-macrorelationships in societies since we
propose here a two-dimensional structure concerning social con-
flict that goes from individual brain activity at the level of so-
cial behavior of individuals, to social groups and to entire so-
cieties. And it is certain that the extent of application of these
empirical implications, which already involve archeology and
social psychology, may also be of interest to psychology, or
even to psychoanalysis and the articulation of the Freudian
“topics” in relation to the trunk questions and the structure of
networks we have described. For example, what would be the
meaning of “normal” and “abnormal” trunk questions, or “nor-
mal” an d “abnormal” net wo rks of opinions, such as “Equal rights
for women” and “Feeling of insecurity”? What role does sexua-
lity play in the trunk questions and their structure?
Probably the most important aspect of this work on social
conflict is that it gives an access to an empirical manner to ap-
proach these often rather theoretical concepts or those based on
rather limited samples or even just a few individuals. The con-
frontation of these approaches will probably be very fruitful.
Abric, J.-C. (2006). P ratiques sociales et représentations. Paris: Presses
Universitaires de France.
Agoramétrie (1987). Les structures de lopinion en 1985—Enquêtes et
méthodologie. Bulletin de Méthodologie Sociologique, 14, 94-97.
Agoramétrie (1998). Les structures de lopinion fin 1997. Paris: Agora-
Bandy, M. (2006). The neolithic demographic transition and its conse-
quences. Presentation during the session Early Village Society in
Global Perspective”. The 71st Annual Meeting of the Society for
American Archaeology, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 10.
Corneloup, J. (1993). Escalades et sociétéContribution á l’analyse du
système, du communicationnel et du social. Thèse de doctorat (STAP S),
Université Paris-Ors ay.
Davidson, R. J. (19 9 8). Aff ectiv e style and af f ective d iso rders: Perspec -
tives from affective neuroscience. Cognition and Emotion, 12, 307-
Davidson, R. J., & Irwin, W. (1999). The functional neuroanatomy of
emotion and affective style. Trends in Cognitive Science, 3, 11-21.
Davidson, R. J., Marshall, J. R., Tomarken, A. J., & Henriques, J. B.
(2000). While a phobic waits: Regional brain electrical and autono-
mic activity in social p hobics during anticipation o f public speaking.
Biological Psychiartry, 47, 85-95.
Durand, J., Pagès, J.-P., Bre not, J., & Barny, M.-H. (1990). Public opi-
nion and conflicts : A theory and system of opinion polls. Internatio-
nal Journal of P ublic Opinion Res earch, 2, 30-52.
Inglehart, R. F. (2008). Changing values among Western publics from
1970 to 2006. West European Politics, 31, 130-146.
Nondédéo, P. (2005). Rio Bec (Mexique), Habitat et organisation socio-
politique d’un site m aya . Fondation FyssenAnnales, 20, 112-122.
Papousek, I., & Schulter, G. (2006). Individual differences in functional
asymmetries of the cortical hemispheres—Revival of laterality re-
search in emotion and psychopathology. Cognition, Brain, Behavior
(Romanian Association for Cognitive Science), 10, 269-298.
Pochon, J.-B. (2008). Bases neuronales du conflit pendant la prise de
décision. Fondation FyssenAnnales, 22, 70-80.
Poltronieri, J. (1999). Evolucion de las estructuras de la opinion publi-
ca en Costa Rica 1988-1999: Principales resultados estatisticos de
las encustas nacionales de 1988 a 1999. San Jose: Escuela de Mati-
maticas, Universidad de Saint Jose, Costa Rica.
Quillet, V. (1998). Perception des ris q u es et d élibér atio n pu bliq u e: Des
radiations aux gènes. Thèse DESS, Université de Versailles-Saint
Quentin; also presen ted at the Troisièmes Entreti ens Scientifiques d e
Brest. Brest, 22-23 October 1999.
Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (1990). Media and communication in
the USSR. Munich: Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty.
Rappaport, R. A. (1968 ). Pigs for th e ancestors. New H aven: Yale Un i-
versity Press.
Rukavishnikov, V. (1992). Public opinion structures and environ mental
concerns in modern Russia. The “Current Developments in Envi-
ronmental Sociology” Symposium, Woudshoth, 17-21 June 1992, 21.
Santos, A., Rondan, C., Mancini, J., & Deruell e, C. (2007). Behavioural
indexes of callosal functioning in Williams syndrome. Journal of
Neuropsychology, 1, 189-200.
Saroglou, V. (2002). Religion and the five factors of personality: A me -
ta-analytic review. Personality and Individual Differences, 32, 15-25.
Saroglou, V., Kempeneers, A., & Seynhaeve, I. (2003). Need for clo-
sure and adult attachment dimensions as predictors of religion and
reading interests. In P. Roelofsma, J. Corveleyn and J. van Saanev
(Eds.), One hundred years of psychology and religion (pp. 139-154).
Amsterdam: VU University Press.
Schwartz, S. H. (2005). Basic human values: An overview.
Thorpe, S., Rolls, E., & Maddison, S. (1983). The orbitofronal cortex:
Neuronal activity in the behaving monkey. Experimental Brain Re-
search, 49, 93-113.
Tomarken, A. J., David so n , R . J., Wheeler, R . E., & Doss, R . C . (1 9 9 2 ).
Individual differences in anterior brain asymmetry and fundamental
dimensions of emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psycholo-
gy, 62, 676-687.
Ur, A . J., Karsgaard, P., & Oastes, J. (2007). Ea rly urban development
in the near east. Science, 317, 1188.
van Meter, K. M. (2001). The structure of public opinion concerning
social conflicts as a fractal structure for society. International Jour-
nal of Computing Anticipatory Systems, 9, 143-158.
van Meter, K. M. (2004). How people see society: The network struc-
ture of public opinion concerning social conflicts. Connections, 26,