Structured Tumult: A Review Forum for Robert L. Bettinger’s book, Orderly Anarchy: Sociopolitical Evolution in Aboriginal California

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California Archaeology

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date



Anthropology -- Book reviews -- Periodicals


Select at random an issue of American Antiquity from the past 15 years. Chances are good that you will find at least one article or report in the table of contents that focuses on the archaeology of California. Recent research in the Golden State and adjacent regions has been highly influential in two main areas: the archaeology of prehistoric hunter-gatherers and innovative historic archaeology brought to bear on the past few centuries. One might argue that the specialists in the historic period of California have been truly at the forefront of general anthropological and archaeological theory, while those focused on precontact California have been relatively satisfied with a long-cherished and comfortable package of theory that leans heavily—as hunter-gatherer archaeology nearly always does—on cultural ecology and behavioral ecology. While some archaeologists grumble that they do not need any stinking theory for their job at hand, the truth is that every time we load up the field gear in the truck, sort through a tray of artifacts in the lab, write up that overdue report, or critique someone else’s work, we are using archaeological theory. As many have pointed out, everything we think or do with regard to archaeology is based on theoretical assumptions and models.

The point of this is to stress the importance of Orderly Anarchy: Sociopolitical Evolution in Aboriginal California, by Robert L. Bettinger. This work promises to be a catalyst for California archaeology and ethnography for decades to come. Most California archaeologists will find that whatever problems they are working on will fit squarely into what Bettinger writes about in this book. He brings together nearly all of the topics over which California specialists grapple under a single theoretical model, and this is perhaps unprecedented. In response, the journal California Archaeology hereby establishes its own new practice, its first book review forum. This format provides a more thorough consideration of the significance and impact of Bettinger’s book than would be possible with a single review. Four reviewers, including three California specialists and one from the Northwest Coast, share their reactions to the book. Their comments, insights, praises, and critiques indicate that Orderly Anarchy is likely to spur on additional creative thinking and research among California specialists, and that much of this will be conducted within a context of explicit and diverse general anthropological and archaeological theory.

Mark W. Allen, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona


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