Rethinking Polity Formation: A Gendered Perspective on Formative Period Household Development in the Pacific Coast Region of Guatemala



Social complexity and polity formation involve volatile periods of political cycling with integration and decentralization occurring as elites vie for political power. Political economic interpretations, while valuable in understanding the social and political processes involved in polity formation, do not adequately trace changes in the social relations that comprise the formation of a polity. In this chapter, I examine three models (subsistence intensification, craft production, and exchange) that have been proposed to explain the political and economic development of the Pacific coast region of Guatemala during the Middle Formative period (ca. 900–600 b.c.e.) and the rise of the La Blanca polity. I contend that macroscale models obscure gendered interpretations of the past. I suggest that investigations of prehistoric gender patterns would benefit from a microscaled approach drawing attention to household activities and the diverse social and economic accommodations that must have been made by Middle Formative households. The La Blanca inhabitants may have responded to the changing political landscape by altering their daily rounds and by increasing coordination of household activities that affected all members of the household regardless of gender.