What causes social systems to resist change? Studies of the emergence of social complexity in archaeology have focused primarily on drivers of change with much less emphasis on drivers of stability. Social stability, or the persistence of social systems, is an essential feature without which human society is not possible. By combining quantitative modeling (Exponential Random Graph Modeling) and the comparative archaeological record where the social system is represented by networks of relations between settlements, this research tests several hypotheses about social and geographic drivers of social stability with an explicit focus on a better understanding of contexts and processes that resist change. The Valencian Bronze Age in eastern Spain along the Mediterranean, where prior research appears to indicate little, regional social change for 700 years, serves as a case study.
The results suggest that social stability depends on a society’s ability to integrate change and promote interdependency. In part, this ability is constrained or promoted by social structure and the different, relationship dependencies among individuals that lead to a particular social structure. Four elements are important to constraining or promoting social stability—structural cohesion, transitivity and social dependency, geographic isolation, and types of exchange. Through the framework provided in this research, an archaeologist can recognize patterns in the archaeological data that reflect and promote social stability, or lead to collapse.
Results based on comparisons between the social networks of the Northern and Southern regions of the Valencian Bronze Age show that the Southern Region’s social structure was less stable through time. The Southern Region’s social structure consisted of competing cores of exchange. This type of competition often leads to power imbalances, conflict, and instability. Strong dependencies on the neighboring Argaric during the Early and Middle Bronze Ages and contributed to the Southern Region’s inability to maintain social stability after the Argaric collapsed. Furthermore, the Southern Region participated in the exchange of more complex technology—bronze. Complex technologies produce networks with hub and spoke structures highly vulnerable to collapse after the destruction of a hub. The Northern Region’s social structure remained structurally cohesive through time, promoting social stability.