Intercultural competition over resources via contests for symbolic capitals

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Intergroup competition over resources is attested since the dawn of history. Written and archaeological evidence go back to at least the fourth millennium BC. According to accepted views, evolution has favored humans because of their ability to have cumulative cultures, which has made flexible adaptation possible. One major aspect of this adaptation has been the ability to handle power contests without engaging physical force. Instead, increasing prestige dynamics has allowed contest management by displaying symbolic assets. These have growingly been instrumental in deterring external assaults, thus guaranteeing the possession - or expansion - of a group's resources. However, while material assets are believed to create status by the evidence of their tangible usefulness (such as foods, husbandry and tools), symbolic assets are by definition subject to ongoing negotiation, entirely dependent on being socio-semiotically recognized as types of capital. Symbolic stock exchanges thus appear to have been determinative since antiquity in hierarchizing ethnic and political groups fighting over resources, prioritizing ones over the others. They have culminated in repertoires of more solid tangible and intangible assets, from impressive buildings, city gates, gardens and temples, to ideas such as freedom, quality of life and wealth, justice, personal security, or whatever values that have gained universal recognition. The article discusses the creation and expansion of such symbolic repertoires and their uncertain position in recent times.

Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • heritage
  • intergroup competition
  • prestige and status
  • semiosis
  • symbolic goods and assets
  • violent and symbolic strategies


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