« Les guerres disparues de l'Australie » : un article publié, une base de données et quelques perspectives

« Nouvelle-Galles-du-Sud :
Norou-Gal-Derri s’avançant pour combattre »
illustration de Nicolas-Martin Petit,
membre de l’expédition Bodin, 1802
Ca y est : le long article en anglais que j'ai rédigé à propos des conflits collectifs en Australie aborigène, de leur importance constatée en ethnologie et de leur invisibilité archéologique, est officiellement publié par le Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. On peut d'ores et déjà le lire en ligne à l'adresse suivante :
J'en profite pour donner l'adresse internet de la base de données sur laquelle s'appuie ce texte, où l'on pourra consulter les informations sur les 165 cas de conflits collectifs que j'ai réunis (chiffre provisoire en attendant d'en trouver d'autres !) :
Pour le moment, ces développements ne sont que la partie émergée de l'iceberg. Je suis en train de mettre la dernière main à un texte qui sera présenté dans les mois qui viennent pour une Habilitation à Diriger les Recherches et qui, je l'espère, trouvera ensuite un éditeur afin d'être diffusé vers un public plus large. L'idée générale, au travers du cas australien, est de discuter de l'importance des conflits collectifs dans ces sociétés (au travers des faits eux-mêmes, mais aussi de l'ensemble des dispositions, matérielles et sociales, qui entourent la guerre). Un point essentiel se dégage : dans ces sociétés, la guerre n'a pas de buts économiques, mais elle s'insère dans le système judiciaire – autrement dit, les faits prennent en défaut à la fois l'idée selon laquelle la guerre n'apparaît qu'avec la richesse, et celle qui veut qu'on se soit de tout temps battu pour s'approprier des ressources. Je cherche aussi à montrer comment l'archéologie tend à sous-estimer ces phénomènes et enfin, comment ce que l'on observe pour l'Australie réfute une certaine lecture simpliste de la théorie marxiste, mais reste en parfait accord avec cette théorie elle-même.
À suivre, donc...

4 commentaires:

  1. Thank you for sharing this article. It provides useful advice on how to approach popular books on Australian Aboriginal Culture. I will be interested to read your review of Richard Wrangham's book "The Goodness Paradox", which contains some examples taken from Australian societies,when it is published in French.

    1. I've always been rather annoyed when discussing theories that link social phenomena to their real or supposed biological roots. Whether it be Wrangham or others, I get the impression from reading their work that I neither really agree nor really disagree. Basically, I get the feeling that all these theories, once stripped of the technicality of their argument, do little more than assert fairly obvious generalities, and that they are incapable of penetrating the only really interesting issue, namely the diversity of social forms. I reproduce here the passage from my article Vanished Wars of Australia, in which I discussed this approach:

    2. Another debate, of which we can here only scratch the surface, concerns the biological
      roots of warfare. Part of the “hawks” side has been advocating that a warlike behavior, or
      propensity, was selected long ago in human ancestors, as an adaptation to its environment. In
      the last decades, it was discovered that several of our close primate species (especially
      chimpanzees) proceeded to intra-species killings – in particular, under the form of a party of
      males surprising an isolated individual from another group and putting him to death. This
      renewed the old debate about sociobiology, and of a possible convergence of evolution between
      humans and those species.

    3. Given the complexity and the difficulty of this discussion (Manson and Wrangham 1991;
      Rodseth et al. 1991; Wilson and Wrangham 2003; Wrangham 1999), the following lines can only
      be cursory remarks. To begin with, there is admittedly some striking similarities between
      chimps and human lethal conflicts: mainly, they are waged by males, females are often one of
      the major issues, and the attacking side uses surprise to assure an overwhelming balance of
      power with its victim. To this, in the Australian case, one can add the “philopatry”, that is, the pronounced tendency to patrilocality which make social units to regroup related males. The
      first point derives from a common feature of both species (although for different reasons), in
      which the warring sex is also the hunting one. It is most probable that the second point is a
      direct consequence of the first – at least among humans: being unarmed, females are
      defenseless. They may be kidnapped, and have to be protected by those who hold rights on
      them. The situation seems to be very different in the animal reign, at least in the restricted field of primates, where sexual dimorphism reveals far less about the relations between males and
      females than between males themselves (Picq and Brenot 2009). The third point, contrary to
      Wrangham’s claim, seems to have only a limited reach. Given that there is an intention to kill,
      the seek for imbalance of force is an obviousness, whatever the context.
      This is where sociobiological reasoning finds its probable limits. Even if aggressiveness
      or conflictuality should be considered as a feature of human nature, the most striking is the
      diversity in the manner with which societies handle this “common fund”. This seems to be one
      major point of Knauft’s criticism (1991), who claims that concerning deadly conflicts,
      chimpanzees have much more in common with “intermediate” (i.e. wealth) societies than with
      “simple” foragers. Let’s add, however, that in Knauft’s description of the “simple” foragers,
      Australians aborigines (and their organized violence) are conspicuously absent. They might
      represent a third category, as distinct from other “simple” foragers as from the “intermediate”
      societies. In any way, the comparison between their organized violence and that of the
      chimpanzees should address several major differences. One of them is the motivation for
      conflict: the bond between males and females is much less formalized among chimpanzees than
      it was in Aboriginal societies, with their remarkably complex matrimonial rules. Lumping
      altogether the conflicts by saying they concerned “access to females” seems to be a sweep
      generalization. Moreover, vengeance, which motivates many Australian killings, is totally
      absent among chimpanzees – conversely, as we saw, the territorial conquest or domination was
      almost unheard in Australia. On another level, one should explain the jump from the “warlike
      behavior” showed by the chimpanzees to conflicts waged not only upon individuals, but upon
      entire groups. But perhaps the most challenging point is the supposed mechanism of evolution.
      In Australia, it is doubtful whether the “pushers” of collective conflicts (and even, their
      executioners) ever gained any substantial benefit in terms of reproductive success. Everything
      indicates that the most lethal fights were decided by elders who already were at the head of
      polygynous households, and the ethnological record indicates that raiding was a minor way to
      obtain wives (Hiatt 1996).