chapter  9
The Symbolic Economy of Power: Plazas as Persons
Pages 28

Clifford Geertz (1979: 123) wrote that “characterizing whole civilizations in terms of one or another of their leading institutions is a dubious procedure, but if one is going to indulge in it for the Middle East or North Africa, the bazaar is surely a prime candidate.” Throughout much of the Americas, no doubt, the plaza would be the spatiosocial master symbol or institution, as Lévi-Strauss (1963) hinted at fifty years ago. Considering the central plazas of Poverty Point, the Mississipian centers, the almost ubiquitous plazas of Mesoamerican and those of most Andean cities and towns, the Caribbean, the Amazon, the Great Lakes, it is clear that the plaza is a very common element of Native American sociopolitical landscapes, particularly in those areas where political economy is a critical dimension of social life. There are other grammars of space, other disciplines, that create an equally potent exclusivity, for example, the sacred inner chambers of early Peruvian temple centers, the palaces of the Chimor kings, Southwestern U.S. kivas, the great houses of the Northwest Coast, but, in general terms, the most rudimentary architecture of power in Native America was the central plaza.