The Construction of Public and Domestic Spheres in the Preclassic Maya Lowlands

Takeshi Inomata, Jessica Maclellan, Melissa Burham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


There exists a significant theoretical imbalance in the archaeological study of domestic and public domains. Although the domestic has been an important focus of theoretical discussion, there is not an adequate archaeological theory on the public, and the study of the public is often confused with that of elite strategies. We believe that this theoretical imbalance strongly shapes interpretations of early Maya society, leading to the problematic assumption that the domestic existed before the public. Jürgen Habermas's concept of public sphere provides a logical starting point for the exploration of this issue. At the lowland Maya site of Ceibal, Guatemala, a public ceremonial complex was built around 1000 B.C.E. when some groups began to adopt a sedentary and agricultural way of life, but some populations probably maintained residential mobility and a mixed economy for the next few centuries. During this period of profound social change, the new public sphere probably served as an arena of negotiation between diverse groups through communal rituals. The construction of minor temples and the disappearance of figurines several centuries later signal a transformation of domestic ritual through its integration into a more homogeneous system of ritual practice rooted in earlier public rites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)519-534
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • Archaeolog
  • Maya
  • Political process
  • Public sphere

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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