The aim of this conference is to discuss the theoretical challenges posed by the study of social and political inequality in early medieval societies in Western Europe. It will focus on rural communities. Traditional approaches have defined them as poor and unstable, in the framework of a self-sufficient economy that prioritised animal husbandry over agriculture. However, available archaeological evidence has upended that picture in recent years. It is also unfolding both the relevance of peasant agency and the true complexity of those small worlds. All these novelties are currently being discussed in the light of a research agenda centred on the emergence of villages, the formation of local elites, the creation of socio-political networks and the state, intensification of agrarian production and the role of identities and other strategies in the legitimation of social inequalities.

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