Political economy approaches have been criticized for their focus on top-down processes with insufficient attention to non-elite agency. Here, we expand archaeological applications of political economy by integrating a bottom-up perspective on the construction of social power, drawing mainly from collective action theory and anarchist theory. An array of interacting agents, diverse interests, and decentralized powers exists in non-state societies. Social segments with countervailing interests and strategies confront, limit, and co-opt elite power. These countervailing forces are fundamental to political economies in these societies, and focusing on them illustrates the ways in which social power and cooperation actually work as differing interests and objectives exist in perpetual tension. The significance of these bottom-up forces is illustrated with synthetic summaries of three historically independent, long-term archaeological sequences—Northwest Coast hunter-gatherer-fisher societies (case 1), Early Neolithic expansions into Europe (case 2), and the Island Southeast Asia and Pacific region (case 3). We draw together relevant theoretical threads to conceptualize how dialectical relationships exist among a diversity of social interests that stem from the material conditions that structure labor and resource flows.