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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Anthropology of Power




Power is commonly seen as the ability to influence the decision making of the other. In Michel Foucault’s term (1983) power is a ‘set of actions upon other actions.’ He also argues that “Power is employed and exercised through a net-like organisation. And not only do individuals circulate between its threads; they are always in the position of simultaneously undergoing and exercising this power. They are not only its inert or consenting target; they are always also the elements of its articulation.  In other words, individuals are the vehicles of power, not its points of application” Foucault, 1980 in power/knowledge). In turn power influences the behaviour of the other. Major anthropological descriptions of the dynamics and institutions of power have until recently had a markedly Western bias. Thus, other systems of power often have been described as alternatives or variations of those found in Western industrial contexts. Major issues informing the direction of research appear to have been influenced by the problem of order, as first laid out by Thomas Hobbes (1651) in his discussion of the need for the state. Undoubtedly, the centrality of this question for early anthropologists related to the imperial dominance of the West and the development of anthropology in such a context. An early and important focus of anthropological inquiry concerned so-called "stateless societies." EVANS-PRITCHARD's classic study of the Nuer (1940) became the model for such investigation and demonstrated that the forces located in KINSHIP and other social processes obviated any necessary need for the state in the promotion of order. Evans-Pritchard implied that state forms are a potential, given certain historical conditions such as invasion or colonial conquest, of non-state systems.

Preconditions for power:

Human beings having the capacity for symbolic interpretation of the world around them stems the primary basis on which power rests. Their set of psychological values lead to the emotions that makes them accountable to larger groups  like kinship, tribes, and nations. Individuals experience feel sorrow, joy or shame on behalf of the group or some of its members. To remove uncertainty human beings tend to follow the successful actions of others which lead to action in concert. This action in concert results in the tendency to call for leadership and adapt to hierarchical modes of organisation (DiMaggio, 1997). For Boudon (1994) another major attributes of human behaviour is self-delusion. Human beings are part rational with tendency to rationalise their own behaviour, cling to unfounded convictions and adhere ideologies based on false assumptions.
Viewed in a segregated manner these tendencies have significant cultural patterns without hidden power structures of any sort being involved. However, it is more important to understand that these dispositions serve as material for the exertion of power. Organising mass rallies, shaping public opinion, elaborating common symbolic systems, etc. are only possible because of common cultural and psychological predispositions. What makes the study of power more exciting is the fact that the tendencies of human beings discussed above are not deterministic blueprints but are shared to varying degrees among individuals and when they are aggregated researchers are facing an unaccountable variety of political behaviours, mechanics of exercising power.

Early anthropologies of power:

The concept of power is rooted from such nineteenth-century theorists of social evolution as Sir Henry MAINE (1861), who distinguished societies organized by status and by contract in LAW, and Lewis Henry MORGAN's (1877) distinction between kinship and territory as the basis for the organization of GOVERNMENT. In addition it owes much to the discussions about the relationships between moral order and SOCIAL ORGANIZATION found in the writings of Emile DURKHEIM (1933), Max WEBER (1968), and Karl Marx (1887). More recent infusions of theory have come from social scientists such as Michel Foucault (1977b), Pierre Bourdieu (1977), and Anthony Giddens (1984), who focus on the structure of POWER in society.

Power and inequality:

While most anthropological analyses of power have investigated social stratification and hierarchy, some have looked at forms of social organization which assure that power is not individually concentrated, as in the industrial collectives or collectives not organized within state societies. Just as Marx was preoccupied with the question of how labourers came to give up their labour power, anthropologists have studied historically, and prehistorically, the question of how individuals might have come to dominate groups and how one group might have come to dominate another. Archaeological theorizing of inequality has been accompanied with methodological innovations in studying relational power over time (McGuire and Paynter 1991).
Social theorists Max Weber and Émile Durkheim influenced anthropological conceptualization of bureaucratic power in state societies and the perpetuation of institutional authority. Anthropological studies of social movements and state-making, and of national policy, have furthered conceptualization of institutional power and the rituals of its replication. Legal anthropologists, too, have studied cross-culturally the different systems through which power is legitimized, enforced, and contested.

Studies on institutional power:

Anthropologists undertaking studies of institutional power must engage the debates formulated within sociology about structure and agency. C. Wright Mills (1956) argued influentially that social stratification and hierarchy are forcefully maintained by the ‘power elite’, those who, between themselves, mobilize the power to transcend ‘ordinary’ social environments and make decisions that pertain to the lives of people they will never meet, in nations they might never visit. This kind of structural analysis can be seen, for example, in anthropological studies of the itinerant power of transnational corporations. Class analysis has been used by anthropologists to study inequality in many social contexts, not all of them industrialized (see, again, McGuire and Paynter 1991). Anthropologists have also argued that class analysis has its limits, especially in contexts where exploitation is multidirectional, and have been drawn to reformulations of historical materialism, as in Giddens’s theory of structuration—in which ‘power is regarded as generated in and through the reproduction of structures of domination’ (Giddens 1981:4), across time and space, whether those structures of domination rely on the allocation of material resources (as emphasized by Marx) or on, for example, information and surveillance.

Colonial influence over the anthropology of power

 Colonial process has considerable influence over anthropology of power. While colonial political structures gave rise to early anthropological studies of the distribution of power through political systems, they also stimulated a variety of intriguing critiques, led most notably in anthropology by Asad (1973) and those in his collection, Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter. Writers outside anthropology greatly influenced the way many anthropologists have conceptualized power and powerlessness, whether between colonizers and colonized or within societies as similar power relations, racialized, have been enacted. Colonial and neo-colonial relations between nations became a useful trope for anthropologists seeking to critique institutional power and the discipline of anthropology’s epistemological role in perpetuating institutionalized power relations. Colonial critiques made more obvious, for example, the ways in which ‘observers’ assigned themselves the power to summarize others’ experience (and that power was reinforced through institutional resources and legitimacy), and the ‘observed,’ as encapsulated in those analyses anyway, were without the power to define themselves or assert autonomy in many other ways. A ‘reinvented’ or ‘decolonized’ anthropology was envisioned as work done by anthropologists with diverse ethnic, class, and political identities on not only traditional topics, but also, as Nader put it (in Hymes 1969), ‘studying up’: to really learn how those who held institutional power did so, and to use that knowledge to address—rather than simply document—social inequalities.

A note on the evolution of political anthropology and anthropology of power:

Text Box: African Political Systems’ introduction and eight ethnographic articles established the problems, the theoretical foundation, the methodology, and the controversy for more than a decade of research into the politics of preindustrial societies.There are approaches to politics by nineteenth century evolutionists and their counterparts. British functionalists coupling with African experience made lasting contribution on the ways in which pre-capital, pre-colonial societies maintained power relations. The two trends, structural-functionalism and the African experience, came together in 1940 in a work that, at a single blow, established modern political anthropology: African Political Systems, edited by Meyer Fortes and E. E. Evans-Pritchard. In their introduction, the editors distinguish two types of African political systems: those with centralized authority and judicial institutions (primitive states), and those without such authority and institutions (stateless societies). A major difference between these types is the role of kinship. Integration and decision making in stateless societies is based, at the lowest level, on bilateral family/ band groups and, at a higher level, on corporate unilineal descent groups. State societies are those in which an administrative organization overrides or unites such groups as the permanent basis of political structure. This typology was later criticized as much too simplistic, but the detailed descriptions of how lineages functioned politically in several specific societies were lasting contributions. Social equilibrium was assumed, so that the major problem was to show how the various conflict and interest groups maintained a balance of forces that resulted in a stable, ongoing social structure. The integrating power of religion and symbol were also noted, especially the role of ritual in confirming and consolidating group values.
A more process oriented study is that of by Edmund Leach’s Political Systems of Highland Burma (1954), which signaled the shift to a more process-oriented, more dynamic form of analysis. In the Kachin Hills area of Burma, Leach found not one but three different political systems: a virtually anarchic traditional system, an unstable and intermediate system, and a small-scale centralized state. Meanwhile, Max Gluckman was also breaking new ground. In his chapter on the Zulu in African Political Systems, in Custom and Conflict in Africa (1956), and in Order and Rebellion in Tribal Africa (1960), Gluckman developed the theme that equilibrium is neither static nor stable, but grows out of an ongoing dialectical process in which conflicts within one set of relations are absorbed and integrated within another set of relations: cross-cutting loyalties tend to unite the wider society in settling a feud between local groups; witchcraft accusations displace hostilities within a group in a way that does not threaten the system; apartheid in South Africa, while radically dividing white from black, ultimately unites both groups within themselves.
Neo evolutionists especially in United States started more classificatory study of the different forms of political systems. The two major evolutionary works of the period, Elman Service’s Primitive Social Organization (1962) and Morton Fried’s The Evolution of Political Society (1967), were more taxonomic and descriptive than causal; the emphasis was on the characteristics of different levels of
sociocultural integration, rather than on the factors that triggered evolution from one level to another.
The 1980s and 1990s sees the emergence of a distinct feminist anthropology. Virtually all of the writers in the field were examining the relative power of women. Not only was the supposition of universal male domination challenged, but so were other anthropological assumptions, such as the Man-the-Hunter model of physical evolution. In addition to the expected cross-cultural statistical comparisons, two important theoretical schools developed within feminist anthropology—one analyzing the cultural construction of gender and the other, based on Marxist theory, examining the historical development of gender stratification. More recently, postmodern influences have refocused feminist studies away from concerns with male domination to analyses of identity and the ways in which power is subtly infused through every aspect of culture and discourse.
Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People Without History (1982) brought the World System perspective and so-called dependency theory into the mainstream of anthropology. Wolf contended that all, or virtually all, cultures can be understood only in relation to the expansion of European capitalism over the last centuries. In a closely related development, many researchers began to counter the natives-as-victims approach—which focused on the destruction of tribal cultures by the spread of Western civilization—with a new emphasis on the ways in which indigenous peoples fight back, often quite subtly, against the dominant state, either to maintain their group identity or to create for themselves niches of independence and pride. Political scientist James Scott’s Weapons of the Weak (1985) demonstrated how peasants resist—through gossip, slander, petty arson, and thievery—the marginalization that comes with large-scale capitalist agriculture.

Current issues in anthropology of power:

At present anthropology of power has effectively participated in the larger domain power with an interdisciplinary perspective. There are economists, political scientists, cultural geographer, and historians working on the cultural backdrop of power, which is indeed very much anthropological in nature. Following is a list of issues which are both anthropological and have loads of scope for making them anthropological.

Issues of legitimacy:

Among the anthropological concerns one of the spurring areas of research is the variety of works questioning the legitimacy of efficient use of power. Before explaining the issues of legitimacy it is important to clarify why legitimacy is important? While history has numerous examples of maintaining authority with threat and terror, but the cost of constant surveillance of large groups are formidable and next to impossible while governing larger groups. Hence, even the autocratic rulers tend to strengthen their regime by legitimising their strategy.
Legitimacy is inherently cultural phenomena. Legitimacy is attained and expressed by signs and arguments, attached to religious or political doctrines, popularised through slogans, publicised through posters, public decorations or monuments.
Perspectives of legitimacy – I: tale of origins
One of the special type of gaining legitimacy is that of the tale of origin, linked to Weber’s (1978) concept of traditional authority. A group claims the right to rule because its members in the past victoriously fought a common enemy or developed common resources or founded a kingdom or established a special relationship to a deity. The tales often becomes poetic-mythical, full of factual errors but nevertheless remains a powerful mechanism of maintaining legitimacy.  
Perspectives of legitimacy – II: non-rational sources
Legitimacy has a vast array of non-rational sources. Daloz (2007) for example argues that claims of legitimacy are often associated with aesthetic appearances. Elaborate and expensive dress, large palaces, breathtaking cathedrals all reinforce the feeling that the powerful deserves their power. Pierre Bourdieu (1996) with his concept ‘Misapprehension’ circles around the attempt to uncover and describe inauthentic versions of legitimacy in a bottom-up perspective. He argues with misapprehension members of a society are drawn into supporting present power holders against their interest, or at least to abstain from protest. This is primarily done by means of subtle mechanisms of persuasion. This is part of the so called concept of teaken for grantedness as Lerner (1980) with his “just world” hypothesis notes humans have a tendency to experience present conditions as generally fair and based on good reasons.

Power in rituals and performances:

Rituals are social occasions to recapitulate an ancient event. It is stylised and repeated. Goffman (1967) finds rituals in everyday interaction, in so far as they represent patterned ways of interaction. Alexander (2004) and Collins (2004) finds that rituals reinforce social relationships, hence social rules and legitimacies are also get reinforced. Religious communion, parades on national day, weddings and funerals all have the aspect of internalisation of common values, power structure and legitimacy.
There are aspects of conflicts in rituals. Gomard and Krogstad (2001) argue that in many modern democracies, election campaigns are concluded by television debates where the main contenders fight like gladiators over the confidence of their voters.

Power in communication:

The primary necessity of communication in the power is to make oneself understandable in order to impinge on the behaviour of the other. However, this does not mean that the power exercisers must let the others know their true intentions; rather, it requires strategic behaviour where the actor must suppress parts of actual intentions.
Power in direct communication:
Speech acts does not always mean exercising of power through only the said part. Grice (1989) finds that utterance refers to the meaning implied even without being directly expressed by the speaker. For example stating “window is open” often carries order or request (depending on the tone/voice/relationship/hierarchy) to the listener to “close the window.” Thomas (1996) studies the range of external sanctions and attributes to make the speaker’s intentions understandable.
There are understudied aspects of threats and promises, command and subordination, normative commitments, appeals etc. lying inherently in power in communication.
Construction of messages and world:
With the rise in social constructivism as a powerful theoretical tool the domain power in constructing the world and messages of the world becomes a plausible way of interpreting the mechanism of exercising power. In this communication system, the speaker does not make any requests or commands but pre-empts that the listener will make decisions on his own base on the new information.
Pernot (2005) explains this from the perspective of Aristotlian logos, pathos and ethos of speech. Logos stands for the subject matter under discussion, and how to articulate speech to make meaning optimal. Logos means the subject under discussion. Pathos means the pre-emption of reactions in the audience, i.e. how to make people listen. Ethos means the ways of making the speaker credible.
Scholars like Lamont (1990), Lamont and Fournier (1992) focus on the selection procedure, i.e. how selective reading, focusing and explaining part of given fact leads to the distinctions between worthy/unworthy, decent/indecent, high culture/low culture, right belief/heresy, national loyalty/treason.
Appeal of messages – the efficiency in communication:
The appeal of messages reflects its ability to speak to the hearts of the audience. Max Weber’s (1922) notion of bureaucratisation of charisma discusses the difficulties of striking balances between relatively abstract and generalised message construction in addressing complex and heterogenous audiences as the generalisation loses appeal. Addressing the deep concerns of people, often the messages conveyed by charismatic leaders is seen as highly efficient means of exercising control.
 Power in presentation of self:
One of the major aspects of communication termed as ethos (Pernot, 2005) concerns the speaker presenting himself or herself as a competent and trustworthy person. Baur and Esaiasson (2001) studied the different modes of making the self trustworthy. The major forms are: a) speaker’s lived and/or eyewitness experience, b) speaker’s referencing of earlier success, c) speaker’s general prestigious position in the social field. Bourdieu’s (1990) work on symbolic capital focus on the transfer of credibility of person acquired in one field to another. The most conspicuous example is film star’s participation in politics and election.
Varieties power and their location in the entire cultural field centre on the presentation and conception self. Studies include the variations in senses and meanings of the word charisma. In democratic countries it is difficult for a leader to strike the balance between being a part of the voters and yet being different and charismatic. Krogstad and Storvik (2007) with their detailed comparative studies argue that political charisma range from outer-directed, conquering form of charisma to more inner-directed, compassionate form. Daloz (2003, 2007) points that while Scandinavian leaders are expected to appear in modest way, Nigeria occupies another end of the spectrum. Here politicians must demonstrate their power ostentatiously, by their way of dressing, their cars and their residences.
Krogstad and Storvik (2007) examine the connections between power and sex in politician’s presentation of self. This ranges from most sublime way in countries like Scandinavia and most openly in France. With the rapid spread of mass media credibility of a politician is most commonly linked to sex appeal, and that lack of sex appeal easily gets translated to lack of political appeal. Although less studied, the dimensions of femininity and gender with charisma reserves unexplored aspects of femininity in power positions.

 Power in cultural formations:

Existing cultural formations, popularly known as social structure form the necessary context for action. Actions entail a reconfiguration of structures, and the actions in the next round contribute to shaping the identity of the actors themselves. The structure of dominance is studied from the lens of cultural dominance that requires a closer examination of the larger mechanisms at work (Mann, 1986).
Effects of cultural aggregation:
A widely studied aspect of cultural aggregation is the focus on the ways in which individually rational actions entail unintended, collectively irrational outcomes. Leiss et al. (1990) focus on the ways in which because advertisements people individually make rational choices of buying a product but it in turn lead to emergence of a commercial culture with significant elements of irrationality.
Sheer fact of numbers results in dominance of numerically strong group over the weak. This is especially true in case of two tolerant religious communities cohabiting together. Even though they are tolerant to each other isolated events of atrocities might lead to chain of events disrupting the equilibrium (Schelling, 1978).
Cultural diffusions and power:
Social prestige serves as a crucial factor in diffusion of cultural patterns. The mechanism of transmission of such cultural elements involves power. One of the earlier issues of such diffusion is that of trickling down of fashion which results in a situation where potentially everyone buys into style originated in the most prestigious layers of the society (Fallers, 1954).

Power and access:
Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955) link the attributes of power with the access. A well known power position is that of gate-keeping. The gate-keepers, whether secretary to a boss, or ministers, men of political leaders, and have a special opportunity in filtering information flows and regulating access.
Power in public sphere:
Public sphere represents an arena where citizens meet and exchange views on matters of common interest. More recently, especially after the rapid spread of internet there is over expanding boundaries and participation of public in public sphere. This new form of public sphere is a product of what is known as medialization.
Jurgan Habermas (1989[1962], 1994), a well known theorist of public sphere in his initial work The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere argues that the growing commercialisation of mass media has a negative effect as it restricts the free development of civil society and making discussing citizens to a passive audience. With similar tone Sennett (1977) characterises the fall of ‘public men’ with the rise of media. In a later work Further Reflections on the Public Sphere, (Habermas, 1994) he accepts the positive roles of the media and wide spread education in shaping public opinion. Others like, Schudson (1995) is of the view that the development of media is core component of the development of democracy. For Schudson economically and politically media is dependent on its readers, listeners and spectators, something that strengthens the power of the public. However, the power tend to flow on the opposite direction. The media cannot dictate their audience which opinions to hold , their power lies in their ability to turn the attention of the public in a given direction by selecting information, shaping perceptions and evoking core values (McCoombs and  Shaw, 1972)
Cultural power in the market:
One of the growing and still understudied areas of research is the focus on cultural power in markets of mass production. Due to growing affluence of the larger part of the population, design, advertising and distribution of everyday utensils has acquired a distinct aesthetic and cultural component. While Thorstein Veblen’s (1994 [1889]) conspicuous consumption, originally alluding to upper classes, has become relevant for the majority of the population in modern societies. In a parallel process the cultural industry has taken off as one of the major industries in the modern economy, creating a role model for larger number of people. The result is anesthetization of everyday life on an unprecedented scale.
The main power component lies in the process of branding of commercial goods by means of symbolic connotations. Through advertising campaigns the brand name is connoted to youthfulness, playfulness, sophistication or seriousness, depending on the target group. The crucial link in branding is the combination of confidence – the customer presumes that the soft drink will be of the same quality tomorrow that it is today – and identity – the quality and characteristics of the product spill over to the customer herself. These presumptions are reinforced by the observation that large groups of consumers think the same way.

Future directions of anthropology of power:

The above discussion represents major areas where research work on power has been done and still growing. These issues are mostly taken up from the studies which concentrate on the 20th century power relations. The dynamics of information technology and internet in the twenty-first century certainly opens up new avenues of research.
Global market dimension of power:
While Dell says it gives your data more protection is exercises power by means of indirect threat  that with the absense of Dell your data might be lost

CocaCola in Facebook shows how many likes it has.
One of the obvious aspects of changing cultural power relations all over the world is the diffucion of branded consumption goods. The same jeans, snickers, hamburgers, soft drinks, watches or their pirate imitations are offered almost everywhere in the world. The few international corporations controlling the symbolic capital of international brands exert a formidable power in global market segments. Gereffi (2005) gives a descriptive analytical study of how the corporate power not only concerns the distribution of goods charged with symbolic messages, their production is globalised in chains of manufacturing as well. There are arrangements of countries hierarchical order where low-wage countries make up long hierarchical production chains. The parallel rise of media communication funded by these corporations, where no corner of the world is remote enough to receive a satellite signal to listen to pop music, see Hollywood movies, and soap operas contributing to the process of increasing commodification and for Larkin (2002) the growing homogenisation. On the other side, there is rising discomfort among many who suffer from the feeling of cultural inferiority. Henceforth, for Gray (2004) the fundamentalist movement like Al-Quaida is not a traditional one, rather, it is acutely modern phenomenon.
Internet and power
The power dimension in society has gained newer dimensions with the rise in internet usage. Internet has greatly facilitated the organising of social movements. Scholars mostly focus on the major strategies, or major strategic uses of internet in the dimension of power. Kolb (2005) and Porta at al. (2006) notes one of the major strategic use of internet in social movements is to gather mass support, organise rally, and spread news. Vegh (2003) focus on the exercise of power through hacktivism in cyberwars by attacks on websites. A third and much less studied dimension is the growth of discussion groups radically beyond physical boundaries but creating newer and micro boundaries based on particular taste and openion. For Engelstad (2009) this area needs much detailed studies in near future.    

Few contemporary theories of power:

Although there is immense and growing scope for anthropologists to explore some, or all of the above mentioned fields of power, yet what seems from the bulk of ethnographic materials is that early Anthropologists concentrated on the types of pre-industrial political systems, evolution of states, religious issues in politics and much later process theory and action theory. Issues of social movements, gender issues in power, ethnicity and nationalist issues of identity in the context of globalisation are gaining attention in much recent period.

Reflections on a few contemporary theories of power:

Several contemporary theories growing outside the strict domain of anthropology has significant influence on the anthropological concept of power.
Concept of Hegemony in anthropology and power:
Hegemony, the concept of totalizing power (in which the state and/or a popular majority dominate, through every means, ‘civil society’) articulated by Gramsci (1971), provided anthropologists with a way to think about pervasive institutionalized power. The Subaltern Studies group (Guha and Spivak 1988), worked through a critical deconstruction of colonial historiography to recognize the powerful ways in which colonial subjects had been left without a voice in strategic discussions of their identity, resources, and future. Earlier, as anthropologists in the US and in France rethought the political role of intellectuals in reaction to their nations’ protracted war in Vietnam, the concept of hegemony became a way to think about how the state did indeed have agency, through a militarized institutional apparatus, to repress—ideologically, socially, and physically– those citizens who held contradictory views about state actions. That was also a time when, in anthropology, theories of resistance took their cue from political movements.
Foucaultian influence over anthropology of power:
The social theorist who has most shaped anthropologists’ recent discussions of power is Michel Foucault (1977, 1980), although not all those writings influenced by him reproduce Foucault’s views of power.
Two of his writings a) Discipline and Punish (1977) and b) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings have influenced and shaped whole lot anthropological discussions of power. His more recent publication with neologism “governmentality” which discusses the essential nature of power in governing virtually every human affair gives a new dimension to the study of power.
Concept of power in Discipline and Punish:
In his Discipline and Punish Foucault begins with an agonizingly detailed account of a public torture that took place on March 2, 1757, in the plaza in front of the main door of the Church of Paris. Over a period of hours, the accused’s flesh was torn with red-hot pincers and upon the wounds was poured “molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together,” and then his limbs were pulled off by six horses. Finally, his still living body was thrown on a fire. The crime that justified such grisly spectacle was an attempted assassination of the king of France, within who resided the power of the state. Public torture was thus a form of ritual that symbolically reaffirmed and restored threatened sovereignty. In the preindustrial economy of France, society was based on a personal relationship between the sovereign and his subjects. Within the theatre of pain, spectators were not mere observers, but were active participants in the re-establishment of order.
Jump ahead 80 years—the period of the French Revolution. Foucault quotes from the rules governing a prisoner’s day. Gone is any deliberate attempt to inflict pain. Rather, what we see is dreary regimentation, based on the belief that the prisoner can be redeemed through control of his most minute behavior. Incarceration becomes the primary means not so much of punishment but of transformation. Public execution continues, but without the torture, and its meaning has radically changed. State killing is no longer an affirmation of the power of the king over his subjects, but has become a morality play in which the public is instructed in proper behavior.
This does not mean that the state has become more benign or less repressive, but only that a new political economy has brought about an alteration in the way that power functions. For Foucault, this was a crucial transitional period, when the mechanisms of power assumed a “capillary form of existence...where power reaches into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and everyday lives. The eighteenth century invented, so to speak, a synaptic regime of power, a regime of its exercise within the social body, rather than from above it” (Foucault 1980: 39). In the world of feudalism, serfs could be easily regulated from above, but industrial capitalism required that the individual regulate himself. This would be accomplished through a process of disciplinary observation, or surveillance, which was aimed not only at the body but also at the subject’s very soul (a term Foucault takes seriously to represent the psyche, personality, consciousness, and subjectivity of the individual). The quintessential model of surveillance is found in Jeremy Bentham’s design for the panopticon prison, a circle of cells built around a central guard tower. In concept, each inmate is visible every moment. Of course, in practice every convict could not be under the guard’s gaze at all times, but the possibility and illusion of constant surveillance would be sufficient to induce proper prison behavior. Here we have an inversion of visibility. In the days of the sovereign, it was the powerful that were most visible; now the subject is visible and power is hidden.
Power in Power/Knowledge:
‘Power in the substantive sense, “le” pouvoir, doesn’t exist…power means…a more-or-less organised, hierarchical, co-ordinated cluster of relations’ (1980:198), despite the fact that it ‘is never localised here or there, never in anybody’s hands, never appropriated as a commodity’ (1980:98), never alienable or transferable. Foucault rejects what he calls the juridical/liberal/economic view of power as ‘that concrete power which every individual holds, and whose partial or total cession enables political power or sovereignty to be established’ (1980:88). Yet he sometimes reifies power as beyond individual or even collective control: ‘the impression that power weakens and vacillates…is…mistaken; power can retreat…reorganise its forces, invest itself elsewhere’ (1980:56).
In contrast to the binary views of power articulated by so many, whether cast in terms of gendered power relations focusing on patriarchy and those oppressed by it, or domination and resistance, Foucault saw power as being produced and reproduced through constant social interaction, from many different directions. He countered arguments about power as constituted through structural positions between individuals or social classes with arguments about power as being problematic, contested, and requiring constant, disciplined persuasion to convince those construed as powerless of their powerlessness and those construed as powerful of their powerfulness. Although he wrote about institutional sites as important for reproducing power relations, Foucault (1981:93) described power as ‘not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society’. Influenced by Foucault’s analysis, Kondo (1990:307) stated in her ethnography of the crafting of identity in Japan that power is ‘creative, coercive, and coextensive with meaning’. A view of power as not simply embedded in structural relations—maintained by force of one kind or another—but also as constituted through language and everyday practice (Bourdieu 1991) engendered many ethnographies exploring the specific, historicized ways in which power has been constructed and challenged in different social contexts (cf. Comaroff 1985). Foucault’s work has drawn anthropological attention to the relational aspects of power, with a concentration on the contexts of actions and interpretations, and away from structural control of resources by individuals with fairly static institutional authority. Some critics of Foucault think that attention has strayed, in the late 1980s and 1990s, too far from structural power; some feminist theorists, for example, have argued that Foucault and other writers of postmodern social criticism have—while meaning to eliminate ‘big stories’—replaced binary structural models of power which have been useful for theorizing oppression (especially by those working to understand the social mechanism of their own disempowerment) with a less useful totalizing model of over determination (e.g. power is everywhere, thus what social site does one go about working to transform?). They also argue that, once again, the ‘powerless’ have not been left space, or agency, in the discussion to articulate their own theories of power. (This, of course, has continued to happen despite the actions of any social theorist.)  The historical focus that Foucault brought to his discussion of the disciplining of bodies and minds through hospitals, prisons, courts, and schools, has had its effect in medical, legal, and educational anthropology, or at least coincided with trends in these and other areas of anthropological study, as more anthropologists have turned from synchronic ethnographic studies to diachronic discussions of social institutions. For example, Emily Martin’s comparative study of birthing practices (1987) demonstrates the institutional ways in which women are empowered or disempowered in relation to control of their own bodies and actions. Anthropologists have been informed, also, by researchers working in sociology and other disciplines on collective—or participatory—research strategies that challenge the epistemological leverage of an ‘expert,’ whether the researcher or some other person asserting ‘legitimate authority’ in a social setting, and recentre the ‘subjects’ of study as those with the power to legitimize research design and documentation.
Power in Governmentality:
The lectures of 1978 and 1979 focus on the "genealogy of the modern state" (Lect. April 5, 1978/1982b, p. 43). Foucault coins the concept of "governmentality" as a "guideline" for the analysis he offers by way of historical reconstructions embracing a period starting from Ancient Greece through to modern neo-liberalism (Foucault 1997b, p. 67). The semantic linking of governing ("gouverner") and modes of thought ("mentalité") indicates that it is not possible to study the technologies of power without an analysis of the political rationality underpinning them. But there is a second aspect of equal importance. Foucault uses the notion of government in a comprehensive sense geared strongly to the older meaning of the term and adumbrating the close link between forms of power and processes of subjectification. While the word government today possesses solely a political meaning, Foucault is able to show that up until well into the 18th century the problem of government was placed in a more general context. Government was a term discussed not only in political tracts, but also in philosophical, religious, medical and pedagogic texts. In addition to the management by the state or the administration, "government" also signified problems of self-control, guidance for the family and for children, management of the household, directing the soul, etc. For this reason, Foucault defines government as conduct, or, more precisely, as "the conduct of conduct" and thus as a term which ranges from "governing the self" to "governing others".
The concept of governmentality has correctly been regarded as a “key notion” (Allen 1991, p. 431) or a “deranging term” (Keenan 1982, p. 36) of Foucault’s work. It plays a decisive role in his analytics of power in several regards: it offers a view on power beyond a perspective that centers either on consensus or on violence; it links technologies of the self with technologies of domination, the constitution of the subject to the formation of the state; finally, it helps to differentiate between power and domination. There are several aspects of the concept of governmentality that needs attention:
  1. Introducing the problematics of government Foucault takes up this question. He now underlines that power is foremost about guidance and “Führung”, i.e. governing the forms of self-government, structuring and shaping the field of possible action of subjects. This concept of power as guidance does not exclude consensual forms or the recourse to violence, it signifies that coercion or consensus are reformulated as means of government among others, they are rather “elements” or “instruments” than the “foundation” or “source” of power relationships (Foucault 1982a, pp. 219-222).
  2. Governmentality is introduced by Foucault to study the "autonomous" individual's capacity for self-control and how this is linked to forms of political rule and economic exploitation. In this regard, Foucault’s interest for processes of subjectivation does not signal that he abandons the problematics of power, but on the contrary, it displays a continuation and correction of his older work, that renders it more precise and concrete.
  3. Foucault introduces a differentiation between power and domination which is only implicit in his earlier work. He insists that “we must distinguish the relationships of power as strategic games between liberties – strategic games that result in the fact that some people try to determine the conduct of others – and the states of domination, which are what we ordinarily call power. And, between the two, between the games of power and the states of domination, you have governmental technologies” (Foucault 1988b, p. 19). It follows that Foucault identifies three types of power relations: strategic games between liberties, government and domination.
Power as strategic games is a ubiquitous feature of human interaction, insofar as it signifies structuring the possible field of action of others. This can take many forms, e.g. ideological manipulation or rational argumentation, moral advice or economic exploitation, but it does not necessarily mean that power is exercised against the interests of the other part of a power relationship; nor does it signify that “to determine the conduct of others” is intrinsically “bad”. Moreover, power relations do not always result in a removal of liberty or options available to individuals, on the contrary power in the sense Foucault gives to the terms, could result in an “empowerment” or “responsibilisation” of subjects, forcing them to “free” decision-making in fields of action.
Government refers to more or less systematized, regulated and reflected modes of power (a “technology”) that go beyond the spontaneous exercise of power over others, following a specific form of reasoning (a “rationality”) which defines the telos of action or the adequate means to achieve it. Government then is “the regulation of conduct by the more or less rational application of the appropriate technical means” (Hindess 1996, p. 106). For example in his lectures on the “genealogy of the state” Foucault distinguishes between the Christian pastorate as a spiritual government of the souls oriented to salvation in another world and state reason as a political government of men securing welfare in this world. In much the same way disciplinary or sovereign power is reinterpreted not as opposite forms of power but as different technologies of government. 
Domination is a particular type of power relationship that is stable and hierarchical, fixed and difficult to reverse. Foucault reserves the term “domination” to “what we ordinarily call power” (1988b, p. 19). Domination refers to those asymmetrical relationships of power in which the subordinated persons have little room for manoeuvre because their “margin of liberty is extremely limited” (1988b, p. 12). But states of domination are not the primary source for holding power or exploiting asymmetries, on the contrary they are the effects of technologies of government. Technologies of government account for the systematization, stabilization and regulation of power relationships that may lead to a state of domination (see Hindess 1996; Patton 1998, Lazzarato 2000).
Pierre Bourdieu’s and possible anthropology of power:
For Bourdieu, the crucial question faced by the social sciences is one of power: How do hierarchical social systems maintain and reproduce themselves over time? Obviously, in modern democratic societies, social status is not maintained by force, nor is it—a la Marx—essentially a matter of economics, of who owns the means of production. Indeed, teachers, artists, writers, and other intellectuals are often represented in the status hierarchy at much higher levels than might be predicted by their incomes or political power. The answer lies partially in that all cultural symbols and practices embody social distinction and thus help to determine the hierarchies of power.
Crucial to this analysis is that culture itself is a form of capital, just as are money and property. Cultural capital is manifested in several different ways. It can be a largely unconscious set of predispositions that emerge from socialization into a particular class: ways of speaking and writing; a general awareness of how society works; preferences for certain types of art, music, and literature; and even posture and stride. Cultural capital can also be objectified in published books, in the possession of scientific instruments that require specialized knowledge, or in paintings that one has produced. Finally, cultural capital includes such things as graduate degrees or licenses to practice medicine that have been achieved within an educational credentials market. Side by side with such cultural capital is social capital: kin relations, circles of friends, and influential old-boy networks. Cultural capital, like economic capital, is a limited and often-scarce resource. One inherits a certain amount of it from one’s parents, but much has to be attained and maintained through intense competition throughout life.
Those with the most and most valued cultural capital at once reflect the norms of society and establish those norms. It is they who have the capacity to impose a taken-for-granted worldview on the rest of society. For the middle classes and under classes this worldview—an unquestioned acceptance of hierarchies of power and of inequalities—is close to what Marx refers to as “false consciousness,” but it does not necessarily emerge from nor is it reproduced among the wealthy alone. This is why Bourdieu puts such an emphasis on intellectuals; in France he finds in writers, artists, musicians, and philosophers the means of creating and legitimizing power. The social conditionings implicit in such legitimization are embraced within the individual’s habitus. Bourdieu (1990: 53) defines this term in The Logic of Practice, rather confusingly, as:
“Systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aim at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary to attain them.”
In other words, habitus is Bourdieu’s solution to the perennial problem of structure versus agency: how does society determine or at least circumscribe individual behavior when individuals are ostensibly free to act of their own accord? Why does the behavior of individuals follow statistically predictable patterns? For Bourdieu, social reality is objective and subjective, simultaneously in-here and out-there. Habitus is the largely unconscious internalization of the objective norms and rules of society that suggest how we might act within any given situation. It is not determinative, because norms and rules are not rigid; indeed, it may be conflictive; contested; and, within limits, malleable. In fact, in situations in which action is highly regulated, as in a prison or the military, habitus may play little or no role because decision making is minimized. Most human action does not result from consciously selecting among all possible alternatives, but is, rather, the result of mental habit. Given any situation, habitus will provide a framework that will direct action within a very limited number of improvisations.

Further reading:

Cheater, A. (Ed.).(1999). The Anthropology of Power: Empowerment and Disempowerment in Changing Structures. London: Routledge
Clegg, Stewart R., and Mark Hangaard (eds.), (2009). Handbook of Power. London: Sage.
Lem, W., and Leach, B. (2002). Culture, Economy, Power: Anthropology as Critique and Praxis. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Lewellen, T. C., (2003). Political Anthropology: An Introduction. London: Praeger  


Writer's comment:
A smaller version of Anthropology of Power was published in this blog: http://sumananthromaterials.blogspot.in/2011/09/anthropology-of-power.html. This is a revised and totally updated version. The readers who intend to prepare a material for their Under-graduation course can follow the earlier version. For Post Graduates I must recommend you to go through this updated version.  

2 comments:

  1. This is an article with awesome clarity. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Thank you for this concise overview of theory of power. The only thing that is missing is the list of cited publications. Could you upload the literature?

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