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Sunday, 23 November 2014

Political Anthropology


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Political anthropology


Table of Contents

 Table of Contents............................................................................................................................. 1
 Introduction:................................................................................................................................. 2
 Brief idea of theoretical paradigms:............................................................................................... 2
 The development of political anthropology:................................................................................... 3
 The evolutionists:...................................................................................................................... 3
 A reaction to evolutionary paradigm:.......................................................................................... 4
 Robert Lowie:........................................................................................................................ 4
 Georges Balandier:................................................................................................................ 4
 The functionalists:..................................................................................................................... 4
 Meyer Fortes and E. E. Evans-Pritchard:.................................................................................. 5
 A. W. Southall:....................................................................................................................... 5
 A transitional phase:.................................................................................................................. 5
 Edmund Leach:...................................................................................................................... 6
 Max Gluckmann:.................................................................................................................... 6
 The Neo-evolutionists:.............................................................................................................. 7
White:.................................................................................................................................... 7
Steward:................................................................................................................................ 7
 The contributions:.................................................................................................................. 7
 Women, World Systems and Weapons of the weak:................................................................... 8
 Eric Wolf:............................................................................................................................... 8
 James Scott:.......................................................................................................................... 8
 Suggested further reading:............................................................................................................ 8


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Introduction:

Political Anthropology devotes itself to the study of law, order, conflict, governance, and power. Political scientist David Easton in 1959 charged that political anthropology did not really exist because the practitioners of this non discipline had utterly failed to mark off the political system from other subsystems of society. It was not until almost ten years later that anthropologists had gained sufficient confidence to protest that Easton had completely misunderstood the nature of political anthropology and had construed its greatest virtue into a vice ( Bailey 1968; A. P. Cohen 1969; Southall 1974). In the societies in which anthropologists have traditionally worked, politics cannot be analytically isolated from kinship, religion, age-grade associations, secret societies, and so forth, because these are precisely the institutions manifesting power and authority. In many societies government simply does not exist. This recognition, and the specification of the manner in which the idiom of politics is expressed through the medium of apparently non-political institutions, may be the primary contributions of anthropology to the study of comparative politics. Recently, political anthropologists have carried this idea into the sacred domain of the political scientist by demonstrating that informal organizations and relationships may be more important than formal institutions even in such modern governments as those of the United States and Israel. However, political anthropology, like anthropology as a whole, remains immune to precise definition. Cross-cultural studies of law and warfare may or may not be included (they are not included in this book). Numerous theoretical approaches compete with one another-- cultural materialism, structuralism, various Marxisms, neo-evolutionism, feminist revisionism, symbolic anthropology. . . There are world-system perspectives and perspectives that examine the actions of individuals. Cross-cultural statistical analyses vie with historical studies.

Brief idea of theoretical paradigms:

A number of major thrusts of political anthropology can be legitimately delineated. First, in the past the classification of political systems was an important area of research. These studies, some of which are now under attack, provided political anthropology with a basic vocabulary and no few insights into the ways that systems work at different levels of complexity. Second, the evolution of political systems is a continuing fascination in the United States, though British and French anthropologists often like to pretend that evolutionary theory died with Lewis Henry Morgan. Third is the study of the structure and functions of political systems in preindustrial societies. This point of view was vehemently repudiated on both sides of the Atlantic because of its static and ideal nature. After the initial burst of revolutionary rhetoric, there emerged a general recognition that even the most dynamic of political processes may take place within relatively stable structural boundaries. In any case, political anthropology had its beginnings in this paradigm, and many of its enduring works are structural-functionalist. Fourth, for the last several decades the theoretical focus has been on the processes of politics in preindustrial or developing societies. Perhaps the most assertive trend of the 1970s was action theory, an outgrowth of the process approach with an emphasis not on changing institutions but on the manipulative strategies of individuals. Fifth, there is a wide and growing literature on the political response of formerly tribal societies to modernization. Sixth, world-system theory has given rise to a number of studies that interpret politics in the light of the spread of capitalism out of Europe beginning in the sixteenth


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century. Seventh, one dominant current theme is how subcultures embedded in state societies non-violently and often quite subtly manipulate power to their own advantage. Finally, the feminist movement in academic scholarship as a whole has introduced a new and important voice into political anthropology, questioning basic assumptions about power and offering new data and interpretations.

The development of political anthropology:

Though political anthropology as a specialization within social anthropology did not appear until as late as 1940, and did not really kick in until after World War II, this is also true for most anthropological subject specializations. Whatever lines were drawn during this period was theoretical: one was either an evolutionist, or a historical particularist, or a structural-functionalist, and so forth, but there was little sense that one might be a political anthropologist, an ethnolinguist, or an ecological anthropologist. The ideal of a holistic anthropology only began to break down through the 1940s as increasing data and increasing numbers of professional anthropologists forced specialization. The development of political anthropology was part of this general process, which continues today, with ever smaller subspecialties being delineated. Yet the comparative study of politics in preindustrial societies dates to the very beginnings of anthropology.

The evolutionists:

Political anthropology’s origins are grounded in concepts drawn 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. Prior to this period, the tradition that reached back to Plato and ran through Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and most philosophers of politics until (but not including) Karl Marx described government and politics as products of civilization; lower stages were characterized by anarchy. One of the earliest to challenge this view with hard evidence was Sir Henry Maine, who, in Ancient Law (1861), postulated that primitive society was organized along the lines of kinship, was patriarchal, and was ordered by sacred proscriptions. Evolution was in the direction of secularization and organization based not on kinship but on territory--"local contiguity" formed the basis for political action.

Maine's important insight that kinship could be a primary socio political structure was developed by Lewis Henry Morgan in Ancient Society (1877). Morgan had studied the Iroquois Indians of New York State first hand and had been fascinated by their kinship terminology, which was very different from that used in Western European countries but similar to that employed in other parts of the world. His description and categorization of kinship systems was itself a lasting contribution, but before these could gain recognition, they had to be couched in the theoretical framework popular at the time. Morgan developed an evolutionary sequence based on the mode of subsistence, the stages of which he termed savagery, barbarism, and civilization. These grossly connotative terms actually translate rather well into their modern equivalents, societies based on hunting-gathering, horticulture, and developed agriculture. Morgan, like others of his time, began with the "postulate of the psychic unity of mankind"-- belief in a common origin and parallel development all over the world--though he was unable to follow the idea to its inherently antiracist conclusions and assumed that the Aryans were naturally "in the central stream of human progress" (Morgan 1877: 533).


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A reaction to evolutionary paradigm:

Criticising evolunitionists’ paradigm was F. Boas’ Historical particularism. Boas was absolute, and often vehement, in his repudiation of the comparative method and of the vast generalizations that had emerged from it. He emphasized minute descriptive studies of particular cultures. Theory did not disappear altogether, but such orientations as diffusionism took on a very particularistic turn, with field anthropologists spending years collecting the most minuscule facts of daily life and charting them on enormous trait lists (one suspects this type of inquiry declined through sheer boredom). Though English anthropologists were turning increasingly to the study of kinship, not much was accomplished in the political dimension, aside from an occasional reference to Durkheim's mechanical and organic solidarity. In the United States, little in the way of theory separated out the political for analysis.

Robert Lowie:

A major exception was Robert Lowie The Origin of the State (1927). To find a framework to deal with the political, Lowie reached back to outmoded evolutionary theory. Fittingly enough, he started by rejecting the unilineal evolution of his predecessors; there was no evidence that all societies pass through similar stages of development. Maine's and Morgan's contention that primitive political order was maintained solely through personal relations was also rejected. Rather, the territorial bond, which Morgan saw as a characteristic of civilization, was universal and thus formed a bridge between primitive political organization and the state. In an earlier book, Primitive Society (1920), Lowie had recognized the political importance of associations in uniting otherwise disparate groups, and he saw these as forming the basis of the state because they weakened the blood ties of kin groups. Now he modified this view, showing how associations can also be as "separatistic" as kin relations. Thus associations, which are of their nature neither centralizing nor disruptive, require a supra-ordinate authority to achieve higher level integration.

Georges Balandier:

Georges Balandier (1970) contention that specific, explicit political anthropology developed during the 1920s is true only to a point. Here we find certain lasting ideas: that all societies recognize territory that increases in population and in conflict lead to states, that class stratification is a key element in movement up the evolutionary ladder toward the state, and that the central element of the state is a monopoly of coercive power. Though these concepts were not developed in a systematic causal model, Lowie clarified a number of issues, asked a number of crucial questions, and presented anthropology with a fascinating challenge.

The functionalists:

Malinowskian psychological functionalism, simply put, social systems exists because they have functional importance to the people at large and Radcliffe-Brown’s structural functionalism arguing society as an equilibrium hole where each parts contributes towards this equilibrium forms the backbone of British research in colonial Africa. Much of the research was to instruct colonial authorities on the social systems under their control, and this affected both the emphasis and the image of social anthropology. On the one hand, there was little recognition that the societies anthropologists were studying were severely changed by colonialism, and by the Pax Britannica imposed by English guns. Also,


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there was a tendency to study chiefdom and state systems, some of which, like the Zulu, had been integrated partially as a reaction to the British threat.

Meyer Fortes and E. E. Evans-Pritchard:

In their African Political Systems distinguish two types of African political system: 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 on bilateral family-band groups at the lowest level, and on corporate unilineal descent groups at a higher level. State societies are those in which an administrative organization overrides or unites such groups as the permanent basis of political structure. Even though this typology was later criticized as much too simplistic, 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. 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.

A. W. Southall:

The original typology formed by African Political System was increasingly refined. A. W. Southall in Alur Society (1953) challenged the assumption that segmentary systems--those in which authority was dispersed among a number of groups--were always uncentralized; he provided an example of a society in which segmentary lineage organization existed side-by-side with a centralized state. Others questioned segmentation as a factor for typing at all, since even centralized governments are segmented. Nor could lineages be the basis for all stateless societies, because age grades, secret associations, and ritual groups could cross-cut lineage divisions for purposes of political action.

Jumping off from Fortes's and Evans-Pritchard's bare suggestion of types (the two editors did not seem to think their typology universal, or even very important); classifications were increasingly refined until political taxonomy became virtually an autonomous field of research. The static structural-functionalist paradigm maintained itself through a number of studies as the old guard--Evans-Pritchard, Raymond Firth, Daryll Forde, and Meyer Fortes--held, contemporaneously or successively, the princely academic chairs of British anthropology. This is not to say that the situation itself was static; there was constant ferment, as Malinowskian or Radcliffe-Brownian emphases alternated, and as conflict and change increasingly imposed themselves with the rapid demise of African colonialism.

A transitional phase:

By the 1950s, after a decade of gradual chipping away, the edifice of structural-functionalism was showing cracks in its very foundation. There was little sense yet of a complete repudiation of this paradigm, but there was a quite self-conscious sense that fundamental modifications were being made.


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Edmund Leach:

A major contribution in this direction was Edmund Leach Political System 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 politicalsystems: a virtually anarchic traditional system, an unstable and intermediate system, and a small-scale centralized state. The traditional system and the state were more or less distinct communities made up of many linguistic, cultural, and political subgroups, all somehow forming an interrelated whole. This whole could not be supposed to be in equilibrium; there was constant tension and change within and between the various subsystems. To make sense out of all this, Leach felt it necessary "to force these facts within the constraining mold of an as if system of ideas, composed of concepts which are treated as if they are part of an equilibrium system" ( Leach 1954: ix). This was no more than the people themselves did, for they also had an ideal cognitive pattern for their society, expressed in ritual and symbolism. In reality, however, the people were hardly constrained to follow their own, and certainly not the anthropologist's, as if conception of their behavior. These ideas are similar to the mentalistic structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss (whom Leach would later help introduce into English-language anthropology), and there are suggestions of the cognitive mapping later to become central to American psychological anthropology. The immediate importance for the study of politics, however, was in the clear differentiation of abstract political structure from the on-the-ground political reality. Almost as crucial, Leach finally got political anthropology out of Africa and broke it free from the relatively cohesive, single-language societies to which it had been confined.

Max Gluckmann:

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. The Roman maxim "divide and conquer" is cleverly restated as "divide and cohere." Politically, this is especially evident in African rituals of rebellion in which, periodically, the king must dress as a pauper or act the clown, is symbolically killed, or is subjected to open hatred and obscenities from his people. For Gluckman, such rituals are not merely catharsis; they are the symbolic reassertion of the priority of the system over the individual, of kingship over any particular king.

At this stage, both Leach and Gluckman are transitional figures, still rooted in the structural-functionalism of the 1930s and 1940s, developing ever more clever arguments in defense of equilibrium theory; yet at the same time they are taking a giant step toward a new paradigm. Gluckman, as founder and chairman of the anthropology department at Manchester University, was to see his ideas extensively elaborated by his students, known collectively as the Manchester School, a phrase that came to represent a new orientation to society based not on structure and function but on process and conflict.


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The Neo-evolutionists:

Without a doubt, England dominated political anthropology during its first two decades. Meanwhile, in the United States, an incipient and quite different political anthropology was fermenting. Evolutionism, long banned by Boasian edict from the proper study of humankind, began a slow and not entirely respectable resurgence through the writings of Leslie White and Julian Steward.

White:

White (1943, 1959) developed a complex sequence leading through agricultural intensification to private ownership, specialization, class stratification, political centralization, and so forth. Much of this was elucidated at such a high level of generality that it left White open to the charge of merely resuscitating nineteenth century unilineal theory.

Steward:

Steward ( 1955) use of the termmultilinear evolution for his own theory only served to validate an unnecessary dichotomy. Actually, no serious evolutionist has ever held a truly unilineal theory ( Harris 1968: 171-73). But the situation was not clarified until the unilineal/multilineal dichotomy was replaced with the complementary concepts of general evolution and specific evolution, the higher level referring to evolutionary processes such as increased specialization or intensification of production, the lower to the historic sequence of forms ( Sahlins and Service 1960). This clarified, evolutionary anthropology was free to move, unfettered by a heavy load of semantic, rather than substantive, difficulties.

The contributions:

Thus, in contrast to their English colleagues, American political anthropologists started with the idea of change on a panoramic scale in a context that was fundamentally ecological and materialist. White measures evolution in energy efficiency and sees technology as a prime mover. Steward's cultural ecology focused on the "cultural core"-- mainly, the subsistence and economic arrangements that largely determine social structure and ideology. The differences between British and American anthropology were vast but can be overemphasized. For example, one of the earliest American political ethnographies, E. Adamson Hoebel's 1940 study of the Comanche Indians, was neither evolutionary nor materialist. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and into the 1960s, there was a strong current of structural-functionalism in the United States. But that which was particularly American was vastly different from that which was particularly British, to the extent that there was often little communication between the two. Political evolution quickly became almost synonymous with political classification. The two major evolutionary works of the period, Elman Service's Primitive Social Organization (1962) and Morton Fried, 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 caused evolution from one level to another. Causal theories were hardly lacking, but these derived from archaeology rather than cultural anthropology. Many notable archaeologists devoted their careers to the processes involved in the evolution of state societies. These two trends, the archaeological and the cultural, which originally ran parallel, came together in Service Origins of the State and Civilization (1975). Political evolution remains an ongoing field of study, but it can no longer claim to be the major focus of American political anthropology-- process and decision-making orientations have crossed the Atlantic from England.


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Women, World Systems and Weapons of the weak:

While earlier perspectives and theoretical approaches continued throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, three strong new trends were evident. Perhaps the most important development was the emergence of a distinctly feminist anthropology. Though not specifically political, virtually all of the writers in the field were examining the relative power of women. Not only has the assumption of universal male domination been challenged (and defeated) but also other anthropological myths, such as the model of Man the Hunter as the focus of physical evolution. In addition to the expected cross-cultural statistical comparisons, two important theoretical schools have 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.

Eric Wolf:

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 contends that all, or virtually all, cultures today can only be understood in relation to the expansion of European capitalism over the last centuries.

James Scott:

In a closely related development, many researchers are countering 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 that 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) demonstrates how peasants resist through gossip, slander, petty arson, and thievery--the marginalization that comes with large-scale capitalist agriculture. Political anthropology may be as amorphous as ever, but from its rude beginnings it has become a firmly established sub-discipline of cultural anthropology.

Suggested further reading:

Vincent Joan. Anthropology and Politics: Visions, Traditions, and Trends (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1990).

Ted C. Lewellen. Political anthropology: an introduction (London: Bergin and Gravey, 1992) Vincent Joan. Political anthropology: A reader.

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