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"The “Anthropology for Beginners” blog by Suman Nath is one of the most user/reader friendly sites relative to such an endeavor." - Global Oxford "This blog contains lots of study materials on Anthropology and related topics" - University of Kassel University of Houston includes Anthropology for beginners in their recommended reading list. This is a humble endeavour to collect study materials on anthropology and then share it with interested others. How to use: 1. One can see materials by clicking "Blog Archives" which is arranged chronologically. 2. Or can search in the search box provided by using key words. I have not tried to be exhaustive, but its just elementary materials which will help newcomers to build up their materials better. Because of the rising number of requests from people across the world, Anthropology for beginners has started a youtube channel. Those who are willing to have some explanations to the materials available in this blog can subscribe to this link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_cq5vZOzI9aDstQEkru_MQ/videos Watch the introductory video to get an overview of the youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY9DOnD0Uxo You can write me about the posts. Feel free to write me at sumananthro1@gmail.com Best, Suman

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Panchayat Reform: India.

Panchayat Reform: India.

Because of its size and its relatively ambitious efforts to decentralise government, India provides an important context for understanding the ways in which decentralisation can improve the performance and accountability of local government institutions. In 1993, the Government of India passed a series of constitutional reforms, designed to democratise and empower local political bodies – the Panchayats. The 73rd

Amendment to the Constitution formally recognised a third tier of government at the sub-State level, thereby creating the legal conditions for local self-rule – or Panchayati Raj.Since this time, the experience has been highly variable, ranging from ambitious attempts at Gram Swaraj (or village self-rule) in Madhya Pradesh to political recentralization in Karnataka.

A commitment to the reduction of poverty has been a defining characteristic of the Indian state, from the time of Independence to the present day. As Kohli (1987: 62) has argued, the Indian state that emerged after Independence was deeply committed to ‘industrialisation, economic growth and a modicum of income redistribution.’ In terms of poverty reduction, this involved an early attempt at improving agricultural productivity through the implementation of land reforms, agricultural cooperatives and local self-government (Harriss et al., 1992; Varshney, 1998).

From an early stage in this process, the reduction of poverty and the empowerment of poor and politically marginal groups in India have been strongly associated with at least some form of decentralisation (e.g. Drèze and Sen, 1996; Jha, 1999). Perhaps the most enduring image of decentralisation in India is Gandhi’s vision of village Swaraj, in which universal education, economic self-sufficiency and village democracy would take the place of caste, untouchability and other forms of rural exploitation. Although this vision has been hotly debated since (at least) the time of independence (see, especially, Ambedkar’s debates with Gandhi, cited in World Bank, 2000a: 5), Gandhi’s vision has had an enduring effect on the ways in which decentralisation has been argued and defended in Indian politics. Beyond the symbolic imagery of the independent ‘village republic,’ an important element of this relates to the idea that formal, constitutional changes in India’s administrative system can have a lasting impact on informal and unequal structures like caste, class and gender. (We shall return to this theme in due course.)

Perhaps the most important among these – particularly since independence – were the B. Metha Commission of 1957, the Asoka Metha Commission of 1978, and the G.V.K. Rao Committee of 1985. An enduring issue that features in all of these assessments is the notion that the Panchayats have been weakened or undermined on three fronts: (1) States that are unwilling to devolve substantive power; (2) a resistant bureaucracy and (3) the power of ‘local élites.’ Such realisations were instrumental in the drive to give the Panchayats constitutional status in the 73rd Amendment (Jha, 1999).

Milestones in Indian decentralisation

1882 The Resolution on Local Self-Government.

1907 The Royal Commission on Decentralisation.

1948 Constitutional debates between Gandhi and Ambedkar on Gram Swaraj, ‘self-rule’.

1957 Balwantrai Mehta Commission – an early attempt to implement the Panchayat structure at district and block (Samithi) levels.

1963 K. Santhanam Committee – recommended limited revenue raising powers for Panchayats and the establishment of State Panchayati Raj Finance Corporations.

1978 Asoka Mehta Committee – appointed to address the weaknesses of PRIs, concluded that a resistant bureaucracy, lack of political will, ambiguity about the role of PRIs, and élite capture had undermined previous attempts at decentralisation, recommending that the District serve as the

administrative unit in the PRI structure. Based on these recommendations, Karnataka, Andhra

Pradesh and West Bengal passed new legislation to strengthen PRIs.

1985 G.V.K. Rao Committee – appointed to address weaknesses of PRIs, recommended that the block development office (BDO) should assume broad powers for planning, implementing and monitoring rural development programmes.

1986 L.M. Singvhi Committee – recommended that local self-government should be constitutionally enshrined, and that the Gram Sabha (the village assembly) should be the base of decentralized democracy in India.

1993 The 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution – PRIs at district, block and village levels are granted Constitutional status. The Gram Sabha is recognised as a formal democratic body at the village level. The 74th Amendment, granting Constitutional status to municipal bodies, is passed soon after.

1996 The Adivasi Act – Powers of self-government are extended to tribal communities living in ‘Fifth Schedule’ areas.

The 73rd Amendment gives village, block and district level bodies a constitutional status under Indian law. The more important features of the Amendment are summarised in Box 3 (World Bank, 2000a: 7):

Box 3 The 73rd Amendment: major provisions

1. The establishment of a three-tier PRI structure, with elected bodies at village, block and district levels (States with populations less than 2 million are not required to introduce block-level Panchayats);

2. The recognition that the Gram Sabha constitutes a deliberative body at the village level;

3. Direct elections to five year terms for all members at all levels;

4. One-third of all seats are reserved for women; reservations for SCs and STs proportional to their populations;

5. Reservations for chairpersons of the Panchayats Sarpanches – following the same guidelines;

6. State legislatures may provide reservations for other backward groups;

7. A State Election Commission (SEC) will be created to supervise, organise and oversee Panchayat elections at all levels;

8. A State Finance Commission (SFC) will be established to review and revise the financial position of the Panchayats on five-year intervals, and to make recommendations to the State government about the distribution of Panchayat funds.

At the village level, the most important provisions relating to participation and accountability are those governing reservations and the Gram Sabha. Under the 73rd Amendment one-third of all seats must be reserved for women. Likewise, reservations for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) are made in proportion to their population. At the village level, the Gram Sabha, which constitutes all eligible voters within a Gram Panchayat area, is meant to serve as a principal mechanism for transparency and accountability. Among its principal functions are:

to review the annual statement of accounts;

to review reports of the preceding financial year;

to review and submit views on development programmes for the following year;

to participate in the identification of beneficiaries for some government schemes.

This last provision is particularly important because it confers substantive authority over an area that is particularly prone to misallocation and corruption.

a three tier structure of Panchayat

Monday 21 June 2010



Philosophical Anthropology is a branch of philosophy concerned to show that, owing to his preponderantly underdetermined nature, man is that animal who must, in large part, determine himself. Although its roots are diffuse and its boundaries fuzzy, in its modern form philosophical anthropology got its beginnings in the 1920s and was especially prevalent in German philosophy. It has ties with existentialism, phenomenology, and Dilthey's "philosophy of life" (in which consciousness is understood in terms of lived or immediate experience). In its development it has drawn on a number of outstanding thinkers, including Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Pascal, Herder, Goethe, Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, and von Humboldt. Recent prominent scholars who may be associated with philosophical anthropology include Max Scheler, Adolf Portmann, Helmuth Plessner, Arnold Gehlen, F. J. J. Buytendijk, Medard Boss, Ludwig Binswanger, Erwin Straus, and Michael Landmann.

Why philosophical anthropology?

What distinguishes philosophical anthropology is its ontological focus on man as the mediator of his own nature. According to Herder, in whose ideas philosophical anthropology is rooted, in man instinct is replaced by freedom; the deficit of specific determinations becomes a condition for the emergence of reason, understanding, and reflection. "No longer an infallible machine in the hands of nature, [man] becomes a purpose unto himself." In effect, a qualitative leap is postulated by philosophical anthropology: " in man something is not simply added to the animal . . . [rather] he is fundamentally based on a completely different principle of organization . . . he is the only one who has an open world" (quoted in Landmann 1982).

The critical problem of philosophical anthropology is, then, how man's creaturely limitations lead to their own transcendence. As a result, an outstanding element of philosophical anthropology concerns itself with the meaningful, rather than simply physical, character of human biology. For example, in his study of upright posture, Erwin Straus (1966) argued that man's moral capacity is tied to this posture, not causally, but immanently. Again for example, according to Plessner (1970) man's position in the world may be distinguished as "eccentric," since, unlike the other animals, man always stands to some significant degree outside his own center which is to say, outside his given nature. In light of this distinction, Plessner interpreted both laughter and crying as singularly human responses to situations in which man's (mediatory) capacity for eccentricity is stultified. As these examples suggest, one outstanding preoccupation of philosophical anthropology is the study of the dynamic of human creativity by virtue of which body and mind may be regarded as both different from and identical to each other.

Each branch of philosophy has its unique effect on anthropological theory and practices. It is an impossibility to single out each of them. Only major perspectives are discussed here.

Constructivism in philosophical pragmatism: our creation of our worlds.

In the second lecture of Pragmatism (Broadly means to act according to the situation), William James (1907, p. 37) metaphorically remarked that "the trail of the human serpent is [...] over everything". For James, the world was essentially a human world, structured through human life, through human experience and practices. Many other pragmatists, early and late, have held more or less similar humanistic conceptions of reality. If we attempt to understand our human life in this human world, we should inquire into the ways in which our life itself affects the world within which it takes place. Broadly speaking, pragmatism is the doctrine that practice and theory are inextricably entangled in human affairs. We cannot neatly separate our theoretical concerns [not even ontological (/ prior position) ones] from the practical interests and values that guide whatever we, as women and men, do. The pragmatist's philosophical point of departure is the undeniable fact that we are human beings acting in a more or less problematic environment. In our various limited ways, we try to solve our practical problems—in a very broad sense of "practical". The world does not come "ready made" to us; we regard it as our environment, as our world, that is, as the world in which we live and act.

Constructivists dwell on the the idea that the world is a human world, made or constructed by human beings, through practical and conceptual activities. It seems to be a natural conclusion invited by James's pragmatism. If the way the world is depends upon our choices of ways of describing or "structuring" it—choices based on our practical purposes—it might seem that these purposes in effect constitute reality. Whatever is real must be relevant to our practical interests. Human beings create reality by choosing to consider some aspects of it relevant to some particular purposes, that is, by choosing to see it under a certain aspect. As purposes change, reality is, in a sense, re-created.

Contemporary Constructivism (Neo pragmatism?):

Jamesian-Schillerian constructivism is, therefore, well alive in Nelson Goodman's theory of "woridmaking" and also to some extent in Putnam's internal realism. Some sociologists of science, who speak about scientists’ "constructing" scientific objects in the laboratory, come also quite close to this view, at least according to the standard interpretation. Furthermore, one could interpret the views of postmodernists and deconstructionists, for whom reality has become internal to language or "text", as forms of constructivism (even though pragmatists usually prefer reconstructions to Reconstructions). As the famous slogan by Jacques Derrida says, "il n'y a pas de hors-texte". These ideas were ridiculed by the physicist Alan Sokal in his controversial "scientific parody" in the journal Social Text in 1996, and Sokal is not the only one who thinks that postmodern views about the textuality of reality are just crazy.

The basic idea of Nelson Goodman's theory of worldmaking is that there is no single ready-made reality, but plurality of worlds (or "world-versions") constructed for different purposes, possibly conflicting with each other. According to Goodman, the multiple worlds there are do not exist independently of our "making" of them by means of our systems of symbols. We are, hence, worldmakers.

In Goodman's (1978, p. 4) view, "many different world-versions are of independent interest and importance, without any requirement or presumption of reducibility to a single base". Thus, "the movement is from unique truth and a world fixed and found to a diversity of right and even conflicting versions or worlds in the making" (ibid., p. x). Goodman endorses a radically relativist and pluralist ontology: there is no unconstructed world "in itself" which we could just describe and represent; instead, there are many versions or, equivalently, many worlds. Physics, everyday experience, art, and other symbol systems we use produce several different versions, none of which is the absolutely true or right one. We cannot make sense of an absolute reality.

[[[[ explanation: Why do not find any ready-made stars or constellations of them up there on the sky, even though it seems quite natural to think that stars (like dinosaurs) existed long before the emergence of human beings on the earth. Stars seem to be causally unaffected by our use of concepts and symbols; yet, we have to use those concepts and symbols in order to make, and to live within, a worldversion in which there are stars or constellations of stars. "We have to make what we find, be it the Great Dipper, Sirius, food, fuel, or a stereo system." We are both worldmakers and "starmakers". As James (1907, p. 121) puts it, we, making a human "addition" to "some sensible reality", "carve out groups of stars in the heavens, and call them constellations, and the stars patiently suffer us to do so". Stars do not themselves decide, let alone inform us, that they are stars or that they are arranged in constellations. Both stars and constellations of stars exist only in a humanly structured world. ]]]]

For yet another, quite different example of contructivism, we may note that constructivism is a fashionable cultural phenomenon in the age of virtual reality and "media philosophy". This is what Mark C. Taylor and Esa Saarinen teach us in their postmodern "anti-book" Imagologies (1994). "With the inexorable expansion of the mediascape, all reality is mediaized and thus becomes virtual", we are told (ibid., 'Virtuality', p. 6). "In virtual worlds, thought becomes reality and reality becomes imaginary" (ibid., p. 9). "Insofar as the real is figural the figural is, in some sense, real" (ibid., 'Electronomics', p. 4). Is this anything but constructivism or anti-realism (or perhaps Schopenhauerian quasitranscendental idealism) all over again, in new "mediaized" clothes metaphysical idealism, paradoxically, in a postmodern media culture in which metaphysical worries should not be taken seriously any longer? Taylor and Saarinen seem to think that the world-wide network of electric communication has so profoundly altered our reality that there is no "real world" beyond the media any longer. The media, originally human constructions, now create reality; hence, we ourselves create reality.

However, more recently, Putnam suggests that [o]ne might say, not that we make the world, but that we help to define the world. The rich and ever-growing collection of truths about the world is the joint product of the world and language users. Or better (since language users are part of the world), it is the product of the world, with language-users playing a creative role in the process of production. (Putnam 1991, pp. 422-423; cf. 1994a, p. 265.)

Knowledge and action perspective:

The intrinsic connection between knowledge and action is one of the basic insights of Dewey's pragmatism (which he also called "experimentalism" and "instrumentalism"). In traditional epistemology, which is characterized by its "quest for certainty", knowledge and action—or theory and practice—have, mistakenly, been sharply distinguished from each other. According to Dewey, knowledge is action and theory is practice. This simple statement can more generally be regarded as the core of the pragmatists' teaching. The openness and undefinability flowing from the link between knowledge and practice can also be illuminated on the basis of the "classical" concept of knowledge: if by knowledge we mean "justified true belief", and if beliefs are (as Peirce, the founder of pragmatism, insisted) "habits of action", our notion of knowledge must reflect the plurality of our ways of acting.

The transcendental perspectives:

In the Kantian tradition, transcendental philosophy deals with those "epistemic conditions" that alone render human cognitive experience of the world (that is, representation of objects or objective reality) possible (see, e.g., Allison 1983, Leppakoski 1993). These conditions must obtain in order for us to experience any world whatsoever—an objective world with a certain order. They are, indeed, transcendental conditions of there being a world (for us), and they are conditions that we ourselves—or rather our transcendental subjectivity—impose on the world of which we have experience. For other kinds of beings, these conditions might be different; a being with an intellectual intuition (i.e., God) would not need any such conditions but might be able to comprehend things directly as they are in themselves, without any intermediaries.

In order to be both a pragmatist and, in a sense, a Kantian, the crucial point that the present-day pragmatist-Kantian philosopher should make is that the transcendental conditions for there being a world as the object of our experience and representation can, and should, be understood as dynamical, that is, as socially and historically relative and mutable—as themselves always already "conditioned" in many ways. For us humans, who lack the "God's-Eye View", there are no absolute, ahistorically given conditions of experience, no conditions that could be recognized as necessary sub specie aeternitatis. This view is characteristic of modern naturalism, which emphasizes the continuity between philosophy and empirical science.

In any event, transcendental reflection or transcendental philosophy in a quasi-Kantian (pragmatically historicized and relativized or, perhaps, to some extent de-transcendentalized) sense is, for the pragmatist, an essential element of philosophical reflection on human nature. In pursuing such issues, we are trying to find out, by philosophical means, what it is like to be a human being in the natural world—a being for whom there exists an objective reality (from the point of view of both ordinary experience and science).

The post-modern age:

We arrive at some nagging questions. Is there any serious role for the philosopher, or academic intellectual in general, to play in the 21st century? Aren't we now in a postmodern condition, in which all we have got is a hopeless mixture of incommensurable language-games, frameworks, and styles of cultural conversation a la Rorty? Should the philosopher, especially if she or he is a pragmatist, therefore go into the media and discuss the "concrete" problems people are facing in our (post)modern world instead of reflecting on dry, unnecessarily complicated academic puzzles? What about the role of philosophy in such enormous global issues as the ecological crisis, with which all humans should be concerned?

Even though our (post)modern media culture is first and foremost an American phenomenon, to be found everywhere in the almost completely Americanized world, what has been called "media philosophy" is not. There are few public intellectuals in the United States—at least fewer than in countries like France and Germany. Everyone knew who Jean-Paul Sartre was; outside academic circles, virtually no one knows who W.V. Quine is.

Let us take a look at "media philosophy", as it is defended in Mark C. Taylor's and Esa Saarinen's Imagologies (1994), a book (or anti-book) dealing with the postmodern information society and media culture.4 Taylor and Saarinen tell us, among other things, that the "simcult" (their term for the culture of postmodern, Baudrillardian "simulations" or "simulacra" which the media construct) is a culture of pure instrumentality, in which there are no "ends-in-themselves": "the essential is nothing, and nothing is essential" Generally speaking, there are no deep cultural ends any longer; in our media age, there is no time for anything like that. Following pragmatists, the media philosopher, or "imagologist", observes that she or he has to act in an uncertain world without any given, secure foundations (ibid. 'Superficiality', pp. 10-11). Thus, the media philosopher attacks "the institutions of rational, systematic, uncommercial, analytic, supposedly valuefree, unmediated, objective thought" and urges that in the media, "one-liners are everything" (ibid., 'Media Philosophy', p. 5). She or he has to know how to be naive and superficial (ibid., 'Naivete', p. 3). The public philosopher E. Saarinen certainly knows this, or so many people think. Taylor and Saarinen show us a way of approaching philosophy. It is compatible with this attitude to admit, as they do, that it is merely one way among many, albeit a way which should be given priority in contemporary media culture. Saarinen's argument here—implicit in all of his public activity— is simple: the justification of media philosophy lies in the fact that it is his, Saarinen's, particular way of philosophizing right now, at this particular historical moment in this particular social, political, economic (etc.) context.

The post philosophy: reflexivity concerns

Self-referentiality, or reflexivity, is the trademark of fully developed pragmatism and naturalism as well, we may analogically express my main metaphilosophical conclusion as the thesis that pragmatism establishes its own pragmatic acceptability through the process of showing how all philosophical positions should be pragmatically evaluated. Insofar as the assessment of philosophical views in terms of the human practices (and practice-involving temperaments) they are based on is itself a human practice, pragmatism also "shows that it itself makes sense".31 Hence the relevance of Kant and Wittgenstein from the pragmatist's point of view. Hence also the relevance of James's reflexive notion of a philosophical temperament.

Reflexivity and philosophical self-consciousness can also be accommodated by thinkers who do not sympathize with transcendental philosophy—for example, by Quinean and Rortyan philosophers, as we have seen. However, the pragmatist recognizing the transcendental background of the pragmatic tradition need not accept these radical pragmatists' and naturalists' views. Apart from a few critical remarks, I have not seriously tried to refute those views here. On the basis of my philosophical temperament, which differs substantively from Quine's and Rorty's but is in rather substantial agreement with some other philosophers' temperaments (in particular, Putnam's), I have tried to make that

effort in the chapters above—admitting, though, consistently with my own view, that such an effort will always remain seriously inconclusive.33 Putnam's alternative to Quinean and Rortyan positions is, I believe, (meta)philosophically more plausible, even though it is not unproblematic, either.

We can, and should, actively learn something by studying reflexive but insufficiently transcendental philosophers like Quine and Rorty. Refusing to listen to them would be refusing to wake up from a dogmatic slumber. After their critique of traditional philosophy, there is no innocence left. The philosopher in these confusing days should acknowledge this situation. As Prado (1987, p. 24) has put it, following Rorty and giving up "Truth" with a capital 'T' is like losing one's belief in God. Following the postmodern and postanalytic turns in philosophy is like losing one's religion. Quine and Rorty have given us valuable material to contrast our less radical philosophical temperaments with. Therefore, I have claimed that by studying their work we can study the limits of philosophical argumentation. But we— even those of us who are tempted to agree with these thinkers' radicalism- should be equally prepared to learn from James and Putnam, or, for that matter, from Plato, Kant, or von Wright. To understand that we should try to learn from highly different philosophers manifesting highly different temperaments is to understand that we must work hard in order to avoid the metaphilosophical relativism of clashing temperaments briefly described in section 10.3 above. We should, if our temperament allows, accept the challenge of making critical philosophy pragmatically reflexive. As human beings, we reflect on our own lives anyway—more or less philosophically. That is a most pragmatic thing to do.

Finally, this demand of reflexivity must be applied to my own metaphilosophical discussion of that very demand itself, that is, to this metaphilosophical chapter and this work as a whole. I ought to recognize that my pragmatistic point of view, as well as my insistence on the reconciliation of pragmatism and transcendental philosophy culminating in the notion of reflexivity, lies also, in the last analysis, beyond argumentation. But this ultimate reflexive reflection—a reflection on my practice of being philosophically reflexive with regard to the notion of reflexivity—does not lead to a sigh of relief. If I am honest to myself as a philosopher, I must find the need to engage in such a reflection a deeply problematic fact of my philosophical life. Yet, it is a fact which invites me (and, I hope, some others as well) to go on with that kind of life, to continue our human dialogues on topics of vital importance.

Sunday 20 June 2010



Awarded Runner-Up Prize, Amnesty International Human Rights 2006 Exhibition, 2006.

In the past fifty years, human rights has become ‘one of the most globalised political values of our times’ (Wilson 1997:1). Human Rights are those that any person naturally deserves, merely by virtue of being human, in order to survive, enjoy well-being, and gain fulfillment. Moreover, not only does every human being have a right or claim to these essential rights, they are simply right in the sense of morality and justice. Although there are many different kinds of rights, human rights are the most fundamental, universal, and inalienable, and governments are expected to advance and defend them (Donnelly 1989).
Ideas about human rights:
Ideas about universal rights for all people developed during the Enlightenment in Europe, were codified in international conventions following worldwide concern over Nazi GENOCIDE and other horrors of World War II, and have increasingly become a central concern in modern political theory and legal practice. There are substantial international conventions on human rights, such as the International Bill of Human Rights of the United Nations, which includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant of Political and Civil Rights, and the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. In general, these conventions encompass the following: the right to life and freedom from physical and psychological abuse including torture; freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and accordingly, the right to a fair trial; freedom from slavery and genocide; the right to nationality; freedom of movement, including leaving and returning to one's own country, as well as the right to asylum in other countries from persecution in one's homeland; rights to privacy and the ownership of property; freedom of speech, religion, and assembly; the rights of peoples to self-determination, culture, religion, and language; and the right to adequate shelter, health care, and education (Edward Lawson 1991).

Initial isolation of anthropology from human rights concerns:
Most anthropological literature has isolated itself from mainstream discussion of these values; it has tended to regard the legalistic language and the nation-state frameworks of much discussion as falling outside its professional scope (cf. Messer 1993), and questions of better or worse socio-cultural practice as value-judgements which go against its professional ethos (cf. Wolfram 1988). While ‘human rights’, as discourse and as international law, has enjoyed enormous growth, anthropology has therefore remained aloof, if not skeptical. Anthropologists have usually remained on the periphery of human rights for several reasons: anthropology developed with colonialism and the latter depended on the violation of human rights; human rights have been largely a governmental and legal matter; scientists are supposedly neutral to maintain objectivity; and since human rights are politically sensitive, involvement may endanger the personal safety of the anthropologist, informants, or host community as well as jeopardize future research in a foreign country. Nevertheless, since the time of Franz BOAS anthropologists have occasionally become involved in human rights, as in providing expert testimony in court cases on ancestral land and resource rights for indigenous societies. In recent decades the profession has given much more attention to human rights, as evidenced mainly by the growing literature on the subject (Downing & Kushner 1988; Messer 1993) and the emergence of advocacy anthropology (R. Wright 1988; Paine 1985) and corresponding organizations like Cultural Survival, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, and Survival International. Professional organizations such as the American Anthropological Association, Society for Applied Anthropology, and European Association of Social Anthropologists have all also established committees on human rights. anthropologists have insisted, must needs be regarded by those affected as a ‘problem’ before cultural outsiders may intervene and provide information for change. Little wonder that, as Richard Wilson puts it, anthropology is often viewed by human-rights theorists and activists as ‘the last bastion of cultural absolutism’ (1997:3); as if somehow believing that cultures contain an inherent moral rectitude, whereby one might always expect ‘underlying cultural values’ ultimately to assuage immoral political systems (American Anthropological Association 1947:543). This stance can be seen as anachronistic if not irresponsible and reactionary. In a ‘post-cultural’ world (Wilson again), a world where ‘[t]he ‘fantasy’ that humanity is divided into [discrete groups] with clear frontiers of language and culture seems finally to be giving way to notions of disorder and openness’, anthropologists remain committed to a romantic communitarianism and relativism (Wilson 1997:10). They continue to believe that, as canonized by the 1947 statement of the American Anthropological Association executive board (penned chiefly by Melville Herskovits), it is upon ‘a respect for cultural differences’ that respect for all other social and individual differences should be based (1947:541).

Cultural relativism and human rights: anthropological skepticism continues

Inasmuch as anthropology has seen its pedagogic mission as the furtherance of respect for ‘other cultures’—has argued for the rights to cultural difference, and posited cultural differences as the grounds for all others—it can be seen to have adopted a collectivist and relativistic logic. The thinking behind anthropological relativism is well rehearsed (cf. Crawford 1988; Downing and Kushner 1988). It is said that ethnography evinces no universal notion of humanity, and no commonality among those notions that do exist concerning the distribution of rights, duties and dignity. It is further said that there is no universal ‘individual’—that unified human subject with a knowable essence whom a naturalistic logic posits as the bearer of rights—only socially constructed persons. Those notions of ‘human nature’ and of ‘rights’ which derive from the fact of being human are historically and culturally bounded, it is argued; there can be no essential characteristics of human nature or rights which exist outside a specific discursive context. In particular, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 was a charter of European, post-Enlightenment, liberal—humanist and idealist, political philosophy which came to be formulated in the wake of the Second World War and the Holocaust. It can be seen as a continuation of Kantian attempts to establish an Archimedean point that provides rational foundations for universal norms of justice; and it must be understood as part-and-parcel of the rise of capitalism—a means for
individual profiteering enterprises to proceed unencumbered by communitarian obligations, traditional custom or a localized morality. In its application—in Western interference in moral issues internal to other cultures—the Universal Declaration has been responsible for a particular normative blindness towards indigenous peoples and their collectivist narratives of land ownership, political determination, selfhood and so on. Meanwhile, Western governments, such as that of the USA, feel free to pull out of UN bodies, such as UNESCO, when they feel too much emphasis is being placed on collective rights of peoples; a strengthening of group interests at the expense of the human rights of individuals is decried as the so-called ‘socialist bias’ of non-democratic societies.
But then what are the so-called human rights and freedoms of individuals as distinct from rights which people practise in the context of cltural, national and spiritual communities? To enjoy individual human rights requires community rights; individual rights cannot be exercised in isolation from the community—individual rights to join a trade union or to enjoy their culture, for instance, necessitate rights of groups to preserve their trade unions or their culture. Even in a laissez-faire Western democracy, individual rights are not absolute or immutable:
they are balanced by the rights of others and by the interests of society, so that freedom of expression, of association and assembly, for example, are subject to the maintenance of national security, public order, and health and morals. In short, removed from his communities, ‘man loses his essential humanity’ (Moskovitz 1968:169–70).

Alternative space for anthropology of human rights:
Arguments against relativistic thinking in anthropology is logically (if not equally) strong. It has morally nihilistic, politically conservative and quietist consequences. It is also imbued with a relativistic meta-narrative concerning cultural difference which is logically inconsistent; for, cultural relativism must also include the relativity of the concept of ‘cultures perse (cf. Gellner 1993). It further implies a modelling of society and of culture which many
would now see as outmoded. That is, society and culture are depicted as sui generis: as reified and as ontologically secure. They are modelled as entities not processes: hermetically discrete and internally integrated; the basis of all similarities and differences between people, the ground of their being, the bank of their knowledge. This illusion of holism might have been legitimate currency in nineteenth-century nationalism and in Durkheimian sociology (cf. Barth 1992), but it is of little account in contemporary existential contexts. Mechanistic, social-structural notions of society and culture as organically functioning wholes must now give way to notions of human groupings as purposive and contingent political entities (ethnicities, religiosities, localisms, occupational lobbies) which live on as sets of symbols and interpreted meanings in the minds of their members. As Wilson sums up, ‘bounded conceptions of linguistic and cultural systems’ are out of place in a context where ‘culture’ may be characterized as ‘contested, fragmented, contextualised and emergent’ (1997:9).
In this situation, ‘culture’ cannot be raised as a right-bearing entity over and against human individuals. Individuals may have rights to cultural attachment and belonging, rights to membership of one or more cultures (of their choosing), but cultures do not have rights over individuals or members. Hence, on this view, ‘female circumcision’ is a violation of: (a) the right to freedom from physical and psychological abuse, (b) the right to corporal and sexual integrity, and (c) the right to health and education (Boulware-Miller 1985:155–77). More generally, the noble anthropological goal of seeking to understand others in their own terms cannot be employed as an excuse to avoid making moral and ethical judgements. Individuals have the right to resist and opt out of the norms and expectations of particular social and cultural groupings and chart their own course.
For instance, an individual’s rights freely to choose a marriage partner take precedence over a group‘s rights to maintain cultural patterns of marital preferences—even if it is argued that these norms are basic to a definition of the groups identity. As the testaments of refugees and asylum-seekers attest, many women have recourse only to suicide in order to avoid being forced into an unwanted marriage, and it is the responsibility of the anthropologist to support those disenfranchised individuals who find themselves under the power of others (cf. Gilad 1996). However that power is locally framed and legitimated (as that of elder kinsmen, religious experts, or whatever), here are relations of domination which anthropology should oppose. Moreover, even though such conceptions of individuals taking precedence over groups, of individual freedom contra cultural hegemony, derive from Western liberalism, the United Nations International Bill of Rights which these conceptions have given onto (comprising the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)) is the only framework we have by which to make decisions on globally appropriate action.
Finally, if the discourse and law of human rights are manifestations of liberalism as a modern political philosophy, then its opposition is no less political or ideological. To decry the seeming atomism of individually conceived human rights—as opposed, say, to notions of collective attachment, common good, public interest, patriotism, group loyalty, respect for tradition, and so on—is to extol the virtues of communitarianism: to wish to replace a politics of individual rights with a politics of common good, and an emphasis on collective life and the supreme value of the community. This has long had its (equally Western) social-philosophical exponents, from Toennies and Durkheim (‘[T]o experience the pleasure of saying “we”, it is important not to enjoy saying “I” too much’ (1973:240)), to MacIntyre, Taylor and Sandel today. However, as an ideology it can also be critiqued (cf. Phillips 1993). As with the aforementioned illusory notions of society and culture as sui generis, communitarianism can be said to represent a backward-looking myth of a situation of cognitive and behavioural commonality that never existed. In practice, communitarianism is often hierarchical, and always exclusionary with regard to those who do not belong—women and slaves, savages, pagans, Jews, Communists, homosexuals. In sociological usage, moreover, the ideology represents an attempt to ‘colonize’ the consciousness of individual members so that the latter are pressed into the matrices of perception of socio-cultural groupings and identify with
them completely (cf. Cohen 1994).

Relevance of an anthropology of human rights:

Anthropology has conceptual and practical relevance to human rights. Human rights are predicated on a theory of human nature, and anthropologists can contribute to this through their cross-species and cross-cultural comparisons (D. Brown 1991). Yet one of the greatest challenges to universal human rights is the concept of CULTURAL RELATIVISM, which Franz Boas and other anthropologists originated (Herskovits 1972) and others have criticized (Edgerton 1992; Hatch 1983). Some countries accused of violations of human rights have tried to hide behind cultural relativism and criticized their accusers of being Western moral imperialists. Every culture has its own ideas about morality, but these are usually not readily extended beyond its boundaries to other groups, let alone formulated as universals encompassing all of humankind. Anthropologists can help explore, understand, and mediate the cultural diversity of ideas about human rights (An-Naim 1992; K. Dwyer 1991), and they can attempt to reconcile the fundamental issues of universality vs. relativity (Renteln 1990).

At a practical level it must be acknowledged that violators of human rights often target individuals and groups based, at least in part, on their apparent biological, social, cultural, or linguistic differences. Anthropology can address this situation as the humanistic science that documents, interprets, and celebrates the biological and cultural unity and diversity of humankind. Moreover, during their FIELDWORK anthropologists often have a special opportunity to monitor and document human rights, although they must do so discretely because of potential dangers.

Anthropologists in rights:

Part of the explanation for the shift away from relativism in recent anthropological thinking must be due to the recognition that there are no isolated and bounded cultures and societies to reinforce an ‘archipelago’ view of culture. This observation comes at a point when some voices in the discipline are arguing that we live in a post-cultural world with greater emancipatory potential for individual autonomy and agency. The desire to go ‘beyond culture’ in some quarters of anthropology has led to a variety of attempts to construct new forms of anthropological inquiry – new types of ethnographic research – that transcend notions of isolated, bounded cultures. In some cases, this has provoked an interest in transnational, diasporic populations who are explored through multilocale fieldwork. In other cases, it has led to an ethnography that focuses on global institutions and global processes themselves. Such a move displaces the universalism–relativism polarity, opening space for new – or rehabilitated – forms of critical evaluation based on an analysis of power and agency.

For John Gledhill, to give one example of this new thinking, the problem is not about relativism or universalism, but access to global justice and the lack of accountability of rights institutions. Newer debates on power, globalization and transnationalism seem to have displaced the terms of the relativist–universalist polarity. The discussion has been reframed in terms of interconnections, networks and movements of people, ideas and things rather than static and discrete cultures in conflict. Nevertheless, the problem remains of ow to steer a path between the rarified and decontextualized ethics of neo-Kantian political philosophers such as Gewirth (1978) and the radical populism of simply reinforcing what informants say about justice, rights and political claims. Even more challenging is how to make that path meet the requirements of being ethical, empirically informed and conceptually sophisticated.

Recent works are increasingly focus on the anthropological issues of human rights. For example Good and Navaro-Yashin focus on the processing of asylum claims in UK and European contexts, a political issue which has moved centre stage with the rise of anti-immigration right-wing parties in European elections in 2002. These two authors raise significant questions both about the transnational processes of asylum and about the legal process more generally. In both cases, they chronicle the paradoxes of claims caught between the letter of the law and its interpretation in specific contexts. The question of rights, and the influence of debates about transnationalism within the social sciences more generally, have increasingly pushed social anthropologists into thinking harder about the problem of comparison. Social anthropology since the 1980s (excepting the Marxian political economy tradition of Sidney Mintz, Eric Wolf and others) has largely eschewed large-scale comparison in favour of fine-grained description and analyses of local social practices and beliefs.21 It has been asked, what is to be compared, when the meaning of elements being compared (religion, ethical values or political structures) not only varies enormously, but is highly dependent on local context? The expansion of rights makes rights discussions more ubiquitous but at the same time it makes comparison more difficult since social researchers must always ask themselves if they are comparing the same kinds of social processes and, if so, then what characteristics do they share?

Further reading:

Wilson, R. A. and Mitchell, J. P. (Eds.) (2004). Human Rights in global perspective: anthropological studies of rights claims and entitlements.London: Routledge

To visit a good blog on anthropological issues of human rights can be found by clicking here

To know more about Human Rights go to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: click here

Universal declaration of Human Rights - click here

1948 Roosevelt's lecture to the United Nation's general assembly click here (VIDEO)

The Rule of Law in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Click here, pdf

United Nation's Rights Council click here

Inter American Commission on Human Rights Click here

African Union click here

Friday 11 June 2010


Simple intellectual integrity [involves giving
account to oneself] of the final meaningof
one's own actions.

Widely recognized as one of the major founding fathers of sociology, Max Weber (1864 - 1920) is perhaps today best known for his attempts todefine the uniqueness of the modern West and to provide causal explanations for its specific historical development. However, far fromofferinga justification for industrial societies, his sociological and political writings both evidence a profound
ambivalence toward them; although impressed by their capacity to sustain high standards of living,Weber feared thatmany of their foundational elements opposed the further unfoldingof human compassion, ethical action, and individual autonomy. At the dawningof the twentieth century, he asked ``where are we headed'' and ``how shall we live with dignity in this new age?'' He worried that it might become an ``iron cage'' of impersonal, manipulative, and harsh relationships lacking binding values and noble ideals.

Weber studied history and law at the universities of Heidelberg, Göttingen, and Berlin. His doctoral dissertation investigated how legal forms of partnership were developed to spread the risk on medieval trading ventures. His habilitation thesis, required for teaching in a German university, examined the changing forms of property ownership in ancient Rome. Both studies required an intensive involvement in primary materials (and so foreign languages and handwritten documents). Weber, in this and also his other intellectual interests, was a beneficiary of the research seminar, which had placed the German universities in the forefront of research in the study of cultures, history, theology, languages, and archaeology. One of Weber’s greatest achievements was the comparative study of the economic ethics of the world religions, an achievement made possible in large part by German scholarship and the techniques of interpreting documents. Nonetheless,Weber waged impassioned battles throughout his life on behalf of ethical positions and scolded relentlessly all who lacked a rigorous sense of justice and social responsibility. As his student Paul Honigsheimreports,Weber became a man possessed whenever threats to the autonomy of the individual were discussed (seeHonigsheim, 1968, pp. 6, 43) ±whether tomothers seeking custody of their children, women students at German universities, or bohemian social outcasts and political rebels. Not surprisingly, his concerns for the fate of theGerman nation, and for the future ofWesternCivilization, led himperpetually into the arena of politics. Vigorously opposed to the definitionof this realm as one of Realpolitik, ``sober realism,'' or wheelingand dealing, he called out vehemently for politicians to act by reference to a sternmoral code: an ``ethic of responsibility'' (Verantwortungsethik).


Weber's rejection of values rooted in religions and quasi-supernatural ideas as the basis for his sociology, and his focus upon empirical reality and subjective meaning, led him to oppose unequivocally themany attempts at the end of the nineteenth century to define the aimof science as the creation of new-constellations of values appropriate to the industrial society.

He denied the possibility that science could serve as the source of values, for an ``objective science'' cannot exist. Even thehope for sucha science is adeception, one rooted ultimately in a bygoneworld of unified values. It has nowbecome clear,Weber asserts, that each epoch perhaps even every generation or decade calls forth its own``culturallysignificantvalue-ideas.'' Invariably,heinsists,our observations of empirical reality take place in reference to these. The empirical ground upon which science is based ``changes'' continually (seeWeber, 1949, pp. 72-8).
This unavoidable ``value-relevance'' (Wertbeziehung) of our observations always renders certain events and occurrences visible to us and occludes others. Only some ``realities'' are thrown intorelief by the culturally significant values of any specific age: those today, for example, are embodied by terms such as equality for all, freedom, individual rights, equal opportunity, globalization, etc., and dichotomies such as capitalism/socialism and First World/Third World. The specific vantage points dominant in any era allow its inhabitants to see only a selected slice of the past and present. Consequently, our search today for knowledge cannot take the same form ± as a search for concealed absolutes ± as in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for the ultimate precondition for such a quest no longer exists: a widespread belief in a set of unified values. For the same reason, ourknowledge canno longerbeanchored in the quasi-supernatural ideas of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, owing to the invariably perspectival character of our knowledge, we can hope neither to find ``general laws'' in history nor to write history as Ranke proposed: ``as it actually occurred.'' Thus, in the famous ``debate over methods'' (Methodenstreit), Weber opposed both the ``nomothetic'' position held by Menger the formulation of general laws must be the task of the social sciences ± and the ``ideographic'' position held by Schmoller's ``historical school of economics'': to offer exact and full descriptions of specific casesmust be the goal. Weber admonished vehemently and repeatedly that all attempts to create values through science must nowbe seen as illusions.
The multi-causality stance:
The search for a single ``guiding hand,'' whether that of a monotheistic God, AdamSmith's ``laws of themarket,'' or KarlMarx's class conflict as the ``engine of history,'' remained anathema to Weber. He perceived all such overarching forces as residuals of now-antiquatedworldviews characterizedby religious and quasi-religious ideas. Indeed, Weber's adamant refusal to define the ``general laws of social life'' (Menger), the ``stages of historical development'' (Buecher, Marx), or Evolution4 as the central point of departure for his causal explanations paved theway for a focus upon empirical reality and subjective meaning; as importantly, it also provided the underlyingprecondition for his embrace of radicallymulticausal modes of explanation. Havingabandoned reference to all forms of ``necessity'' as history's movingforce, the innumerable actions and beliefs of persons rose to the fore inWeber's sociology as the causal forces that determine the contours of past and present. His empirical research c onvinced him that historical change required on the one hand great charismatic figures and on the other hand ``carrier'' strata and organizations.Moreover, these carrierswere, for example, at times political and rulership organizations, at other times status groups or economic organizations, and at still other times religious organizations. His investigations across a vast palette of themes, epochs, and civilizations yielded in this respect a clear conclusion: rather than a causal ``restingpoint,'' he found only continuous movement across, above all, political, economic, religious, legal, social strata, and familial groupings (see, for example, Weber, 1968, p. 341). Without powerful carriers, evenHegel's ``spirit'' or Ranke's ChristianHumanism could not move history; nor could ideas, world views, or the problemof unjust suffering.
The idea of social action (Not social fact): intended subjectification

Weber's sociologydeparts froma critiqueof all approaches that viewsocieties as quasi-organic, holistic units and their separate ``parts'' as components fully integrated into a larger ``system'' of objective structures. All organic schools of thought understand the larger collectivitywithinwhich the individual acts as a delimited structure, and social action and interaction as merely particularistic expressions of this ``whole.'' German romantic and conservative thought at the beginning of the nineteenth century, as well as Comte andDurkheim in France, fall within this tradition. Organic theories generally postulate a degree of societal integration questionable toWeber. He never viewed societies as clearly formed and closed entities with delineated boundaries. Seeingthe likelihood for fragmentation, tension, open conflict, and theuseof power,Weber rejects thenotion that societies can be st understood as unified. Moreover, accordingto him, if organic theories are utilized other than as a means of facilitatingpreliminary conceptualization, a high risk of ``reification'' arises: ``society'' and the ``organicwhole'' may become viewed as the fundamental unit of analysis rather than the individual (Weber, 1968, pp. 14±15). Thismay occur to such an extent that persons are incorrectly understood as simply the ``socializedproducts'' of societal forces.Weber argues, to the contrary, that persons are capable of interpreting their social realities, bestowing``subjective meaning'' upon certain aspects of it, and initiating independent action: ``[We are] cultural beings endowedwith the capacity andwill to take a deliberate stand toward theworld and to lend itmeaning (Sinn)'' (Weber, 1949, p. 81; translation altered, original emphasis). There is, to Weber, a realm of freedomand choice.

TERPRETIVE UNDERSTANDING AND SUBJECTIVE MEANING At the core of Weber's sociology stands the attempt by sociologists to ``understand interpretively'' (verstehen) the ways in which persons view their own ``social action.'' This subjectively meaningful action constitutes the social scientist's concern rather than merely reactive or imitative behavior (as occurs, for example, when persons in a crowd expect rain and simultaneously open their umbrellas). Social action, he insists, involves both a ``meaningful orientation of behavior to that of others'' and the individual's interpretive, or reflective, aspect (Weber, 1968, pp. 22±4). Persons are social, but not only social. They are endowedwith the ability to actively interpret situations, interactions, and relationships by reference to values, beliefs, interests, emotions, power, authority, law, customs, conventions, habits, ideas, etc. Sociology. . . is a science that offers an interpretive understanding of social action and, indoingso, provides acausal explanationof its courseand its effects.We shall speak of ``action'' insofar as the actingindividual attaches a subjectivemeaning to his behavior be it overt or covert, omission or acquiescence. Action is ``social'' insofar as its subjective meaningtakes account of the behavior of others and is
thereby oriented in its course. (Weber, 1968, p. 4; translation altered, original emphasis) This central position of meaningful action separates Weber's sociology fundamentally fromall behaviorist, structuralist, and positivist schools. Sociologists can understand the meaningfulness of others' action either through ``rational understanding,'' which involves an intellectual grasp of the meaningactors attribute to their actions, or through ``intuitive,'' or ``empathic,'' understanding, which refers to the comprehension of ``the emotional context in
which the action [takes] place'' (Weber, 1968, p. 5). Thus, for example, the motivation behind the orientation of civil servants to impersonal statutes and laws can be understood by the sociologist, as can the motivation behind the orientation of good friends to one another. To the extent that this occurs, a causal explanationof action,Weber argues, is provided. Because it attends alone to external activity, stimulus/response behaviorismneglects the issues foremost to Weber: the diversepossiblemotives behindanobservable activity, the manner in which the subjective meaningfulness of the act varies accordingly, and the significant differences that follow in respect to action.
THE FOUR TYPES OF SOCIALACTION AND SUBJECTIVE MEANING Social action can be best conceptualized as involvingone of ``four types ofmeaningful action'': means±end rational, value-rational, affectual, or traditional action. Each type refers to the ideal typical (see below) motivational orientations of actors. Weber defines action as means±end rational (zweckrational) ``when the end, the means, and the secondary results are all rationally taken into account and weighed. This involves a rational consideration of alternativemeans to the end, of the relations of the end to the secondary consequences, and finally of the relative importance of different possible ends.'' Similarly, persons possess the capacity to act value-rationally, even though this type of action has appeared empirically in its pure form only rarely. It exists when social action is ``determined by a conscious belief in the value for its own sake of some ethical, aesthetic, religious, or other formof behavior, independently of its prospects of
success. . . .Value-rational action always involves `commands' or `demands' which, in the actor's opinion, are binding(verbindlich) on him.'' Notions of honor involve values, as do salvation doctrines. In addition, ``determined by the actor's specific affects and feelingstates,'' affectual action, which involves an emotional attachment, must be distinguished clearly from value-rational and meansendrational action.Traditional action, ``determinedby ingrained habituation'' and age-old customs, and often merely a routine reaction to common stimuli, stands on the borderline of subjectively meaningful action. Taken together, these constructs ± the ``types of social action'' ± establish an analytic base that assists conceptualizationof diffuseaction-orientations.Rational action in reference to interests constitutes, toWeber, onlyonepossiblewayof orienting action (seeWeber, 1968, pp. 24±6). Each typeofmeaningful actioncanbe found inall epochs andall civilizations. The social action of even ``primitive'' peoples may be means±end rational and value-rational (see, for example, Weber, 1968, pp. 400, 422±6), and modern man is not endowed with a greater inherent capacity for either type of action thanhis ancestors.However, as a result of identifiable social forces, some epochs may tend predominantly to call forth a particular type of action. Weber is convinced that, by utilizing the types of social action typology, sociologists can understand ± and hence explain causally even the ways in which the social actionof persons livingin radically different cultures is subjectivelymeaningful.
Assuming that, as a result of intensive study, researchers have succeeded in becoming thoroughly familiarwith a particular social context and thus capable imagining themselves ``into'' it, an assessment can be made of the extent to which actions approximate one of the types of social action. The subjective meaningfulness of the motives for these actions ± whether means±end rational, value-rational, traditional, or affectual ± then becomes understandable.
Weber's ``interpretive sociology'' in this manner seeks to help sociologists to comprehend social action in terms of the actor's own intentions. This foundational emphasis uponapluralismofmotives distinguishes Weber's sociology unequivocally from all schools of behaviorism, all approaches that place social structures at the forefront (for example, those rooted inDurkheim's ``social facts'' orMarx's classes), andall positivist approaches that endownorms, roles, and ruleswithadeterminingpower over persons. Evenwhen social action seems tightly bonded to a social structure, a heterogeneity of motives must be recognized. A great array of motives within a single ``external form'' is, Weber argues, both analytically and empirically possible and sociologically significant. The subjective meaningfulness of action varies even within the firm organizational structure of the political or religious sect. Yet just this reasoning leads Weber toaconundrum: forwhat subjective reasonsdopersonsorient their social action in common, such that demarcated groupings are formulated? This question assumes a great urgency, for he is convinced that the absence of such orientations ± toward, for example, the state, bureaucratic organizations, traditions, andvalues ±means that ``structures'' cease toexist.The state, for example, in the end is nothing more than the patterned action-orientations of its politicians, judges, police, civil servants, etc.

Far from formal methodological postulates only, these foundational distinctions directly anchor Weber's empirical studies, as will become apparent. The investigation of the subjective meaning of action stood at the very center, for example, of his famous ``Protestant ethic thesis.''YetWeber engaged in a massive empirical effort to understand the subjectivemeaningof ``the other'' on its own terms throughout his comparative-historical sociology, whether, for example, that of the Confucian scholar, the Buddhist monk, the Hindu Brahmin, the prophets of theOld Testament, feudal rulers, monarchs and kings, or functionaries in bureaucracies. For what subjective reasons do people render obedience to authority? Weber wished to understand the diverse ways in which persons subjectively ``make sense'' of their activities. He argued that sociologists should attempt to do so even when the subjective ``meaning-complexes'' they discover seem strange or odd to them.


The Original cover of the book

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (PESC) ([1904-1905]1930) addressed an association that had been long recognized but hitherto unexplained. Capitalistic enterprises appeared to flourish in Protestant inhabited areas, more so than in Catholic areas. This statistical evidence was of the same nature as Durkheim’s observation that suicide rates were lower in Catholic areas and countries, compared with Protestant regions. Given these facts, how can the respective issues be explained? For Durkheim, the explanation resided in the suicidogenic forces that different levels of collective consciousness generated; forces generated at the level of society act as external forces on people’s individual lives. For Weber, the emergence of the distinctive form of modern capitalism, as systematically rational, is an effect or repercussion of individually held meanings. The everyday behaviour of Puritans is the outcome of a religiously determined psychology where individuals look inward to their conscience as a regulator of their actions. Puritanism, in its various forms—and Weber provides historical case studies of Calvinism, Pietism, Methodism, and the Baptist sects—is a religion of reform that constantly admonishes the individual to control and monitor his or her conduct. Puritanism abolished the mediation of church and confession, made accessible sacred texts in the vernacular language, and placed an enormous responsibility on each person to remain pure according to the salvation message of the sacred text. The case of Calvinism is psychologically more complex, for here, actions alone do not suffice to secure salvation and avoid damnation. Calvinist beliefs posited the idea of predestination: that an unknown and unseen god has already determined the salvation of each individual prior to his or her birth. The resulting salvation anxiety was allayed by acting as if one had been chosen (predestined) to go to heaven.

Weber’s social-cultural theory identifies an irrational belief held with great intensity as a crucial causal factor in the development of modern capitalism. These beliefs more generally, cultural meanings—result in a systematic style of life. The Puritans avoid pleasure, they work hard, they save their money. Weber refers to this as “inner-worldly” asceticism. A lifestyle as austere and pleasure averse as the Puritans involves training. In Christianity, as well as other religions, asceticism is practised by monks, usually within the closed community of the monastery. Weber terms this “other-worldly” asceticism. Monasteries are cut off from the rest of the world and follow their own regime of disciplined observance. The Puritan lives within the world, carrying out normal social and work activities. Strong religious meanings structure the personality of the Puritan, permitting an ascetic style of life carried on within the world with all its temptations of a more relaxed code of life. The Puritan always is aware of the salvation message. This is his or her “calling” or vocation. Religious beliefs become solidified in ascetic practice, and Weber terms this a style of life (Lebensstil) or a conduct of life (Lebensführung). In a further step in his argument, Weber holds that conduct of life is passed on as a social form, irrespective of its religious origins. He provides the example of the American entrepreneur, scientist, and diplomat, Benjamin Franklin, whose father was a Calvinist. Franklin was secular in his outlook but nevertheless retained the discipline of his upbringing. Indeed, he formulated a kind of lifestyle handbook that provided an instruction manual on how to get on in business and life by improving one’s ability to work. Once this attitude or mentality becomes generalized through a population (here a Protestant population), the social scientist can then frame the thesis that such a mentality will
have significant economic consequences. In causal terms, Weber frames this as codetermination. There already existed in Northwestern Europe fairly advanced forms of capitalist trade, banking, technology, and legal frameworks. Puritanism did not produce capitalism “out of a hat”;
Puritan sects that settled in Patagonia did not produce an economic miracle; they remained farmers. But where this systematic, sober, rational approach to life existed in conjunction with an already developing capitalism, then to use Weber’s phrase there was an “elective affinity” between the two. There occurred a sort of chemical bonding, to produce the distinctively new compound, modern rational capitalism.


DEAL TYPES AS ``STANDARDS'' As noted, the ideal types of E&S, as conceptual tools, ``document'' patterned social action and demarcate its ``location.'' In addition, when utilized as ``standards'' against which the patterns of action under investigation can be compared and ``measured,'' they enable the clear definition of this action. A vast diversity of ideal types of varying scope are formulated in this analytic treatise (for example, feudalism, patriarchalism,
missionary prophecy, priests, the Oriental city, natural law, canon law, asceticism, warriors). Perhaps most influential in sociology have been two of Weber's ideal types: ``types of rulership'' and ``status groups.'' Rather than a ``social fact,'' an expression of natural laws, or an inevitable
culmination of historical evolutionary forces, rulership implies for Weber nothingmore than theprobability that adefinablegroupof individuals (as a result of variousmotives)will orient their social action togiving commands, that another definable groupwill direct their social action toobedience (as a result of various motives), and that commands are in fact, to a sociologically relevant degree, carriedout. In his famous formulation, rulership refers ``to the probability that
a command with a given specific content will be obeyed by a given group of persons'' (ibid., p. 53). Itmay be ascribed to diverse individuals, such as judges, civil servants, bankers, craftsmen, and tribal chiefs. All exercise rulershipwherever obedience is claimed and in fact called forth (ibid., pp. 941, 948). Weber's major concern focuses upon legitimate rulership, or the situation in
which a degree of legitimacy is attributed to the rulership relationship. For this reason, obedience, importantly, acquires avoluntaryelement.Whether anchored in unreflective habit or custom, an emotional attachment to the ruler or fear of him, values or ideals, or purelymaterial interests anda calculationof advantage, a necessary minimum of compliance, unlike sheer power, always exists in the case of legitimate rulership (ibid., p. 212).

To Weber, the establishment of a rulership relationship's legitimacy through material interests alone is likely to be relatively unstable. On the other hand, purely value-rational and affectual motives can be decisive only in ``extraordinary'' circumstances. Amixture of customand ameans±end rational calculation of material interest generally provides the ``motive for compliance'' in everyday situations (ibid., pp. 213±14, 943).Yet, inhis analysis, thesemotives alonenever form a reliable and enduringfoundation for rulership. A further element at least aminimumbelief on thepart of the ruled in the legitimacyof the rulership is crucial: ``In general, it should be kept clearly inmind that the basis of every rulership, and correspondingly of every kindofwillingness toobey, is a belief, a belief by virtue of which persons exercisingrulership are lent prestige'' (ibid., p.263).26 In essence, rulers seek to convince themselves of their right to exercise rulership and attempt to implant the notion amongthe ruled that this right is deserved. If they succeed, awillingness to obey arises that secures their rule far more effectively thandoes force or power. The character of the typical belief, or claim to legitimacy, provides Weber with the criteria he utilizes to classify the major types of legitimate rulership into ideal-typical models (see ibid., p. 953).
Why do people obey authority? From the vantage point of his broad-ranging comparative and historical studies, Weber argues that all ruling powers, ``profaneor religious, political aswell asunpolitical,'' canbeunderstoodas appealing to rational-legal, traditional,orcharismatic principles of legitimation. What typical beliefs establish the ``validity'' of these three ``pure types'' of legitimate rulership?
1 Rational grounds ± resting on a belief in the legality of enacted rules and the right of those elevated torulershipunder suchrules to issue commands(legal rulership).
2 Traditional grounds ± resting on an established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of those exercising rulership under them (traditional rulership). Charismatic grounds ± resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism, or exemplarycharacterof an individual person, andof the orders revealed or ordained by him(charismatic rulership) (ibid., p. 215). Under the motto, ``it is written ± but I say unto you,'' this mission opposes all existingvalues, customs, laws, rules, and traditions (ibid., pp. 1115±17). These issues define the ``rulership'' domain and distinguish action oriented to it from action in the other domains.
Weber'swidelydiscussedmodel of ``rational-legal'' rulership is manifest in the bureaucratic organization. In industrial societies, heargues, this typeof rulership becomes all-pervasive. It is legitimated by a belief in properly enacted rules and ``objective'' modes of procedure, rather than by persons or reference to the legitimacy of traditions established in the past. Thus, bureaucratic administration stands in radical opposition to both charismatic rulership and all types of traditional rulership (patriarchalism, feudalism, patrimonialism). The subsumption of diverse social action under stable prescriptions, regulations, and rules accounts for its comparative technical superiority vis-aÁ-vis traditional and charismatic rulership. Rights andduties are defined and, by virtue of a position in a hierarchy, empower ``a superior'' to issue commands and expect obedience:
``Orders are given in the name of an impersonal norm rather than in the name of apersonal authority; andeven the givingof a commandconstitutes obedience toward a norm rather than an arbitrary freedom, favor, or privilege'' (Weber, 1946e, pp. 294±5; see also 1968, pp. 229, 945, 1012).
Moreover, in a systematic fashion, bureaucracies orient labor toward general rules and regulations.Work occurs in offices, on a full-time basis, and involves the formulation of written records and their preservation; employees are appointed and rewarded with a regular salary as well as the prospect for advancement. And work procedures maximize calculation: through an assessment of single cases in reference toa set of abstract rules or aweighingofmeans and ends, decisions can be rendered in a predictable and expedient manner. Compared to the traditional forms of rulership, such decisions occur with less equivocation: arenas of jurisdiction, task specialization, competence, and responsibility for eachemployeearedelimitedon the onehand by administrative regulations and on the other hand by technical training. This technical training
canbemost effectivelyutilizednot onlywhen realms of competence are defined, but also if an unquestioned hierarchy of command reigns inwhich ``each lower office is under the control and supervisionof ahigher one.'' Rulership, including a superior's access to coercive means, is distributed in a stable manner and articulated by regulations (Weber, 1968, pp. 223, 975). Weber's model emphasizes that a ``formal rationality'' reigns in bureaucracies: problems are solved and decisions made by the systematic and continuous means end rational orientation of action to abstract rules, which are enacted through discursively analyzable procedures and applied universally. Because decision-making and the giving of commands takes place in direct reference to these rules, bureaucracies typically imply compared to the traditional and charismatic types of rulership± the reduction of affectual and traditional action.

Many of Weber's ideal types not only facilitate the clear conceptualization of specific cases or developments, but alsodelineate hypotheses that canbe testedagainst specific cases and developments ± indeed, in such a manner that discrete and significant causal regularities of social action can be isolated. Ideal types are employed inE&S as hypothesis-formingmodels in fourmajor ways. Their dynamic character is the focus of Weber's first type of model. Rather than beingstatic, ideal types are constituted from an array of regular action orientations. Relationships ±delimited, empirically testable hypotheses among these action-orientations are implied. Second, contextual models that articulate hypotheses regarding the impact of specific social contexts upon patterned action are constructed in E&S. Third, when examined in reference to one another, ideal types may articulate logical interactions of patterned, meaningful action. Hypotheses regarding ``elective affinity'' and ``antagonism'' relationships across ideal types abound in E&S. Fourth, Weber utilizes ideal types to chart analytic developments. Each model hypothesizes a course of regular action, or a ``developmental path.''

He insists that the typical immersion of sociologists deeply in empirical realities requires such constructs if significant causal action-orientations are to be identified, all themore owingto the fundamental character of empirical reality ± for him, an unending flow of events and happenings ± and the continuous danger that all causal inquiry all too easily becomes mired in an endless description-based regression. By constructing arrays of models in E&S that conceptualize patterned, meaningful action, Weber aims to draw sociology away from an exclusive focus upon delineated social problems on the one hand and historical narrative on the other hand.Nonetheless, he steadfastly avoids the other side of the spectrum; groundedempirically, hismodelsnevermove to the level of broad, diffuse generalizations. Rather, these research tools offer limitedhypotheses that can be tested against specific cases and developments. ToWeber, unique to the sociological enterprise is always a back and forthmovement between conceptualization ± the formulation of models and theoretical frameworks ± and the detailed investigationof empirical cases anddevelopments. If thegoal of offering causal explanations of the ``historical individual'' is to be realized, both the empirically particular and conceptual generalization are indispensable.

Further reading:

Weber: Selection and translation. Click here for the book

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