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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

Sunday 18 December 2011

Psychological Anthropology


Psychological Anthropology approaches the comparative study of human experience, behavior, facts, and artifacts from a dual socio-cultural and psychological most often psychodynamic perspective. It emerged in the early twentieth century as an attempt to understand our common humanity, led by such figures as Franz Boas and his students Edward Sapir, Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Melville Herskovits. Psychological anthropology displays an arc of theoretical approaches ranging from scientific positivism, which embraces objectivity and the scientific method, through various hermeneutic humanisms that emphasize the role of subjectivity in fieldwork and writing (Suárez-Orozco 1994). Its origins are rooted from theoretical concept developed by F. Boas and his students termed as Culture and Personality. Culture and personality was a broad and unorganized movement that brought together anthropologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists who agreed on the mutual relevance of their disciplines but lacked a common theoretical position, an acknowledged leader, and an institutional base. Its founders were Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Edward Sapir, all students of Franz Boas, whose influential concept of culture had implied a psychological dimension they attempted to spell out and translate into research. They argued that culture played a role in individual psychological development (Mead) and in the emotional patterns typical of particular cultures (Benedict), and also that individuals of a particular society realized its culture in different ways (Sapir).

The Freud minded anthropologists: Anthropology and psychoanalysis

Some early modern anthropologists became intrigued by many aspects of psychoanalytic theory, developed by Sigmund Freud that could be applied to the study of culture. In 1900, he published his first great book, The Interpretation of Dreams. By 1910, Freud had turned his interests to a demonstration of how psychoanalysis could help to explain how cultural institutions arise and how they function. His book Totem and Taboo, published in 1913, had a dramatic impact, attracting to psychoanalytic theory such influential “Freudians” as Erich Fromm, Ernest Jones, J. C. Frügel, Geza Róheim, George Devereux, and Erik Erikson. In arguing that social prohibitions – “taboos” – were comparable to the self-imposed inhibitions of “neurotic” individuals, Freud sought to explain why taboos such as those surrounding rulers and the dead came into being and how they were maintained. The Freudian impact focused psychological anthropologists on child training, including such often criticized topics as toilet training, and on the general question of the relationship between personality and culture. In 1928 one of Freud’s disciples, Hungarian Geza Róheim, went to the Aranda of Central Australia to describe what he called “delayed infancy,” the length of time that humans are dependent on adults. He argued that each culture is founded on a specific childhood trauma which produces the type of personality of people in that society. Other Freudian scholars such as Weston LaBarre, Bruno Bettleheim, and George Devereux produced influential work as well, but their psychoanalytic writings were soon eclipsed by an emerging field known as culture and personality.

The culture and personality school:

Edward Sapir was the first to describe the unconscious configuration of grammar and sound, and his work led to the study of how personality and culture were configured.
In her book Patterns of Culture, published in 1934, Ruth Benedict compared the basic configurations of culture and personality among the Pueblo and Plains Indians, the Kwakiutl of the Northwest Coast, and the Dobu of Melanesia. Portraying the Pueblo Indians as “Apollonian,” the Plains Indians as “Dionysian,” the Dobuans as “Paranoid,” and the Kwakiutl as “Megalomaniac,” Benedict argued each culture had its own personality and that because some individuals could not cope with their culture’s demands they became alienated and frustrated. Her book was enormously popular, making her one of the best known anthropologists of all time.
Benedict’s friend and colleague, Margaret Mead, was also a major psychological anthropologist. She helped to found configurationism, but went on to make important contributions to many other areas of psychological anthropology, including childhood development, sex roles and temperament, personality and culture change, national character, and cross-cultural socialization. Her first three books were based on her fieldwork in the South Pacific: Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), Growing Up
in New Guinea (1930), and Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935). Mead also wrote numerous articles in popular magazines, her name becoming a household word.
While Mead was having her early impact on psychological anthropology, anthropologists Cora DuBois, Ralph Linton, and Thomas Gladwin joined psychoanalyst Abram Kardiner in the study of “basic” and “modal” personality. The attempt to measure modal personality led to the widespread use of projective tests, especially the Rorschach and Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). During the
1940s and 1950s the Rorschach was widely used. One of the most widely known uses of this test was by A. F. C. Wallace among the Iroquois Indians in New York. He found that only 26 of the 70 individuals tested fell into a modal class, although another 16 were close to this class (Wallace 1952).

National character studies:

The next major development in psychological anthropology was the study of national character – the personality of most members of an entire nation. Characterizations of the national character of the British, Germans, French, Italians, and other Europeans go far back in history. In 1928, for example, Salvador de Madariaga wrote Englishmen, Frenchmen and Spaniards, contrasting English “action” with Spanish “emotion” and French “thought.” But it was the eruption of World War II that initiated the empirical study of the national character of our enemies and even our allies. As early as 1939, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Eliott Chapple, and other anthropologists tried to devise ways that psychological anthropology could support the war effort. After the United States entered the war, others moved to Washington, where they attempted to analyze the national character of the Japanese and the Germans. Ruth Benedict did much research on the Japanese, trying to reconcile their restrained aestheticism with their fanatical militarism. Although her book The Chrysanthemum
and the Sword (1946) has been roundly criticized by Americans and Japanese alike, it was studied by US military leaders and used by the postwar MacArthur occupation forces. Benedict considered it her finest work. In Escape From Freedom (1941) Erich Fromm tried to explain the appeal of Nazism to the German people in terms of their national authoritarian personality. Such a person is obedient and subservient to superiors, but overbearing and scornful to social inferiors. Walter C. Langer wrote
The Mind of Adolf Hitler for the American Office of Strategic Services soon after the war broke out, but it was not published for the public until 1973. Erik Erikson also studied Hitler for US military, characterizing him as a superhuman leader who created terror among his followers and involved them in crimes which they could not deny.

Modal personality studies:

Other scholars studied American modal personality. Margaret Mead wrote And Keep Your Powder Dry in 1942 as a wartime morale booster. Geoffrey Gorer wrote The American People in 1948, arguing that the American and British national characters contrasted dramatically. David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Reuel Denney followed with The Lonely Crowd in 1950, describing Americans as “other-directed,” constantly scanning their environment for cues to the correct attitudes and behaviors. They also emphasized perceived American behaviors of rivalry, jealousy, and individualism. Philip Slater, in his book The Pursuit of Loneliness (1970), suggested that our core of individualism must be replaced in our value system if our society is to remain viable, while the Chinese-born anthropologist Francis L. K. Hsu argued American national character is one of self-reliance, the search for political, economic, and social equality.

The Cross Cultural Research Strategy:

There were other studies of national character as well, but this kind of approach increasingly came under fire from many quarters for its political prejudice and lack of objectivity, as well as its assumption that there was a causal relationship between culture and personality. The most powerful criticism came from someone within culture and personality itself, Melford E. Spiro. In 1951 he wrote a detailed article in the journal Psychiatry entitled “Culture and Personality: The National History of a False Dichotomy,” arguing persuasively that the field of culture and personality had failed to show any causal relationship between culture and personality because the development of personality and the acquisition of culture were a single process.
In response to criticisms like that of Spiro, the study of culture and personality fell by the wayside to be replaced by a new cross-cultural comparative research strategy championed by G. P. Murdock, who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of world ethnography. Murdock established the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) at Yale, making available a host of cross-indexed data on hundreds of non-Western societies. One of Murdock’s students was John W. M. Whiting, whose earliest field research in New Guinea provided rich empirical data about the process of socialization. Joined by psychologist Irvin L. Child, Whiting then employed what they called the correlational method of testing hypotheses utilizing HRAF data. This work resulted in their influential book Child Training and Personality (1953). Other correlational research appeared as well. At the same time, Robert A. LeVine and Melford E. Spiro, both of whom were trained in anthropology and psychoanalysis, carried out ethnographic field research on various ways in which people adapt psychologically to the world in which they live. Spiro focused on Burma and LeVine worked in East Africa. While they produced their stimulating findings, John Whiting and his wife Beatrice were developing their highly influential “Six Cultures Project.” Six pairs of investigators, usually husband and wife teams, were sent to six different societies to observe the behavior of children aged three to eleven as they interacted with infants, other children, and adults, in an effort to learn in what ways culture impacts children’s lives. Their findings were presented in three major books: Six Cultures (1963), Mothers of Six Cultures (1964), and Children of Six Cultures (1974). The research was the most meticulous yet conducted and it continues to attract attention. However, it did not lead to any conceptual breakthroughs. At the same time that the Whitings were carrying out their intensive data collection, a team organized by Walter Goldschmidt was conducting controlled interviews and observations with samples from eight populations in East Africa, searching for psychological and behavioral differences between farmers and pastoralists. The Individual in Cultural Adaptation: A Study of Four East African Societies (1971) is Robert Edgerton’s assessment of the changing lives of individuals living in four of these eight East African societies. He demonstrated the variability of psychological adaptations within and across social and cultural settings.

The habitus and mind:

One of the key texts to prompt a re-examination of anthropological theories of mind, at least among European anthropologists, has been Bourdieu’s Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977). He argued that the anthropologist observer was bound to produce a distorted account because, in making the lives of others an object of analysis, the anthropologist re-ordered the dynamic flow of people’s day-to-day practice into a set of explicit ‘representations’ or worse, ‘rules’ for behaviour. But in going about our own everyday lives, in doing the things we do and saying what we say, our behaviour is so highly nuanced, so subtly accommodating to novel situations, that we cannot be following ‘rules’ or acting in terms of ‘representations’; it follows that there is no reason to suppose that others are doing so. Bourdieu proposed the idea of the ‘habitus’ a set of predispositions to certain behaviours inculcated in the course of socialization, to account for the way that people everywhere come to have a ‘sense’ of how to behave, and thus to take for granted their own ideas and practices as right, as the only proper way of being in the world. But Bourdieu’s habitus, while it almost managed to collapse the mind-body distinction, was not sufficiently well theorized to bring about a paradigm shift in respect of theories of mind.
Nevertheless, Bourdieu’s theory of the habitus as embodied practice has been fruitful in forcing anthropologists to recognize that mind is constituted in practice by persons relating to one another as subjects. In other words, I do not relate to others as if they were simply objects in my world, but as persons who, like me, are the active subjects of their own actions. Moreover, I do not have to reflect continually upon what I do because my habitual mode of being in the world—for example, the way I walk, eat, talk, feel and in general relate to others is constituted by me over time and embodied in me as taken for granted, as ‘the way I am’, and as such may never be made the object of conscious scrutiny.

Phenomenology and Embodied mind:

The focus on practice has developed alongside attempts to use the insights of phenomenology to analyse ‘embodied mind’. Here the theoretical emphasis is on the body as ‘the existential ground of culture’ and thus as at once manifesting and constituting mind (see, for example, Csordas 1990). A phenomenological perspective is becoming increasingly important for theory in contemporary anthropology and biology, and is beginning to penetrate academic psychology (see, for example, Varela et al., 1991).
As a school of philosophy, phenomenology strives at once to render transparent the validity of the variety of human experience of the world and to show how this variety is referrable to the processes through which mind is constituted. Anthropological studies that take a phenomenological perspective tend to focus on how human beings ‘live their world’, on how they come to embody their consciousness of that world as a function of experience that is always mediated by meaning, even while it is always concrete and material—that is to say, real and lived. By the same token the reality of lived experience crucially informs the processes by which we make meaning. A remarkable ethnographic example of the relevance to anthropology of a radical phenomenological approach is provided by Jadran Mimica’s work on the counting system and conception of number of the Iqwaye of Papua New Guinea. Mimica shows how the binary mathematic of the Iqwaye ‘is generated on human fingers and toes…[and] although this systematic expression has a very concrete, indeed substantial, form, the number is simultaneously constituted in it as an abstraction’ (1988:7). Moreover he is able to show how the cognitive structures that are constitutive of the Iqwaye system of counting ‘became entangled and developed as a unified mathematical form in relation to the Iqwaye view of the cosmos, their system of kinship and marriage’ (ibid.: 140). By virtue of his analysis of the specific characteristics of Iqwaye rationality, Mimica’s anthropological theorizing is also a systematic critique of Western mathematics as a form of cultural knowlege. By demonstrating the validity of the Iqwaye conception of number Mimica throws into question the taken-for-granted Western assumption that our vaunted ‘scientific objectivity’ is the only valid form of knowing the world. This critical perspective is intrinsic to an understanding of mind as embodied for, as the phenomenological psychology of Merleau-Ponty makes plain, perception is immanent in consciousness (see Merleau-Ponty [1945] 1962). In other words, if perception is not, as most cognitivists assume it to be, an autonomous process that precedes and is theoretically separable from conscious experience, then we can no longer hold to the idea that the facts and, more particularly, the scientific facts are ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered. In Merleau-Ponty’s view, intentionality as a function of embodied mind has to be considered as historically constituted.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Social Institution (Brief idea)



Any pattern of behaviour which by repetition, traditional sanction and legal reinforcement acquires a degree of coercion could be described as a social institution: marriage would be a good example. The use of the term institution in sociology, meaning established aspects of society, is close to that in common English usage. However, there have been some changes over time in the exact conceptualization of the term, and there are differences in the analytical precision with which it is used. In some ways an institution can be seen as a sort of ‘super-custom’, a set of mores, folkways, and patterns of behaviour that deals with major social interests: law, church, and family for example. Thus, a social institution consists of all the structural components of a society through which the main concerns and activities are organized, and social needs (such as those for order, belief, and reproduction) are met. Social institutions are forever being modified because they rest on repetition
(and hence may change if large numbers of people stop acting in accordance with them or become selective in precisely how they will support them) but they have a degree of solidity that allows us to forget that they are human creations. In many traditional societies social institutions are bolstered by being given supramundane origins: marriage, for example, is often presented as a divine obligation. Modern societies are more likely to admit the human origins of social institutions and justify them by claims for efficiency: in the West marriage is now commonly defended with the claim that it provides the most effective way of meeting a wide variety of personal and social needs.
A very useful way of grouping social institutions is as follows:
(a) kinship institutions deal with marriage, the family and primary socialisation;
(b) political institutions regulate access to and the use of power;
(c) cultural institutions deal with religious, artistic and scientific activities;
(d) stratification institutions deal with the distribution of social positions and resources; and
(e) economic institutions produce and distribute goods and services.
A term used to describe the adverse psychological effects on individuals of residence in institutions, especially of long stays in large-scale institutions, such as mental hospitals and prisons. Most frequently mentioned effects, whose precise causes are debated, are dependency, passivity, and lethargy. These effects are sometimes termed institutionalism. Therefore, institutionalisation is the process whereby social practices become sufficiently regular and continuous to be described as institutions. The notion is a useful corrective to the view that institutions are given and unchanging entities, indicating that changes in social practice both modify existing institutions and created novel forms. This is the correlate of the idea in role theory that people have some freedom to role make in their interactions with others and do not simply act our prescribed patterns of behaviour.


The concept of institution is widely used in sociology, though often without precise specification. Different schools of sociology treat it in different ways. For example, funcionalists can see institutions as fulfilling the needs of individuals or societies. This is the sense in which Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore (1945) used the term. For both of whom it was central to the notion of society as an organism or functioning system. However, as the functionalist perspective gave way to ideas based on society as being in a state of flux, with fewer consensuses over values, so the functionalist association between institution and function also withered away. The phenomenologists may concentrate on the way in which people create or adapt institutions rather than merely respond to them.
The new institutional theory, developed in the 1970s and 1980s. The basic proposition is that the actions of organisations are not determined solely by the logic of economic and technological factors, but also by the institutions which comprise their social environments. These include, for example, the state, professions, and other organisations, together with the values of culture of the broader society in which an organisation is embedded. Institutional pressures influence both organisational goals and means.
It follows from the basic proposition that organisations within a particular institutional environment should tend to be similar. For example, it is a leager rewuirement of the Germand system of Industrial democracy in large firms that employees’ representatives occupy a certain proportion of seats on company’s top board of directors and that managers also consult regularly with employees about workplace issues vial works councils. This legal framework, enacted by the state, reflects, and is reinforced by, a wider culture that values participative management. Thu business organisations in Germany are likely o share similarities in their stricture and how they are managed and to doffer from organisations in, say, the UK or USA. Institutionalists contend that organisations select institutionalised practices which are appropriate within a particular environment.
Institutional theory is a useful corrective to the notion that there is a simple link between economic and technological variables and how organisations act. This link is made in the contingency approach to organisational theory and also in the rational profit-maximising assumptions of neo-classical economics.
The current concept of institution is more fluid, seeing the family or church, for instance, as comprising changing patterns of behaviour based on relatively more stable value systems. This allows sociologists to consider the moral ambivalence of human behaviour as well as its creative effects on social change. In addition to these more global and theoretical concerns, there is also a tradition of the ethnographic study of institutions that constrain, or from some points of view determine, the behaviour of specific social groups. Chief among these are Erving Goffman's studies of total institutions—for example the mental hospital (Goffman, 1961).
In a more recent synthesis, Richard Scott (2008) argues:
Institutions are comprised of regulative, normative and cultural-cognitive elements, that, together with associated activities and resources, provide stability and meaning to social life.

Further reading:

Scott, W.R. (2008). Institutions and Organisations. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage

This is a brief introduction to institution (bilingual meant for my college students)

Saturday 5 November 2011


Table of Contents


Michel Foucault, born Paul-Michel Foucault (15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984), was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas. He held a chair at the prestigious Collège de France with the title "History of Systems of Thought," and also taught at the University at Buffalo and the University of California, Berkeley.
In his methodological work Archaeology of knowledge, Foucault begins by questioning the various categories that are commonly used to organise written material, namely the author, the ‘work’ and the book. These categories might appear to be obvious, but on closer examination, this is far from being the case. For instance, are novels, a mathematical text book, or a road map all the same kind of object? Can we simply lump together texts which have been published by an author under his own name, under a pseudonym, or his collected works published after his death, his laundry lists or his insane jottings after he has gone completely mad? By drawing attention to these kinds of uncertainties and the fluidity of categorisation, Foucault aims to demonstrate that the categories we take for granted could quite well be replaced by others based on different organisational principles and assumptions.

Mental illness and psychology (1954):

In this book, Foucault examines how it is that madness comes to be defined as an illness. He argues that organic pathology and mental pathology form two separate orders and the attempt to reduce them to the same thing poses a number of significant problems. He briefly examines the social functioning of madness in non-Western societies, and offers a historical account from the Middle Ages to the present of the Western view of madness. He also addresses the relation between madness and truth in Western history. The characterisation of madness as ‘mental illness’ is a phenomenon, he says, that dates only from the nineteenth century. In many ways Mental Illness and Psychology provides a very useful potted summary of Foucault’s much longer and more elaborate work on madness published in 1961.
Madness and civilisation:
Foucault examines the ways in which a certain experience of the limits of human experience – namely madness – has been given cultural form from the thirteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century in European history.

Key issue:

He deals with the economic, institutional, medical, philosophical, ethical, political, literary and artistic practices which have helped define madness as a cultural and social category and also as an object of knowledge and science.
Foucault argues that during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, madness formed a kind of general conduit for what he terms the ‘tragic experience’ (MC: 31) – namely an awareness of death, truth, other realms and the general fragility of ordinary everyday life. People who were mad were as a consequence granted a kind of grudging respect.
However, this was to change in the seventeenth century with what Foucault terms the ‘Great Confinement’, a movement across Europe which saw the establishment of institutions which locked up people who were deemed to be ‘unreasonable’. This not only included mad people, but the unemployed, single mothers, defrocked priests, failed suicides, heretics, prostitutes, debauchees – in short anyone who was deemed to be socially unproductive or disruptive.
Foucault nominates 1656, the date of the decree which founded the Hôpital Général in Paris, as a symbolic landmark date to indicate this general movement of confinement. He then traces the gradual separation of mad people from other ‘unreasonable’ populations and the final emergence of madness as an object of science towards the end of the eighteenth century. By this stage, madness is no longer a voice reminding all people of the frailty of human existence, but is the silent object of medical science shut away and invisible in institutions. No longer madness, but mental illness. In Foucault’s account, if the avowed aim of psychiatrists and others was to render the treatment of mad people more humane, in removing the physical chains, they merely substituted the far more insidious chains of science and moral training.
Like many of Foucault’s other writings on literature in the 1960s, it is more notable for its poetic rather than its explanatory value. The same themes emerge in The Birth of the Clinic (BC) and if this book on the whole lacks the gothic attractions of Madness and Civilisation, opting for a more restrained approach (notwithstanding a few notable literary outbursts), it has also become a standard text in the history of medicine.

Key issue:

The Birth of the Clinic traces the origins of modern clinical medicine in France at the end of the eighteenth century during the period 1769–1825. Traditional histories of medicine have argued that at this time dubious medical practices based on superstition, magic and a blind reliance on ancient texts were replaced by an enlightened empirical science based on the observation of the real world and data to hand. Foucault, however, provides a different account. What changed, he says, was both how illness and how the doctor were defined and how these two terms were related. It was not that the new doctor suddenly saw what had been invisible to those blinded by superstition and an over reliance on ancient texts, rather, the new doctor started looking in a different way at a differently constructed object of scientific knowledge, namely illness.
If, in Madness and Civilization, Foucault focuses primarily on the changes in the way a particular object (madness) is historically constructed, in The Birth of the Clinic, he also focuses in addition on the way knowers (that is doctors) are constructed. He traces this transformation by examining medical theories and practices as well as political, institutional and social changes in Revolutionary France.
In parallel to his examination of the formation of medical knowledge, Foucault also looks at the political, social and institutional changes which occurred at the same time. It is important to emphasise that in Foucault’s analysis it is not a question of one set of changes ‘influencing’ or ‘causing’ others, but of a complex series of interactions which allow the production of possible objects of knowledge. For example, although institutional and funding structures might favour the development of a particular type of research, these structures in themselves do not determine the eventual research findings. The political and economic situation in France at the end of the eighteenth century produced a radical change in the general social and political status of medicine. From being ‘“The dry and sorry analysis of millions of infirmities” the dubious negation of the negative’ (BC: 34) medicine became linked to the positive political task of establishing a population and a nation State, healthy and productive in mind, body and behaviour. These were themes that Foucault was to develop at length in his work during the 1970s.
Illness is a disorder, a dangerous limit to everyday orderly existence. Science attempts to deal with this disorder by making illness and those who are ill the object of orderly categories of knowledge. Foucault had earlier described an identical process in relation to madness which became the foundation of a new science of psychiatry which also sought to reduce the dangers such limit-experiences represented.
The key term that commentators and researchers have retained from The Birth of the Clinic is ‘the gaze’, a notion that resonates with Foucault’s later popular idea of a society centred around surveillance. In clinical medicine, knowledge was ordered around visible structures. Illnesses displayed themselves in concrete physical symptoms that could be observed and read by doctors who had been taught how to read them. ‘The gaze’ at the end of the eighteenth century was aimed at revealing what had hitherto remained hidden and unseen not only in the physical body but also in the social and political body. Visibility could dissipate both disease and political and social tyranny.
It emerges in a time when French structuralism is full fledged developed theoretical paradigm and this work is hailed by the media as a major contribution to that theory. Being one of the most difficult books by him, it deals with the history and pre-history of the modern disciplines of linguistics, biology and economics from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, with a concluding chapter on the human sciences which include history, sociology, psychoanalysis and ethnology. Foucault was to say later that the book was aimed at a specialist audience of historians of science and scientists (1974e: 524. Cf. 1980e: 267, 270) and there is no doubt that it is hard going for non-specialists – but it was not his specialist findings that made the book famous.

The key issue:

Using historical analysis, he launched a full-scale attack on established post-war philosophies namely humanism, Marxism, phenomenology, existentialism and scientific rationalism. He caused a media storm by declaring that ‘man was dead’ and that Marxism was a mere storm in a children’s paddling pool (OT: 262). As a further aggravation, in the later foreword to the English edition, Foucault heaped scorn on those ‘half-witted “commentators”’ in France who had tried to explain his outrageous critiques of so many ideological icons as one of the hallmarks of ‘structuralism’ (OT: xiv).
In more specific terms, Foucault focuses on the historical transformations affecting three areas of knowledge which up until the end of the eighteenth century were described as general grammar, the analysis of wealth and natural history. He argues that in 19th century these areas were crystallised in philology, political economy and biology. These very diverse areas were organised in very similar ways at the same points in history, and also underwent major reorganisations at roughly the same points in history. Foucault argues that until the end of the sixteenth century in Europe, it was the notion of resemblance that structured knowledge. So, in medicine for instance, if a plant (such as aconite) looked like an eye then this was a sign that it was good for diseases of the eye, just as walnuts which looked like brains were good for head wounds and the brain (OT: 27). All of nature was one huge book which could be read and interpreted by those who knew how to decipher the signs and marks God had left in nature. The scriptures and the books left by Antiquity were on an equal footing with the Book of Nature (OT: 33–4). This structure of knowledge which required people to seek out signs and resemblances and then to interpret them, was replaced by a different system in the seventeenth century which ordered things into tables and compared and measured them against each other. Identity and difference, rather than resemblance, became the way of relating different objects to each other.
If the Renaissance had seen the whole world as a kind of primary language which needed to be made to speak through the secondary languages of commentary and exegesis, the Classical Age which followed it, did away with this ‘massive and intriguing existence of language’ (OT: 79). Hence, argues Foucault, language is no longer a secondary commentary on a primary text, instead it becomes discourse, a way of speaking, arranging and presenting representations of the world in a logical order.
Another shift occurred at the beginning of the nineteenth century and history became the new principle of ordering knowledge, and ‘science’ started to come into its own. Foucault’s discussion of this new configuration is difficult and complex. Knowledge was organised on the principle of stripping away the history that hid its true origins. At the centre of this knowledge was the essence or nature of ‘man’ which could gradually be uncovered by science. The problem with this, Foucault says, is that the idea of a human nature or essence is a metaphysical one – a belief – yet at the same time it has been set up as the object of empirical knowledge – a fact. Foucault argues that because the human sciences rest on this shaky foundation, they are fundamentally flawed in their approach to knowledge. He maintains that another break in knowledge is occurring in the contemporary era and the essence of man as the centre and foundation of all knowledge is dissolving.
After Order of things Foucault produces his archaeology which is a must read for people interested in historiography and method. Foucault describes traditional ways of organising ‘discourse’ such as the work, the author, the great man, the unifying universal subject, cause and effect, and influence, and then systematically takes these categories apart and proposes alternative methods of organisation. He also advocates a principle of discontinuity, by which he means that difference at every level in history should always be drawn attention to, not explained away.
In 1970, upon appointed as a Chair to College de France, Foucault delivered his inaugural lecture, known as Order of Discourse, published in 1971. This short work is usually recognised as the text that marks the transition between Foucault’s works on ‘discourse’ and those on ‘power’. Once again, it is a methodological work and continues Foucault’s attack on traditional ways of writing history. It deals with the way discourse is controlled, limited and defined by exercises of power and draws attention to the way boundaries between the true and the false are erected within this context. The idea of a link between knowledge and power (or various political, economic and institutional arrangements) had always been a theme in Foucault’s work even if it is not overtly stated, but this text marks his first extended use of the word power.
His next major work Discipline and Punish (DP) draws indirectly on his experience in this domain and famously opens with a lurid account of the torture and execution of the regicide Damiens in 1757.

Key issue:

This is followed by a far more sedate description of a prison timetable in 1838. Foucault’s point is that in the intervening period, spectacular corporal punishment disappeared to be replaced by new forms of punishment in the shape of imprisonment and the deprivation of liberty. Traditionally, historians have argued that this change occurred because people and society had become more humane and ‘civilized’. Foucault rejects this kind of explanation and suggests instead that the old methods of punishment had simply become inefficient. Too many wrongdoer were escaping the arm of the law and public executions were no longer acting as a salutary warning to the rest of the populace. Instead public executions were actually inciting people to crime and public disorder, providing the occasion for riots, and all sorts of other minor crimes such as pick-pocketing.
Foucault argues that prison was chosen as the preferred method of punishment in Western Europe, not because it was the most effective means of punishment, but rather because it fitted in best with the emergence of what he describes as a ‘disciplinary society’. By this, he means a certain way of acting upon and training the body and behaviour so that the individuals who make up populations could be easily controlled. This training was enforced and practised through a number of institutions, many of which appeared at the same time as the prison – namely schools, military training institutions, factories, hospitals and so on. The smooth functioning and enforcement of this ‘disciplinary society’ was guaranteed by a system of social surveillance. Foucault uses Jeremy Bentham’s model prison, the Panopticon, to serve as a metaphor for the way this system of surveillance operated and continues to operate within the social body.
Foucault’s book appeared on the scene in the context of severe unrest in prisons in a number of countries, and also amidst intense theoretical discussion focussing on both power and the body – it made a key contribution to these debates. If the book concludes its history in 1840 with the official opening of the model prison camp of Mettray in France, it was read as a damning indictment of the contemporary social order. As Foucault said himself five years after its publication: ‘the research ends in the 1830s. Yet … readers, critics or not, saw it as a description of contemporary society as a society of confinement’ (1980e: 243–4 mod.).

Thursday 13 October 2011

Political Economy in Anthropology

Political economy is characterised by an analytical approach which treats the economy from the point of view of production rather than from that of distribution, exchange, consumption or the market. It does not ignore distribution and exchange but analyses these in relation to the role they play in the production of the material needs of a society, including the need to reproduce and expand the means of production themselves (Dupré and Rey 1978). The field is a vast one and contains many disputes.

Before gaining an insight into the dynamics of political economy approach in Anthropology, it is important to recognise that political economy presents itself as a general theory of society, inequality, politics and culture. Some of the most significant work in political economy has been done in relationship to politics, for example the very important work of the late Eric Wolf (1999). Likewise, it is difficult to understand many of the current approaches to gender inequality in anthropology unless one understands the basis of this in theories of political economy. Here debates

around the earlier work of Lisette Josephides, which explains the inequality of women in Melanesia as deriving from the exploitation of women in the production process, have played critical roles (Josephides 1985; Strathern 1988).

The emphasis on production:

From the point of view of economics, the central concept in political economy is that of the ‘mode of production’. This focus on production is in sharp contrast to various forms of exchange theory, which characterised the work of both the formalist and substantivist schools of economic anthropology and which continues unabated in recent work on anthropological theories of value (Graeber 2001). The political economy approach is also part of a broad Enlightenment metanarrative of progress. At its core this is the question of the nature and significance of history in general and economic history in particular. Analyses of particular societies are placed within a broader schema of social evolution that strongly affects the specific study (Godelier 1978: 216–17). Critical issues which continue to preoccupy anthropologists are the significance of the non-Western economic experience in its own right and from the point of view of Western and world economic history, the related issues of Third-World development and of economic alternatives to globalisation. These issues are addressed in political economy from a distinctive point of view.

The articulation school: Structural Marxism and economic anthropology

The tradition of economic anthropology which falls within the purview of political economy has a Marxist inclination. This tradition of economic anthropology derives from the works of Georg Hegel, and from the critique of British political economy in the work of Karl Marx and of Friedrich Engels. However, there is a vibrant version of political economy which is the application of rational choice theory to political decision making at the collective level in both developed and underdeveloped economies. Practitioners of such brands of political economy, ultimately deriving from the work of Adam Smith, exist in anthropology (Bates 1987).The discussion begins with the themes raised in the work of the most influential group of political economists in the field of anthropology to date; the French structural Marxists, also known as the ‘articulation’ school. This trend arose in the late 1960s and exerted a major influence on economic anthropology and anthropology in general through the entire decade of the 1970s. Here the critical representatives were Claude Meillassoux, Maurice Godelier, Emmanuel Terray, Pierre-Phillipe Rey, Georges Dupré, Marc Auge as well as historians of Africa – Jean Suret-Canale and Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch – with whom they worked closely (Seddon 1978). Today all of these anthropologists have abandoned or substantially modified their theoretical outlook with the consequence that this once highly influential school of economic anthropologists is now largely defunct. Where their influence is still strongly felt is in South African anthropology and social science, where structural Marxism was one of the inspirations leading to the efflorescence of neo-Marxist political economy (Asad and Wolpe 1976). Structural Marxism was primarily an Africanist school, except for Godelier whose speciality is Melanesia. Their work was characterised in particular by a detailed empirical knowledge of the societies of West and Central Africa and Madagascar, which had been a part of the French African colonial empire. This was by no means the first application of a Marxist-influenced political economy in anthropology. The work of Godfrey Wilson and of Ronald Frankenberg, strongly influenced by the more processual functionalism of Max Gluckman, preceded that of the French by decades (Frankenberg 1978; Wilson 1939). This group of early British political economists was not theoretically oriented. They were primarily interested in analysing and documenting empirically the impact of British colonialism: the transformation of land tenure relations; the effects of copper mining in Zambia and of diamond and gold mining in South Africa; the breakdown of ‘tribal cohesion’ in the economies and societies of Central and Southern Africa; the rise of large-scale labour migration, forced or otherwise, leading to urbanisation and ‘detribalisation’. Their work in the application of political economy in anthropology, economics and history was pioneering. It provided an invaluable account of the dire economic and social impact of colonialism in the inter-war and early post-war years.

What was distinctive of the French school, however, was the combination of traditional ethnographic empiricism with a self-consciously theoretical orientation. Strongly influenced by the structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss and the highly abstract structural Marxism of Althusser and Balibar, their intervention was aimed at having a far-reaching impact on anthropological theory in general (Althusser and Balibar 1998). Whereas previous Marxist theoretical interventions tended to distort anthropological knowledge in order to force it into a preconceived schema, their approach was different. Their aim was to use fieldwork as a necessary point of departure for theory. They insisted on a detailed, fine-grained analysis of the economic, political and kinship relationships revealed in their data. On this basis, they approached theory as a construct that should respect and be supported by the data. Part of their influence on economic anthropology was due to this derivation of theory from the familiar fieldwork ethnography long characteristic of anthropology.

As a result of this approach, the French school raised fundamental challenges pertaining to the entire endeavour of economic anthropology. What were the relations of production characteristic of kinship societies? Did exploitation exist within them? What was the connection among production, exchange and the development of markets? How were the main concepts, in particular the central one of ‘mode of production’, to be understood and applied? What was the source of value in such economies and what was the relevance to other concepts of value in economic theory? How were such economies to be understood in the broad sweep of human history? Could the orthodox metanarrative of progress that had always characterised Marxist political economy satisfactorily resolve such issues?

Anthropological political economy in mainstream academia:

As the Structural Marxist approach dominated the economic anthropology in 1970s, anthropological political economy entered the academic mainstream at the same time. At that time two paradigms prevailed in the social sciences: the development and underdevelopment paradigm that emerged to challenge modernization theory, particularly in its focus on newly independent Third World nations; and the modern world-system model of sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein. Anthropological political economy defined itself in contradistinction to both. It would be unrealistic not to relate the emergence of these paradigms to the historical events of these years. Politically, in the Third World, this was an age of advocacy of armed revolution: Mao Tse-tung, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, Regis Debray, Che Guevara, Fanon. Peasant revolutions were clearly the order of the day rather than social science analyses of nation states. The work that most influenced anthropology was that of Samir Amin, Arrighi and Rodney in Africa; and Andre Gunder Frank and Cardoso in Latin America. Eric Wolfs Peasant Wars appeared in 1969.

The term ‘political economy’ became widely used in anthropology during the Vietnam War (1965–73). Teach-in movements in the universities, radical political economic and history journals and a campus movement, Students for a Democratic Society, spearheaded the emergence in the United States of a New Left. The critical thrust of these radical movements was applied to society at home, to the university system, and to anthropology itself in the United States, Britain and France. Critiques of structural anthropology’s representation of African societies, with its emphasis on kinship and its neglect of political economy, appeared in re-evaluations by Kathleen Gough, Peter Worsley and Talal Asad of classic ethnographies. These seminal studies stimulated more explicit discussion of the theories of political economy and their application in Third World countries, by Joel Migdon in Indonesia, for example, and Keith Hart in Africa. An entire cadre of French Marxist anthropologists and Africanists—among them Godelier, Meillassoux, Terray and Coquery-Vidrovitch—became prominent exponents of economic anthropology worldwide. With the emergence of a new group of radical Left scholars within the American academy, Marxism became academically respectable. Propagation by American publishers of the work of European Marxists led to the sequential introduction to anthropology of Lenin, Gramsci, and Althusser. Africanists, for example, drew on Lenin’s thesis of the uneven development of the capitalist economy in agrarian societies and emergent rural differentiation, documenting the increasing pauperization of the mass of the people in Africa’s so-called ‘development decade’. Marxist theories of petty commodity production were criticized by anthropologists, stimulating valuable historical ethnographies of petty commodity production in, for example, Minangkabau in Southeast Asia (Kahn 1980) and the Peruvian Andes in Highland South America (Smith 1989). An intellectual connection with Marxism has, at different times and in different places, both strengthened and undermined anthropological political economy. Yet, when political economy came of age in academic anthropology in 1978 in a special issue of American Ethnologist, it was apparent that there was no one unifying vision or discourse among its self-proclaimed practitioners. Thus when Wolf published a subaltern alternative to prevailing paradigms of expanding western capitalism, Europe and the People without History (1982), his book was subjected to keen debate among anthropological political economists, historians and social scientists. Criticisms of the paradigm it offered both consolidated anthropological political economy and moved it forward.

Studies at periphery:

The end of modernism in anthropology brought no resolution to the problem of employing universalistic analytic categories. What it did bring was a more explicit application of Marxism. The question in anthropological political economy remained one of the relationships between capitalism and those societies conceptually located on its periphery. Was capitalism to be understood as a single world-system or as a heterogeneous assemblage of subsystems which Western capitalism had penetrated to varying degrees? For such peripheral situations, Michael Taussig’s The Devil and Commodity Fetishism (1980) and Jacques Chevalier’s Civilization and the Stolen Gift (1982) provided key texts for a clear formulation of the issues involved. Both provided ethnographies of communities in highland South America. Chevalier found non-capitalist modes of production to be subsumed within the dominant framework of capitalism. Taussig described a cultural system that had internalized the contradictions of capitalism in several different ways but most notably through beliefs in ‘the devil’ as an indigenous critique of commodity forms of exchange and wage relations. In a critical review of the two books Terence Turner urged appreciation not simply of the possible integration of two systems of economic production but of the qualitative differences that might be attached to defining and articulating production itself. With absorption into capitalism, †indigenous peoples lost the ability to define themselves in their own way. Turner thus argued for moving beyond the analysis of economic production to social reproduction. This raised the question of whether on the periphery subsistence might not simply be an alternative mode of production to capitalism but a form of resistance to it. Analyses of such relations in the historically earlier peripheries of Northeast Scotland and colonial Africa had suggested that developing industrial capitalism required a peasant subsistence sector so that the costs of reproduction might be borne by the agrarian sector as both food resources and labour power. The South American peripheral situations suggested the very real need in anthropology to distinguish more precisely between mercantile, industrial and finance capitalism. Discussion of the peripheral situation opened up space beyond the debate between those who saw capitalism as largely determinate of local social systems and those asserting the relative autonomy of local peoples and their cultures. Appreciating that the periphery of capitalism is but the furthest extension of the core (Nugent 1988) is not unrelated to the growing corpus of political economic research carried out in modern Western cities and within the apparatus of the modern state. Thus anthropological political economy provides ethnographies of race in the inner cities, educational discrimination, poverty and the underclass. It has sometimes questioned the validity of sociological paradigms and, indeed, the very way in which phenomena have been defined as problems within complex societies. The current challenge of anthropological political economy is to interrogate its own intellectual equipment.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Anthropology of power

Power is commonly seen as the ability to influence the decision making of the other. In turn power influences the behaviour of the other. Major anthropological descriptions of the dynamics and institutions of power have until recently had a markedly Western bias. Thus, other systems of power often have been described as alternatives or variations of those found in Western industrial contexts. Major issues informing the direction of research appear to have been influenced by the problem of order, as first laid out by Thomas Hobbes (1651) in his discussion of the need for the state. Undoubtedly, the centrality of this question for early anthropologists related to the imperial dominance of the West and the development of anthropology in such a context. An early and important focus of anthropological inquiry concerned so-called "stateless societies." EVANS-PRITCHARD's classic study of the Nuer (1940) became the model for such investigation and demonstrated that the forces located in KINSHIP and other social processes obviated any necessary need for the state in the promotion of order. Evans-Pritchard implied that state forms are a potential, given certain historical conditions such as invasion or colonial conquest, of non-state systems.

Early roots:

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

Power and inequality:

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

Studies on institutional power:

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

Colonial influence over the anthropology of power

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

Concept of Hegemony in anthropology and power:

Hegemony, the concept of totalizing power (in which the state and/or a popular majority dominate, through every means, ‘civil society’) articulated by Gramsci (1971), provided anthropologists with a way to think about pervasive institutionalized power. The Subaltern Studies group (Guha and Spivak 1988), worked through a critical deconstruction of colonial historiography to recognize the powerful ways in which colonial subjects had been left without a voice in strategic discussions of their dentity, resources, and future. Earlier, as anthropologists in the US and in France rethought the political role of intellectuals in reaction to their nations’ protracted war in Vietnam, the concept of hegemony became a way to think about how the state did indeed have agency, through a militarized institutional apparatus, to repress—ideologically, socially, and physically– those citizens who held contradictory views about state actions. That was also a time when, in anthropology, theories of resistance took their cue from political movements.

Foucaultian influence over anthropology of power:

The social theorist who has most shaped anthropologists’ recent discussions of power is Michel Foucault (1980), although not all those writings influenced by him reproduce Foucault’s views of power.
‘Power in the substantive sense, “le” pouvoir, doesn’t exist…power means…a more-or-less organised, hierarchical, co-ordinated cluster of relations’ (1980:198), despite the fact that it ‘is never localised here or there, never in anybody’s hands, never appropriated as a commodity’ (1980:98), never alienable or transferable. Foucault rejects what he calls the juridical/liberal/economic view of power as ‘that concrete power which every individual holds, and whose partial or total cession enables political power or sovereignty to be established’ (1980:88). Yet he sometimes reifies power as beyond individual or even collective control: ‘the impression that power weakens and vacillates…is…mistaken; power can retreat…reorganise its forces, invest itself elsewhere’ (1980:56).
In contrast to the binary views of power articulated by so many, whether cast in terms of gendered power relations focusing on patriarchy and those oppressed by it, or domination and resistance, Foucault saw power as being produced and reproduced through constant social interaction, from many different directions. He countered arguments about power as constituted through structural positions between individuals or social classes with arguments about power as being problematic, contested, and requiring constant, disciplined persuasion to convince those construed as powerless of their powerlessness and those construed as powerful of their powerfulness. Although he wrote about institutional sites as important for reproducing power relations, Foucault (1981:93) described power as ‘not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society’. Influenced by Foucault’s analysis, Kondo (1990:307) stated in her ethnography of the crafting of identity in Japan that power is ‘creative, coercive, and coextensive with meaning’. A view of power as not simply embedded in structural relations—maintained by force of one kind or another—but also as constituted through language and everyday practice (Bourdieu 1991) engendered many ethnographies exploring the specific, historicized ways in which power has been constructed and challenged in different social contexts (cf. Comaroff 1985). Foucault’s work has drawn anthropological attention to the relational aspects of power, with a concentration on the contexts of actions and interpretations, and away from structural control of resources by individuals with fairly static institutional authority. Some critics of Foucault think that attention has strayed, in the late 1980s and 1990s, too far from structural power; some feminist theorists, for example, have argued that Foucault and other writers of postmodern social criticism have—while meaning to eliminate ‘big stories’—replaced binary structural models of power which have been useful for theorizing oppression (especially by those working to understand the social mechanism of their own disempowerment) with a less useful totalizing model of overdetermination (e.g. power is everywhere, thus what social site does one go about working to transform?). They also argue that, once again, the ‘powerless’ have not been left space, or agency, in the discussion to articulate their own theories of power. (This, of course, has continued to happen despite the actions of any social theorist.) The historical focus that Foucault brought to his discussion of the disciplining of bodies and minds through hospitals, prisons, courts, and schools, has had its effect in medical, legal, and educational anthropology, or at least coincided with trends in these and other areas of anthropological study, as more anthropologists have turned from synchronic ethnographic studies to diachronic discussions of social institutions. For example, Emily Martin’s comparative study of birthing practices (1987) demonstrates the institutional ways in which women are empowered or disempowered in relation to control of their own bodies and actions. Anthropologists have been informed, also, by researchers working in sociology and other disciplines on collective—or participatory—research strategies that challenge the epistemological leverage of an ‘expert,’ whether the researcher or some other person asserting ‘legitimate authority’ in a social setting, and recentre the ‘subjects’ of study as those with the power to legitimize research design and documentation.

Further reading:

Cheater, A. (Ed.).(1999). The Anthropology of Power: Empowerment and Disempowerment in Changing Structures. London: Routledge
Lem, W., and Leach, B. (2002). Culture, Economy, Power: Anthropology as Critique and Praxis. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Lewellen, T. C., (2003). Political Anthropology: An Introduction. London: Praeger