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Sunday 24 November 2013

Psychological Anthropology

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). Psychological anthropology, or the study of individuals and their sociocultural communities, helps us to understand what Jackson (1998: 21) refers to as “the many refractions of the core experience that we are at one and the same time part of a singular, particular, and finite world and caught up in a wider world whose horizons are effectively infinite.”
While critiques of ethnocentrism have brought attention to the politics of identity and equality, as well as to the mutual recognitions and attunements that are necessary for coexistence, the relationship and balance of the particular and the universal, the individual and the global, as examined through various life processes, vary dramatically among individuals and across communities. Psychological anthropologists bring unique approaches to these dynamic relations. Ethnopsychological research, in-depth case studies, studies of transference and counter-transference, person-centered ethnographies, and ethnographies of communication, enable psychological anthropologists to draw out the experiential lives of subjects and informants who shape, and are shaped by, their communities.

Psychology and cultural anthropology: Issues and Challenges

There are certain assumptions that make the ground for the disciplinary convergence of psychology and anthropology:
1.       We cannot explain cultural meanings unless we see them as created and maintained in the interaction between the extra-personal and intrapersonal realms. The force and stability of cultural meanings, as well as their possibilities for variation and change, are the outcome of this complex interaction.
2.       Intrapersonal thoughts, feelings, and motives, on one side of this interaction, are not simply copies of extra-personal messages and practices, on the other side, and the dynamics of these realms are different.
3.       Therefore, we need to know how the mind works in order to understand how people appropriate their experience and act on it, sometimes to recreate and other times to change the public social world.
4.       We need to examine socialization in greater detail to learn the concrete forms of extra-personal culture in learners' worlds and to examine what learners internalize at different points in their lives from experiencing these things.
Anthropologists who work at the interface of psychology and anthropology are by and large committed to anthropology as science. Because of the separate epistemological domains of anthropology, psychology, sociology, linguistics, philosophy, ad biology scientists in the latter half of the twentieth century found themselves having to work hard to put the pieces back together again – body and mind, for example. As is often the case, however, new subdisciplinary domains intended to overcome conceptual difficulties served rather to entrench them. The 1970s saw the invention of psychological anthropology, the 1980s brought us cultural psychology, in the 1990s we rediscovered the body and phenomenology, and at the same time witnessed the resurgence of cognitive anthropology which, during the first decade of the twenty-first century would appear to dominate the field, contribution to the development of what is today called cognitive science. Even after all of the fascinating works that has been done in the various sub-fields of anthropology, and despite the explosion of knowledge in other sub-disciplinary domains- neurobiology and neuroscience, for example – the interface between anthropology and psychology at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century continues to throw into relief a question that remains fundamental to the human sciences, including anthropology: how are we to conceive of human beings? The answer we give to this question is important because it structures not only what we currently know about ourselves and others but also what we are capable of finding out.

A genealogy of psychological anthropology:

As early as the mid-1800s, psychology and anthropology shared an interest in the relationship between culture and psychology, and by the 1870s German anthropologists such as Waitz and Bastian joined British anthropologist Edward Tylor in efforts to link culture to psychology. In 1888, Franz Boas was hired by Clark University, where he began his long study of the “mind of primitive man.” Empirical research on this topic soon followed. British psychologist W. H. R. Rivers took part in Cambridge University’s Torres Straits Expedition in 1898. He showed that the same optical illusions that puzzled Europeans had little effect on the native peoples. German psychologist Wilhelm Stern and anthropologist Richard Thurnwald soon after carried out similar research in the South Pacific.

The Freudian impact:

The first theoretical orientation to have an impact on this field came from Freud’s psychoanalytic work. 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.

Culture and Personality School:

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). They criticized psychological theories that posited universals for the human species without taking into account human variability as revealed by anthropological fieldwork in diverse cultures. At the same time, they were influenced by those psychological and psychiatric theories that emphasized social influences on the individual, such as the neo-Freudian formulations of Karen Horney and the interpersonal psychiatry of Harry Stack Sullivan. Although the movement had no formal organization, its anthropological founders were joined at seminars, conferences, and in publications by sociologists, psychologists, and psychoanalysts   including W. I. Thomas, John Dollard, Erik Erikson, Abram Kardiner, Henry A. Murray   and by a growing circle of anthropologists   Ralph Linton, A. Irving Hallowell, Gregory Bateson, Cora Du Bois, Clyde Kluckhohn, and John W. M. Whiting, to name but a few. The field of culture and personality studies was very active during the 1930s and in the postwar period 1945-50, as a new generation of anthropologists conducted studies among Native American peoples and in the Pacific.
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. They posited a causal chain from primary institutions such as household form, subsistence activities, and child training to basic personality and then to secondary institutions including religion, ritual, and folklore. Cora DuBois put this paradigm to the test with 18 months of fieldwork in the Dutch East Indies in 1938–9. The result was The People of Alor (1944), in which she argued that not everyone in such a society developed the same basic personality. Instead, she spoke of a “modal” or most frequent form of 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).
A year after Wallace’s study was published; anthropologist Thomas Gladwin and psychiatrist Seymour B. Sarason collaborated to produce a projective test study of people on the island of Truk. In a 650-page book, Truk: Man in Paradise (1953), Gladwin and Sarason described the many anxieties about food and sexuality, as well as the pressure of much gossip and fear of sorcery. They strongly recommended the use of the Rorschach and the TAT as means of identifying personality attributes that might otherwise be missed.

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 our 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 our military, characterizing him as a superhuman leader who created terror among his followers and involved them in crimes which they could
not deny.
After the war, national character studies focused on the Russians. British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer and his collaborator John Rickman wrote The People of Great Russia (1948), arguing that Russian infants were tightly swaddled and unable to move except for a brief period each day when they were released, cleaned, and
actively played with. This phenomenon was to produce the Russian propensity for mood swings between long periods of introspective depression and brief spurts of frantic social activity. The need for strong authority was also learned and symbolized through swaddling. Clyde Kluckhohn followed Gorer and Rickman by comparing
traditional Russian personality with the new ideal Soviet personality type. There were many differences. The traditional personality was warm, trusting, expansive, and responsive, while the Soviet ideal was formal, controlled, distrustful, and conspiratorial (Kluckhohn 1962).

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.
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.

Post-structural and Postmodernist studies in Psychological anthropology:

Claude Lévi-Strauss’s “structuralism” posited human activity as constructed, rather than natural or essential, with culture as a system of organization and of structural differences homologous to Saussure’s concept of “langue.” Jacques Lacan’s theory of the unconscious organized like a language also had affinities to structuralism, drawing together psychoanalytic and linguistic perspectives on psychology. A revival of psychoanalytic anthropology brought new approaches to dreams, sexuality, religious symbolism, and psychopathology, integrating psychoanalytic, linguistic, and social, historical perspectives.
In Black Skin/White Masks (1967), Franz Fanon, a psychiatrist born in Martinique and schooled in France, described his personal experience as a black intellectual in a white world and the ways in which the colonizer/colonized relationship became normalized as psychology. Fanon wrote that being colonized by a language is to support the weight of a civilization that identifies blackness with evil and sin. To escape this, colonized people don a white mask so as to consider themselves universal subjects equally participating in colonial and world societies. The cultural values of the colonizers, internalized or “epidermalized” into consciousness, created a  fundamental disjuncture between a black man’s consciousness and his body. Fanon integrated Jung’s psychoanalytic notion of “collective unconsciousness” with embodied experiences of colonization and racism in Algeria, locating the historical point at which certain psychological formations become possible and begin to perpetuate themselves as psychology.
During the 1960s and 1970s, “madness” and “badness,” as defined by medical establishments and criminal justice systems, became early sites of struggle for selfexpression, identity, and agency. Robert Edgerton, in The Cloak of Competence (1967), highlighted individual motives and the social adaptations of people with mental retardation to expose the frailty – even cruelty – of institutionalized forms of psychological assessment that fail to consider one’s individuality in cultural life contexts.
In The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca (1969), A.F.C. Wallace traced the dramatic revitalization of a demoralized people living in a shattered culture. The struggle for life by terminally ill children received attention, as the work with leukemic children by Myra Bluebond-Langer poignantly illustrates: The Private Worlds of Dying Children (1978). There was also a growing concern with child abuse and neglect, as an edited volume by Jill Korbin in 1981 illustrates: Child Abuse and Neglect: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Work on this same issue has continued to the present time with perhaps the most dramatic example coming from Nancy Scheper-Hughes in her powerful book
Death Without Weeping (1992), in which she explored the mechanisms used by women in a Brazilian “shanty-town” to cope with the high death rate of their children. Psychological anthropologists continued with familiar topics such as dreaming, altered states of consciousness, possession, trance, shamanism, fantasy, emotion, and mental illness. Puberty rites and adolescence came under study as well, and so did shame, guilt, and bereavement. Research on conceptions of personhood and self continued. An influential example was provided by Geoffrey M. White and James Kirkpatrick in their edited volume Person, Self, and Experience: Exploring Pacific Ethnopsychologies (1985). While research interests in the self, perception, cognition, emotion, language, learning, decision-making, and other psychological concerns continued, a new focus emerged as more and more psychological anthropologists turned their attention to cultural change and urbanization, including global issues relating to modernization.
Marc Manganaro describes a shift in the 1960s from fieldwork based on principles of “science” to postmodern, discursive processes of “text-making”: Modernist Anthropology: From Fieldwork to Text (1990). Repudiating the claims of “objectivism,” postmodern and poststructural theorists began to address such issues as authorship, ideology, power, and readership, contributing to a general trend toward meaningcentered, self-reflexive, narrative accounts of people and their cultures (Geertz 1973; Rosaldo 1989). “Experience-near” approaches to intersubjectivity, identity, and other relational forms emerged as scholars recognized the primacy of lived experience, meanings, and significance over analytic categories (Csordas 1994; Desjarlais 1992; Hollan and Wellenkamp 1994; Kleinman and Kleinman 1991; Levy 1973; Lutz 1990; Wikan 1991). Many psychological anthropologists shifted from Darwinian, Marxist, and Durkheimian groundings of individual experience in ecological adaptations and institutions toward ethnopsychological, sociolinguistic, phenomenological, and symbolic approaches. In contrast to standard ethnography, psychocultural scholars developed “person-centered ethnography” to “represent human behavior and subjective experience from the point of view of the acting, intending, and attentive subject, to actively explore the emotional saliency and motivational force of cultural beliefs and symbols (rather than to assume such saliency and force), and to avoid unnecessary reliance on overly abstract, experience-distant constructs” (Hollan 2001: 49). This approach was not meant to displace the power of ecological adaptions and institutions in shaping one’s life, but to address the tensions between individual agency and culturally hegemonic forms.

Psychological anthropology: contemporary concerns

More recent concerns of psychological anthropology explores dimensions of mind and socialization from several newer perspectives. In the following section such issues are discussed in details.

The unified model of human being:

It is fundamental to give emphasis on the living aspect of human beings and not to see human beings are information processing devices. The new models for psychological anthropology as developed by Christina Toren (2002, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2012) starts with human physical actuality: the fact that each one of us is, like other libing things, biologically speaking autopoietic[1] - self-creating, and self –regulating. A new born baby, infant or young child requires other humans to look after its primary needs, making its ontogeny a social process. Indeed, as living systems that are human, each and every one of us needs others if we are to maintain our autonomy over the course of our own lives and contribute to lives of others. There is nothing paradoxical about this: rather it is given to us as human beings that the particular nature of our autonomy resides precisely in the history of our relations with one another. Or to put it another way, our uniqueness in evewry single case is given in the fact hthat each one of us has a personal history that makes us who we are.
A propensity for making sense of the environing world is a crucial aspect of human being. It follows that ‘making sense’ or in other words learning is a dynamic, spatio temporal process that at any given point inevitably locates humans historically in relation to particular others in particular places at particular times in the peopled world. Or to put it in other way, any given human is, in every aspect of his or her being, the dynamic transforming produyct of the past he or she has lived and is, at any given time placed in relation to all those others whose ideas and practices are contributing to structure the conditions of his or her present existence. ‘Any given human’ here means any fetus, neonate, infant, child, adolescent, adult or old person, because autopoiesis is a process that begiuns at conception and ends only with death. We can think of ourselves therefore, as living and manifesting the historical processes that engage us in literally every aspect of our being. Therefore, in this model, mind is a function not of the brain, nor of the embodied nervous system, but of the whole human being in intersubjective relations with others in the environing world. Therefore consciousness cannot be a domain or a level of psychological functioning, rather, it is that aspect of mind that posits the existence of the thinker and the conceptual; self0evidentiality of the world as lived the thinker. Intersubjectivity is shorthand for “I know that you are another human like me, and so I know that you know that because I am human, I know that you are too.” It is this capacity for recursive thought that makes human learning (in its broadest sense) a microhistorical process. Our intersubjective relationship to one another is always bound to be historically prior because, whenever we encounter one aohter, we do so as carriers of our own, always unique history. I make sense of what you are doing and saying in terms of what I already know: any and all experience is assimilated to my existing structures of knwing. This goes for everyone – newborn babies and geriatric patients included. Masking sense of the peopled world is a material, self-organizing process that at once transforms new experience in the course of its assimilation and transforms my existing structures of knowing in the course of their accommodation to new experience.
It is important to note that this model assumes every ideas and practices of human being are social. The world of people and things that this human inhabits crucially informs his or her entire constitution, specifically the continuing constitution over time of those processes we call mind. It takes for granted that intersubjectivity is emotional, that perceiving and feeling are aspects of one another, and that intentionality is given in an openness towards, and a felt engagement in, the peopled world.  This model also argues for the fact that understanding our biological substance is crucial to understanding not our physical but also our psychological make-up; it makes a difference whether the phenomena of mind are conceived of as neuorophenomenological[2] processes or as computational programs. However, recent works are more inclined towards the neuorophenomenological approach simply because computers do not change its own physical substance over time.

Cultural models, schema theory and their problems:

"Cultural model" is not a precisely articulated concept but rather it "serves as a catchall phrase for many different kinds of cultural knowledge" (Shore 1996:45). Also known as folk models, cultural models generally refer to the unconscious set of assumptions and understandings members of a society or group share. They greatly affect people’s understanding of the world and of human behavior. Cultural models can be thought of as loose, interpretative frameworks. They are both overtly and unconsciously taught and are rooted in knowledge learned from others as well as from accumulated personal experience. Cultural models are not fixed entities but are malleable structures by nature. As experience is ascribed meaning, it can reinforce models; however, specific experiences can also challenge and change models if experiences are considered distinct. Models, nevertheless, can be consciously altered. Most often cultural models are connected to the emotional responses of particular experiences so that people regard their assumptions about the world and the things in it as "natural." If an emotion evokes a response of disgust or frustration, for example, a person can deliberately take action to change the model.
A closely related concept is that of schemata developed by cognitive anthropologists and has been one of the most important and powerful concepts for cognitive anthropology in the past twenty years. Bartlett first developed the notion of a schema in the 1930s. He proposed that remembering is guided by a mental structure, a schema, "an active organization of past reactions, or of past experiences, which must always be supposed to be operational in any well-adapted organic response (Schacter 1989:692). Cognitive anthropologists and scientists have modified this notion somewhat since then. A schema is an "organizing experience," it implies activation of the whole. An example is the English term writing. When one thinks of writing, several aspects come into play that can denote the action of guiding a trace leaving implement across a surface, such as writer, implement, surface, etc. However, a particular person’s schema may differ. When I think of writing, I may envision someone using chalk to trace a series of visible lines onto a chalkboard, but when you think of writing, you may envision someone using a pencil to trace a series of visible lines across a piece of paper. The point is that there is a common cultural notion of writing, but the schemas for each individual may vary slightly. It is the commonality that cognitive anthropologists are looking for, the common notions that can provide keys to the mental structures behind cultural notions. These notions are not necessarily culturally universal. In Japanese, the term kaku is usually translated into English as writing. However, whereas in English, nearly everyone would consider writing to imply that language is being traced onto a surface, the term kaku in Japanese can mean language, doodles, pictures, or anything else that is traced onto a surface. Therefore, schemas are culturally specific, and the need for an emic view is still a primary force in any ethnographic research (D'Andrade 1995:123).
The idea of schema-as-mental-representation has been later on in 1990s incorporated in the connectionalist ‘neural network’ models of psychological functioning. Connectionist models of mind attempt to make computational theory consistent with what we know of the workings of the human brain; they employ an idea of parallel distributed processing that allows for a cognitivescheme that is always emergent, never quite fixed and thus provides for a model of how cognitive processes respond to their own environment and are modified by it. Nevertheless, as representation and as a component of the more complexly configured ‘cultural model’ the schema that figures in works by Holland and Quinn, D’Andrade and Shore is peculiarly static. Shore’s attempt to distinguish between ‘conventional models’ and ‘personal models’ manifests neatly the problem with the schema-as-representation idea of mental processes. Because, the schemas that compos cultural models are conceived of as mirroring mental representations of the world inside the human head, Shore’s cultural model cannot intrinsically allow for the fact that in so far as we understand and embrace what is conventional and the personal are bound to be aspects of one another and that continuity over time is likewise an aspect of transformation.
Recent approach are more of the idea of continuity-in-transformation approach. An example would be to note changes in a person (whole person) including his/her ideas about the world is a dynamic system of transformations, effect of aging so is reading a book or having a conversation. It is interesting to note that even after the development of cultural psychology in 1990s the objective approach in the representational model did not go away.
However adopting a constructionist model, it is important to note Shweder 1991: 156
“The constructive parts of a social construction theory are the idea that equally rational, competent and                     informed observers are, in some sense free… to constitute for themselves different realities, and … that         there are as many realities are the way “it” can be constituted or described. … The “social” parts of a social      construction theory are the idea that categories are vicariously received, not individually invented; and are transmitted communicated and “passed on” through symbolic action (Shweder 1991: 156).
Interestingly in locating the constructive process in the person and what is social in an abstract space between persons social constructionists reproduce the very theoretical impasse they seek to dismantle[3].

Embodiment and Nurophenomenology:

While issues of constructivism and essentialism is far from resolved anthropologists are gaining momentum with the publication of Evan Thompson’s (2007) Mind in Life[4] which argues for a
“Neurophenomenology… [whose] aim is to incorporate phenomenological investigations of experience       into neuroscientific research on consciousness. Neurophenomenology focuses especially on the temporal        dynamics of conscious experience and brain activity.” (2007:312)
One of the best things about neurophenomenology is that it is open to coming to grips with human historicity and, precisely for this reason, wants anthropological inputs.
“The idea that phenomenology could stand in an explanatory relation to biology… will sound odd to many               readers. What could phenomenology possibly exaplain in this domain? The answer is nothing less that how          certain biological processes are also realizations of selfhood and subjectivity (Thompson 2007:358)
Most writers belonging to this camp still faces the daunting task of building culture into their models, but this reintroduces the biology-culture distinction that has for so long interfered with our ability to produce a unified model of human being. It is important to note that intersubjectivity which has a big stake in explaining the dynamics of consciousness and body is not to e confused with ‘social interaction’, nor should the process of making sense intersubjectively of the world be confused with social construction.Where learning is understood as a microhistorical process, the peopled world – for all it operates according to its own dynamics – cannot ever be understood independently of history of the knowing subject. In other words, the validity of a given scientific study is itself an historically constituted judgement – which is not to say that scientific studies may not be arguably more, or less, valid. The point is that if our categories are to work analytically, they have to be rendered such by means of ethnographic analysis. They are not to be taken for granted, for they too warrant investigation- society, individual, biology, culture, self, mind and so on, and are cases in point.
Therefore, doing anthropological investigation in the realm of cognitive or psychological anthropology one should keep in mind:
A.      Because of temporality inheres in consciousness, learning instantiates the microhistorical processes that over time given rise to the phenomena of consciousness as always open to further differentiation.
B.      Because transformation and continuity are aspects of the microhistorical process of human autopoiesis, ethnographic analyses of ontogenty can provide a way in to theorizing the mutual connections between human evolution, history, contemporary lives, consciousness, and the neurobiology of consciousness.
This material is prepared from the following books:
Thompson, Evan 2007. Mind in Life. Biology, Phenomenology and the Sciences of Mind, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University.
Conerly Casey and Robert B. Edgerton. 2007.  A Companion to Psychological Anthropology Modernity and Psychocultural Change. Oxford: Blackwell
Toren, Christina. 2012. Anthropology and Psychology, in Fardon, R et al eds. Handbook of Social Anthropology. London: Sage.

[1] Autopoiesis" refers to a system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself.
[2] Neurophenomenology refers to a scientific research program aimed to address the hard problem of consciousness in a pragmatic way. It combines neuroscience with phenomenology in order to study experience, mind, and consciousness with an emphasis on the embodied condition of the human mind. The field is very much linked to fields such as neuropsychology, neuroanthropology and behavioral neuroscience (also known as biopsychology) and the study of phenomenonology in psychology.
The label was coined by C. Laughlin, J. McManus and E. d'Aquili in 1990. However, the term was appropriated and given a distinctive understanding by the cognitive neuroscientist Francisco Varela in the mid-1990s,[4] whose work has inspired many philosophers and neuroscientists to continue with this new direction of research.
[3] Read: Hacking, Ian 1999. Social Construction of What? Boston, M.A. Harvard University Press
Nussbaum, Martha C. 2001. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[4] Thompson, Evan 2007. Mind in Life. Biology, Phenomenology and the Sciences of Mind, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Max Weber

Max Weber


Max Weber is conventionally described as a value-free sociologist who rose above politics. His work is assumed to have a timeless quality that is not at all related to the debates within his own society at the time. Weber was primarily concerned with three central issues. These emerge in Weber’s earliest writings but they continue throughout his life. One was the question of empire: why was imperialism in Germany’s interest? The second was the leadership of Germany: after its unification, who was to lead the German nation? Finally, there was the question of class division and the rise of Marxism: how best was Marxism to be combated? In the following section a brief overview of his methodology and some of his major works are described.


Early sociology tried to model itself on the natural sciences and sought to import their methods into the study of society. The positivist school of Auguste Comte was the most ambitious in this regard. It believed that the process of observation and comparison of social phenomena would eventually yield evidence of social laws. These in turn would enable the sociologist to predict future behaviour and so develop a certain power to control events. The positivist approach put primary emphasis on observable human behaviour. But soon questions emerged. What if our observations were biased by our culture, language or the peculiar features of our mind? In addition, where did mental activity, which was unobservable, fit into this? What role did interpretation and choice play in constructing the social order?
Weber’s sociology became part of the revolt against positivism. Philosophically, he was influenced by German idealism, which assigned a huge role to the human mind in actively constructing the observable world. Ideologically, he was deeply committed to what might be now termed a neo-liberal concept of ‘free choice’, which grew out of his support for market-based economics. Both these strands led him to a series of writings on methodology which has had enormous influence on subsequent sociologists. Weber’s writings on methodology were published posthumously in Max Weber on the Methodology of the Social Sciences. This contains articles on whether knowledge about society can be objective or whether it is relative.

Individualist approach:

Weber’s sociology is based on a methodological individualism which seeks to break down collectivities such as ‘classes’ or ‘nations’ or ‘the family’ in order to see them as the outcome of social actions of individual persons. For Weber, however, choice plays a huge role in society and, therefore, in the methodology of disciplines that study it. The subject matter of sociology, he argued, was social action. Action occurs when ‘the acting individual attaches a subjective meaning to his behaviour – be it overt or covert, omission or acquiescence[1]. In other words, the individual interprets, chooses, and evaluates what they are doing, according to their own distinct mental life. Action is social when the meaning given by the individual ‘takes account of the behaviour of others and is thereby orientated in its course[2]’. Society is formed by individuals choosing, interpreting and acting in ways that take account of the fact that other individuals are doing likewise.

Versthen method:

A number of complex conclusions followed from this particular view of the social world. The first was the famous Verstehen method. Following the wider German idealist tradition Weber denied that the discovery of general laws added anything to our understanding of ‘why’ humans acted as they did. Even if there was strictly statistical evidence to show that all men who had been placed in a particular situation invariably reacted in a certain way, all this would show would be that their actions were calculable. Such a demonstration, he argued, would ‘contribute absolutely nothing to the project of “understanding” “why” this reaction ever occurred and, moreover, “why” it invariably occurs in the same way’[3]. What was needed instead was a method of Verstehen or understanding, which would allow us to get into the inner sense of how individuals subjectively interpreted and chose what they were doing. In Weber’s own words, the Verstehen method means,
to identify a concrete ‘motive’ or complex of motives ‘reproducible in inner experience’, a motive to which we can attribute the conduct in question with a degree of precision that is dependent upon our source material. In other words because of its susceptibility to a meaningful interpretation ... individual conduct is in principle intrinsically less ‘irrational’ than the individual natural event[4].
There are two types of Verstehen. One is a direct observational understanding where we grasp what is really going on merely through noticing facial expressions or outward behaviour. Another type is explanatory understanding where we place the action in a ‘sequence of motivation’ and so work out why it is occurring. In both cases sociology is primarily about putting oneself in another’s mind. By using precise methods to access the motives of other people we are able to understand why they acted as they did. From this point of view, the behaviour of someone you truly know is far more predictable than the weather. Notice here the implicit promise that Weber is holding out: it is possible to focus on Geist or culture or motives and still be as ‘scientific’ as the natural sciences. His aim was to rid the Verstehen method of a lazy, intuitive approach, which simply assumed there was a natural empathy between individuals. He wanted to lend it instead a ‘scientific’ rigour. Or, to put it in a broader context, to link the German idealist tradition to the motor of modernity.

Value free sociology:

This rigorous approach to Verstehen demanded a trade-off from the sociologists – they would have to be ‘value free’. As conflicting values reflected power struggles in society, the sociologist had to put aside their own values when engaged in research. In order to access the mind of others who might have opposing values it was necessary to temporarily put one’s own values aside. It should be clear ‘exactly at which point the scientific investigator becomes silent and the evaluating and acting person begins to speak’.[5] Another reason for the strict injunction about value freedom was that Weber believed that there was an unbridgeable gap between the world of ‘what is’ and ‘what should be’. Empirical research could not lead to any conclusions about values because ‘to judge the validity of such values is a matter of faith’.[6] There were also, however, more pragmatic reasons for advocating ‘value freedom’.
Social scientists also needed to assess how people used the scarce means that were available to achieve their ends. They could ‘scientifically’ draw out the implications of the pursuit of certain values and illustrate to people the actual means that would be required to achieve them. They could do this even while opposed to their value system. The social scientist could select a problem for investigation and have the direction of the investigation kickstarted by their own value system – but once underway, he or she needed to suspend their own values and adopt the most rigorous scientific methods. The following is probably is the clearest summary of Weber’s complex argument:
1.      The choice of the object of investigation ... [is] determined by the evaluative ideas which dominate the investigator and his age.
2.      In the method of investigation, the guiding ‘point of view’ [of the researcher] is of great importance for the construction of the conceptual schema which will be used in the investigation.
3.       [but] in the mode of their use [i.e. the conceptual schema] the investigator is bound by the [scientific] norms of our thought just as much here as elsewhere. For scientific truth is precisely what is valid for all who seek the truth.

Ideal types:

Weber added one more element to his attempt to marry a subjective focus on values with his desire for objective methodological rigour. This was the ideal type, which Weber believed was ‘heuristically indispensable’ for sociological and historical research.[7] To understand it we need again to return to the old debate between the Historical School of Economics and the Austrian marginalist school. The Austrian school sought to eliminate all discussion of particular national cultures from the workings of each economy. Their analysis started out from an economic man who existed as an isolated atom. The marginalists placed this imaginary man in particular situations of scarcity, or in situations with different balances between supply and demand. From these scenarios, they devised general laws of the economy that could be stated with quite mathematical precision. One of their number, Stanley Jevons, stated that ‘the general form of the laws of economy is the same in the case of individuals and nations’.[8] This level of formal equivalence could only occur because the economic man they started out from was shorn of his particular histories, foibles, and cultures – he was an abstract model or ‘ideal type’, which functioned as a sort of thought experiment. Weber summarised the underlying philosophy of the marginalist school by saying that it examined what course a ‘given type of human action would take if it were strictly rational, unaffected by errors or emotional factors and if, furthermore, it were completely and unequivocally directed to a single end, the maximization of economic advantage’.
Weber wanted to import the methodology of the ideal type into the wider field of social science because he believed it would impose an intellectual discipline on the researcher who was using the Verstehen method. The sociologist, he argued, had to follow the economist in constructing an ideal type that highlighted certain aspects of reality. The ideal type was not meant as a description but was a ‘one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view’ and a ‘synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete … concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those one-sidedly emphasized viewpoints into a unified analytical construct’[9]. It was therefore a model that was based on pure elements that represented people’s motive and culture. So, for example, the researcher could develop an ideal type of a Puritan by assembling together the pure motives that followed from their religious beliefs. Or in a more complex fashion, he or she could develop an ideal type of the ‘handicraft’ economy in order to contrast it with ‘industrial capitalism’. Ideal types were models for highlighting contrasts and comparisons between different societies. They also allowed connections to be drawn between different spheres of society, between, say, religious beliefs and economic action. These were known as elective affinities.
Weber was keen to stress that the ideal types were only explanatory devices which helped to bring out the significance and meanings that humans bestow on their actions. The criterion of their success was whether they revealed ‘concrete culture phenomena in their interdependence, their causal conditions and their significance’.26
The ideal types were related to the four main categories of social action. These were:
        Traditional action, which was a form of ingrained habit – you do something because it was always done like that;
·         Affective action, which is based on emotional feeling – you do something because of love for, say, a brother or sister;
        Value rational action, where actions are undertaken for some ethical or religious ideal and there is no consideration of its prospect of success – you do something for God or ‘the cause’;
        Instrumentally rational action, which is based on rational calculation about the specific means of achieving definite ends – you do something because it is the most effective means of achieving a specific goal.

Spirit of capitalism:

Weber’s most famous book is The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. It is regarded by many sociologists as one of the key texts in their discipline. Its central question is: why did capitalism begin in Western Europe rather than in Asia? Weber’s answer focussed on religion – in particular, the Protestant Reformation.
The book is important because it moved sociology from a concern with general evolutionary patterns to a comparative approach. Writers such as Auguste Comte had devised a universal scheme whereby societies moved through a series of stages. His three main stages were the ‘theological’, where religious belief was dominant; the ‘metaphysical’, where the language of human rights became more prevalent; and finally the ‘positivist’ stage, where conflicts were resolved by a scientific elite who understood social laws. Marx had questioned this broad schema, which was based on abstract systematising. However, it was Weber who shifted the focus to a comparative analysis, attempting to identify what was unique and different about particular societies.


The crucial point of Weber’s argument was that Western Europe was unique in giving birth to modern capitalism. This then framed the question that forms the core of the book: how did this unique development occur? Weber defined capitalism. ‘The impulse to acquisition, pursuit of gain, of money, of the greatest possible amount of money’, Weber wrote ‘has in itself nothing to do with capitalism’.[10] Many people might, on the contrary, think that these features have everything to do with capitalism. If you remove the catchall phrase ‘in itself’ the sentence would appear truly extraordinary. However, Weber’s argument was that the impulse to pursue money is common to all people in all times and so is not unique to capitalism. Definitions have to focus on what is unique and essential and so Weber claimed that the essential feature of capitalism is its pursuit of ‘renewed profit, by means of continuous rational ... enterprise’. Formally, he defined capitalist action as ‘one which rests on the expectation of profit by the utilization of opportunities for exchange, that is on (formally) peaceful chances of profit’. Like Marx, he notes that rational capitalism rests on ‘formally free labour’. This is labour which is bought and sold on the market place like any other commodity. For this system to emerge there had to be a number of preconditions in place. One was a rational structure of law that lent stability and certainty to the calculations about moneymaking. Another was an administration based on trained officials who did not rely on tax collection to line their own pockets. Still another precondition was the development of technology. Technology here is understood not simply as machinery but also as forms of knowledge such as bookkeeping, which paved the way for a more calculating culture.

The protestant spirit:

The central theme of Weber’s analysis is an exploration of protestant spirit. There is some evidence, he claims, to suggest a prima facie case for a link between the Protestant religion and capitalism. Business leaders in Germany tend to be Protestant; districts with the highest level of economic development are Protestant; Protestant students tend to study technical and scientific subjects while Catholics choose more ‘humanistic’ ones.
Weber identifies the spirit of capitalism as ‘the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life’. This spirit led to the formation of a sober, industrious bourgeois class but it was also necessary for the creation of a modern working class. Capitalism needed constantly to increase productivity but it could only do so when workers did not look for ‘the maximum of comfort and the minimum of exertion’ and instead performed labour as if it were an ‘absolute end in itself, a calling’.
Where did this new capitalist spirit come from? After all, moneymaking went against the dominant culture of medieval times. According to Thomas Aquinas, moneymaking was a ‘turpitudo’ – it was dirty, and sinful. Money was a ‘filthy lucre’ and painters such as Pieter Bruegel often depicted money as faeces. An individual could not make the breakthrough against this culture. The spirit of capitalism had to come from a way of life that was common to whole groups. Possible candidates were traders or pirates who engaged in moneymaking, despite the dominant culture. Weber, however, rules them out as originators of the new society because they were not engaged in regular, systematic accumulation of capital. They went for a series of one off gains or displayed an uncontrolled impulse of greed. Traditionalist opposition to moneymaking could only be shaken by a profound culture change and this is precisely what occurred in the Reformation. The psychological impact of the Reformation allowed Protestants both to adopt an enterprising, rational spirit and to look on work as a duty.
The teachings of Luther and Calvin were decisive. Prior to Luther, the Catholic Church drew a sharp distinction between the moral codes that applied to the laity and secular clergy on the one hand and religious orders on the other. The religious orders were obliged to follow the higher morality of the gospels, especially expressed in vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. This moral code was seen as impossible to fulfil in a secular life and so holiness was defined as a withdrawal from the world. Luther changed all this when he introduced the concept that every person had a ‘calling’ or a ‘vocation’ given to him or her by God. Weber claims that Luther’s translation of the Bible shifted the meaning of a key term so that labour in everyday life was seen as a God appointed task. Withdrawal from the world into monasteries was deemed a form of selfish idleness; true holiness meant fulfilling your worldly duties so as to glorify God.
This was potentially a revolutionary doctrine but Luther still gave it a traditional twist. Under the impact of the Peasant War in Germany – where Luther turned on many of his own radical supporters – he stressed how individuals needed to adapt themselves to the particular calling chosen for them by God. If a peasant’s lot was to farm barren land while the lord lived off his taxes, then each had simply to accept those positions as their calling.
It fell to Calvin to draw out the more radical elements of the Reformation. Calvin returned to the traditional dilemma that all Christians face – if God is all-powerful, then how can individuals have a genuinely free choice? Logically there was no scope for autonomous human decision-making if God was so powerful that he had created the future in advance. Calvin, therefore, adopted the famous doctrine of predestination whereby God had preordained who was going to heaven and hell. The effect of this doctrine was to produce an intense, lonely form of anxiety, which cut each individual off from other human beings.
Consider for a moment what was involved. If it was preordained that only a small number of students – the elect – would pass exams and the rest would be thrown out of college, think of the high levels of anxiety this would cause. However, in the sixteenth century, we are not considering relatively trivial matters such as careers but the whole of one’s eternal life. One result of this anxiety was that it led people desperately to search to see if they were part of the elect. The Calvinist sects, who were communities of true believers, taught that it was one’s ‘absolute duty to consider oneself chosen, to combat all doubts as temptations of the devil’. In order to attain this selfconfidence, intense worldly activity was recommended. Success in one’s calling alone dispersed religious doubts and gave certainty of grace. Calvinism therefore led to a highly individualistic desire for achievement as a means of counteracting religious anxiety.
Weber refers to the psychological state whereby people removed everything from their life that interfered with their calling as a ‘worldly asceticism’. Protestant beliefs encouraged people to bring their actions under constant self-control. They could not turn to a priest or the confessional to relieve sins and anxiety. Their only way of relieving anxiety was ‘not single good works but a life of good works combined into a unified system’. Idleness and wasting of time became the greatest sins. Everything had to be put into a methodical pursuit of a calling. In this way, the asceticism of the monastery was brought out into the marketplace. Calvinism ‘substituted for the spiritual aristocracy of monks outside of and above the world, the spiritual aristocracy of the predestined saints of God within the world’. Unlike Luther’s interpretation, the doctrine of the calling did not imply an acceptance of one’s lot but rather an injunction to work hard, to make money in order to glorify God. It condemned idle ‘spontaneous enjoyment of possessions’, dishonesty and impulsive avarice but still promoted wealth as a means of showing the individual that they had a sign of God’s blessing.
All of this was part of the unintended consequences of the Reformation. Nobody became a Protestant in order to become a capitalist but the psychological effects of the actual doctrine were highly significant, in their unanticipated consequences. It led to ‘the accumulation of capital through ascetic compulsion to save’. Religious asceticism also provided employers ‘with sober, conscientious and unusually industrious workmen, who clung to their work as to a life purpose willed by Gods’. Above all the ideal of methodical self-control led to the ‘ethos of rational organisation of capital and labour’. Against Sombart, Weber claims that Judaism led ‘to the politically and speculatively orientated adventurous capitalism’ whereas Puritanism promoted a rational sober bourgeois life that restrained the consumption of wealth and so increased productive investment of capital.

Domination and bureaucracy:

Weber provided subsequent sociologists with a wealth of concepts that became their toolbox for generating new theories. He liked to draw up a set of typologies to categorise different forms of social action. One of the most famous of these is the different categories of domination which have been exercised in society. Weber argued that there were three main forms of domination – traditional, charismatic and rational legal. The writings on these forms of domination are to be found in Economy and Society. Weber used his vast historic knowledge to provide examples from a wide range of societies to illustrate the dynamics of each of these forms of domination. He was less interested in how people resisted or overthrew the power structures and focussed more on how they were maintained. He assumed that domination was natural and drew from the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche a belief that the ‘will to power’ pervaded all human relationships.
Weber’s definition of power has also become a classic in sociology. Power, he argued ‘is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability exists’. This definition focuses on the individual actor and their will – on this inner mental capacity to enforce their desires. There is no reference to resources – either economic or military – which the particular actor might need. As Brennan has pointed out, it is a subjective definition of power and one more likely to flatter existing power holders. Those at the bottom are more likely to experience power as an objective constraint – they obey the capitalist or the slave owner because these hold the machinery or the whip, not necessarily because they respect his or her will.

Types of domination:

Weber acknowledged that his definition of power was amorphous because it could refer to all conceivable circumstances. His principal writings focus instead on domination, which he saw as a special case of power. Domination is defined as ‘the probability that a command with a given specific content will be obeyed by a given group of persons’. This is again a broad opening statement but Weber soon moves to distinguish between two main forms of domination. There is, first, domination by monopoly control of economic resources. So a central bank or a multinational like Standard Oil can enforce their command over debtors or on garage retailers because they hold the economic monopoly. Second, there is domination by the authority of office. Thus state officials or army generals use non-economic sources of power to dominate. The distinction between them can be fluid and one form of domination can develop into another.
Weber argues that there are three ideal types of legitimate authority in history. These ideal types are not necessarily found in pure forms in the real world but they are useful yardsticks to measure reality against.
·         Traditional authority rests on beliefs in the sanctity of immemorial tradition and custom. This type of domination is exercised by tribal chiefs, patriarchs, feudal aristocrats.
·         Charismatic authority rests on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or personal magnetism of a heroic figure. Revolutionary leaders, prophets and warriors, for instance, exercise this type of authority.
·         Legal Rational authority is based on properly enacted rules and is given to office holders rather than specific persons. Bureaucrats and government ministers have authority of this type.
Weber’s three ideal types distinguish between the grounds on which obedience is based. Parkin[11] provides an excellent, succinct summary
Type of dominance
Grounds for claiming obedience
Obey me because that is what our people
have always done.
Obey me because I can transform your life.
Legal Rational
Obey me because I am your lawfully
appointed superior.

Traditional authority:

Traditional authority is based on respect for the sanctity of age old rules and customs and involves loyalty to a personal master. Obedience is not given simply to an office but to a lord or a prince. All traditional authority involves a double sphere. On the one hand, the master has personal discretion in a wide area. They are entitled to make arbitrary and unilateral demands when it suits and expect obedience precisely because they are seen as a personal master. On the other hand, obedience is delivered within the bounds of a tradition that places limits on the arbitrary power of the ruler.
Throughout his sociology of domination, Weber’s primary focus was on the relationship between the ruler and their administrative staff. The administrative staff make up the apparatus that carries out and enforces the ruler’s wishes among the masses. Any relationship of domination has three elements – the ruler, the administrative staff, and the ruled. Weber, though, focused only on the first two. He paid particular attention to the material interests of the staff, the organisational principles through which they operate and their wider relationship to the ruler. He simply assumed that they conquer ‘the masses’.

Charismatic authority:

The term charisma in Christian theology means ‘the gift of grace’. Weber took over the term and added ‘charismatic leader’ to modern political vocabularies. No account of modern elections is now complete without some reference to the semi-magical, mysterious quality of charisma. However, the coinage has been debased. Charisma can apparently be won by a hairdo, an engaging smile, a vague sex appeal, etc. For Weber, charisma had an altogether more important meaning. Charismatic leaders were seen by their followers to have some extraordinary power or quality that commanded obedience. In more primitive societies, these powers were magical and the leaders were either superhuman or supernatural. In modern society, charismatic leaders arise in periods of great turbulence or crisis and answer a need. The leader is literally blessed with a sign of grace or, in secular terms, is a genius. As Bendix puts it, ‘it is associated with a collective excitement through which masses of people respond to some extraordinary experience and by virtue of which they surrender themselves to a heroic leader’.
The administrative staff of charismatic leaders are not chosen because of qualifications, social status, or family loyalty. They are recruited simply as followers. There is no set hierarchy, no prospect of promotion or career. There is not even a regular salary because pure charisma is foreign to economic considerations. The staff can be looked after by the seizure of booty or by gifts but any provision for a regular career structure is despised. In order to live up to their mission the leader and his followers ‘must be free of the ordinary worldly attachments and duties of occupational and family life’.

Legal Rational Authority:

The normal means of domination in modern societies is legal rational authority and bureaucracy. Weber’s main concern was with the culture of rationality that led to bureaucracy and the consequences this held for the world. Legal authority rests on a number of interdependent factors. There has to be a legal code which covers everyone in a particular territory. It has to be based on consistent, abstract rules – so that people know in advance the penalties for infringements. Crucially, the rulers themselves must also be subject to these rules. The arbitrary discretion that was granted to charismatic or traditional rulers is removed. People obey authority in their capacity as citizens or members of particular associations. Crucially, obedience is given to an office holder and not the person.
The administrative staff in this form of authority are more highly developed and in their purest form become a bureaucracy. The staff operate continuously according to rules that govern the conduct of their official business. They each have a definite specified area of competence that is laid down by their job descriptions. These areas of jurisdiction give them powers to fulfil their duties only in these specific areas. The jurisdictions do not overlap but are based on a rational division of labour. The whole system forms a hierarchical pyramid so that the higher offices supervise the lower offices. Rules are laid down for each office and the official is given specialised training so that he or she can meet them.
The axial principal of bureaucracy is ‘domination through knowledge’. It is popular today to disparage bureaucracy as ‘red tape’ and to caricature the way that officials fill in forms and memos in triplicate. This misses the point, however. The modern office is indeed based on the management of files but this is to ensure that those at the top have ‘a special knowledge of facts and have available to them a store of documentary material peculiar to themselves’. They know more about the ruled than any previous authorities in history. They also know exactly how their commands will be implemented since the room for personal discretion among their staff is virtually nil. Bureaucracy has invented the concept of the ‘official secret’ which means that information can be gathered and exact commands transmitted in a secretive way. Individual officials can be penalised for divulging these official secrets to the public. Normally, however, it does not come to this because ‘bureaucratic administration always tends to exclude the public, to hide its knowledge and action from criticism as well as it can’.
A bureaucracy, therefore, is a permanent machine and different rulers can use it. After the country is defeated, for example, the bureaucratic apparatus survives and is usually taken over by the new rulers. This suggests that ‘at the top of a bureaucratic organisation, there is necessarily an element which is at least not purely bureaucratic’. At the apex of the system, there is a will, a personality whose wishes have to be enforced. Weber’s central argument, though, is that bureaucracy is the most efficient way of conducting this rule.

[Author's declaration: This material is prepared from Max Weber A Critical Introduction by Kieran Allen London: Pluto Press (2004)]

An Earlier Version of Max Weber can be found here

[1] Max Weber, Economy and Society Vol. 1 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978) p. 4.
[2] ibid
[3] Max Weber, Roscher and Knies: The Logical Problems of Historical Economics (New York: Free Press 1975), p. 129.
[4] Ibid p 125
[5] Max Weber, The Methodology of the Social Sciences (New York: Free Press, 1949), p 60
[6] Ibid, p 55
[7] T. Burger, Max Weber’s Theory of Concept Formation: History, Laws and Ideal Types (Durham: Duke University Press, 1976).
[8] N. Bukharin, The Economic Theory of the Leisure Class (New York: Augustus M. Kelly, 1970).p 41
[9] Weber, The Methodology of the Social Sciences, p. 90.
[10] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976), p. 17.
[11] F. Parkin, Max Weber (London: Routledge, 1988), p. 77