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Monday, 22 August 2022

Tribe as a Pre-political and pre-contractual society and in the evolutionary schema (Morgan and Maine)



Class lecture on the concept bilingual, meant for my students


Different words like French Tribu, English Tribe and Latin Tribus were used to designate social divisions among the Roman population. Similarly the Greek word Phule also represented Indo-European Social Organisations. The word "tribe" has a long and ignoble history and remains one of the most variably used terms within and outside of anthropology (Helm 1968). Anthropologists often use it as a catch-all substitute for "primitive," avoiding the invidious comparison of "nonstate." But most who use the term analytically narrow it to mean some form of political unit, as distinct from "ethnie" or "nation," which suggest a cultural identity.

The foundation structure of the tribe is Kinship. The smaller Kinship unites were known as Genos in Greek and Gens in Latin. Scottish people used to call them Clan. One can only be a member of a clan if s/he is connected through kinship relationships. A person is a member of a tribe by birth. Each of these clans had a separate name and a tribe constituted a number of clans. Since, tribal system is pre-state condition, there is no centralised administration among the tribal societies. The social order is maintained by the kinship organisations. Kin rules framed primarily on the basis of systems of affinity and consanguinity were used to determine the right over a geographical location or selection of the headman.

Tribe as a Pre-political and pre-contractual society and in the evolutionary schema (Morgan and Maine)

The idea of tribe as a pre-political and pre-contractual society is rooted in the evolutionary schema of which dominated anthropology during the 19th century. The evolutionism of 19th century saw human beings as making uniform ‘progress’ and evidences such as the continuation of ‘primitive’ traits like pottery is example of cultural survivals (Tylor 1871). At the same time, the society was moving through a variety of stages like Savagery, Barbarism and ultimately the civilisation (Morgan 1877). Tribal people around the world have then provided the empirical evidences to support the theory of social evolution.

It was L.H. Morgan’s Ancient Society (1861) and Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family (1871) that made investigation on Tribal society a systematic enterprise. Morgan emphasised that even though there is a general absence of state system, yet, tribes are quite organised and disciplined society. He noted that there is a general absence of hierarchical division between Clans and Lineages. In “Ancient Society” (1877) Morgan defines tribe as a completely organised society where all forms of social relation are dominated by kinship. For Morgan, tribal society is organised in such a way that their form of social organisation is capable of reproducing itself. A tribe, according to him, is a collection of a number of clans who have distinct nomenclature, separate language, distinct political organisation and a territory under their own possession. It is important to note that Morgan's conception of the tribe and Durkheim's conception of the polysegmental society were both rooted in the same evolutionary perspective. Their successors chose their examples not from India, China and the Islamic world, but from Australia, the Pacific Islands and North America where recent historical experience brought out the disjunction rather than the co-existence of tribe and civilization.

Along the similar line of generalised and universal idea of social evolution Sir Henry James Maine has given a theoretical idea of the emergence of human civilisation. His theory that political organization had originally been based on blood (kinship) and later moved to territory, which is part of that famous transition from societies based on status to ones based on contract that he developed in Ancient law (1861), has provided a solid foundation for much work in political anthropology. His work on the difference between early communities and modern associations strongly influenced the contemporary work of Tönnies and Durkheim and later that of Redfield. His analysis of corporate institutions helped lay the foundation of modern studies of kinship as developed by Fortes and Evans-Pritchard.  Maine showed the complexity of the "bundle of powers" in property and the way in which these had been gradually separated into the institution of private, individual property. He outlined the importance of the development of notions of primogeniture and impartibility and the central device of wills. Supplemented by the work of F. W. Maitland, his characterization of the nature of property rights within feudalism is still valuable because he saw very clearly the mixing of political and economic power and the different layers of tenure in the feudal period.  His most famous work is on the development of the "individual" from the "group," that movement whereby status (family) is replaced by contract as the basis of modern nation-states. Although many other great Victorians, including Spencer and Marx, were developing parallel ideas, his insight is unique. There is much debate concerning his methodological importance and some criticism of his accuracy. Some believe that he introduced a new comparative and historical approach that laid the basis for the disciplines of anthropology and comparative jurisprudence. Others argue that his work was distorted by an evolutionary bias. In fact part of the tension in his writing results from the fact that he straddled the paradigm shift to evolutionism. He believed that stability was the norm and that the evolution of certain "progressive" societies was the exception. He was much more cautions in his generalizations than most of his critics realize. As Pollock wrote of him in the year of his death, "Maine can no more become obsolete through the industry and ingenuity of modern scholars than Montesquieu could be made obsolete by the legislation of Napoleon," for "At one master-stroke he forged a new and lasting bond between history and anthropology"

Major premises of tribe as pre-political and pre-contractual society

 There are several major aspects of the classical approach that sees tribe as pre-political and pre-contractual society. These are as follows:

1.       The general presence of the spirit of 19th century unilineal evolutionism as a theoretical background

2.       For Morgan society’s progress through three stages is important and tribal people from various corners of the world exemplify such progress.

3.       For Maine, society has progressed from status to contract with law

4.       There is a rough parallel to the Durkheimian idea of progress from mechanical to organic solidarity.


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