Home 603Seminar in the Anthropology of Power

Syllabus

Week 2 Vincent, Focault, Marx

Week 3 Vincent II

Week 4 Kertzer-Anderson

Week 4 Essay 1

Week 5 Kertzer

Week 6 Anderson

Week 7 Scott

Week 8 Vincent III

Week 9 Said

Week 10 Crehan

Week 10 Essay 2

Week 11 Vincent IV

Week 12 Vincent IVb

Week 14 Swartz

Week 14 Mohanty Analytic Summary

Resource Links

Victoria Kline
Anthropology 583: Politics and Power
Instr: Dr. Ramona Pérez
November 11, 2005

Essay 2: Themes in Political Anthropology

    There are many sub-disciplines in anthropological studies of politics and power. Political anthropology grew as a sub-discipline between 1940 and 1972 (Vincent 2002:29) with influence from E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Edmund Leach, and Max Gluckman to name three of those authors included in the “Classics.” Since then the sub-discipline of political anthropology has branched to encompass various themes and theories. Here I will give a brief overview of several of them that are of distinct interest to me and that relate to readings done in class. The six themes in political anthropology that I will focus on are: the switch from descriptions of static structure to analysis of dynamic change (Swartz et al. 2002:102-109); the political use of ritual; imagined communities, nationalism and national identity; sub-alternity, post-colonial studies and passive resistance; the world capitalist system, global capitalism, or globalization; and orientalism and exoticism. Joan Vincent has been careful to organize a collection of essays in political anthropology that form the foundation of this essay (Vincent 2002). 

From Observation of Static Structure to the Analysis of Dynamic Change

    Authors Marc J. Swartz, Victor W. Turner, and Arthur Tuden wrote an introduction to a volume on political anthropology “Political Anthropology,” in 1966 that began by defining political anthropology. The purpose of the volume was to denote change over time in the arena of political anthropology. The authors noted that from the early 1940s with Evans-Pritchard and others’ focus on structure and function of political systems, there was a metamorphosis in the discipline through the 1950s and 1960s to looking for change within systems or in the study of political processes. Political anthropologists began concerning themselves with dynamic change rather than static structure.
    Their definition of political anthropology stated that there must be three characteristics for a study to be within the realm of political anthropology: it must be concerned with public processes, it must be concerned with goals, and it must encompass different levels of power within the group(s). They point out that this definition could apply to something that would be categorized as religious, but the difference will be in the processes at work in the set up of a religious as opposed to a political interaction. “The study of politics, then, is the study of the processes involved in determining and implementing public goals and in the differential achievement and use of power by the members of the group concerned with those goals” (Swartz et al. 1966:107).
    There are several examples of this theme, the change to a different focus in political anthropology from synchronous, compartmentalized study, to diachronous, multifaceted and dynamic whole systems. In the interest of space I will discuss the classic study of the Nuer by E. E. Evans-Pritchard and how study of Nuer politics has evolved in the work of Sharon Hutchinson’s more current political anthropology in the same territory.
The Nuer, according to Evans-Pritchard are hostile and war-like, and more war-like towards groups that are most like thems in culture (language, dress, customs etc.). They show the hostility towards those that they can count on as to how they will respond. Evans-Pritchard says the “Nuer make war against a people who have a culture like their own rather than among themselves or against peoples with cultures very different from their own” (Evans-Pritchard 1940:35). 
    Evans-Pritchard goes into detail describing the political organization of Nuer tribes, which are split into segments. There are primary, secondary, and tertiary segments that branch from the main tribe. The way these segments unite when there is inter-segment conflict is explained. “Fission and fusion in political groups are two aspects of the same segmentary principle” (Evans-Pritchard 1940:38). There are reasons and rules for how the segments will unite against another group or break off to join with another segment. An egalitarian and acephalous kinship state is how Evans-Pritchard names the Nuer political structure.
    Evans-Pritchard was from the English structural functionalist school. He studied under Radcliffe-Brown, one who was particularly influential in formulating the theory of structural functionalism. Structural functionalists concentrated on analysis of political and economic systems of primitive societies through the understanding of their kinship and lineage systems. They “sought to understand how cultural institutions maintained the equilibrium and cohesion of a society” (McGee and Warms 2000:158). Back when Evans-Pritchard did his studies, the “field” was always one of small, primitive, exotic (non-Western) peoples as the acceptable culture group for academic studies in anthropology.
    Years later Sharon Hutchinson wrote ethnography within the same boundaries that Evan-Pritchard had done his studies of Nuer and Dinka of the southern Sudan. The changes in the welfare of the people are huge. There is movement by the government to take over oil fields within the territory of Nuer and Dinka rival ethnic groups. Those tribes unite together against the government, break away, and re-unite again. They fight with each other then re-unite against government forces. Women and children are killed. The government, according to Hutchinson, essentially incites the Nuer and Dinka to fight against each other as it is in the government’s best interest for them to kill each other off. The government makes a peace agreement that is weak on the side of these two ethnic groups (Hutchinson 1999).
    As was mentioned in the earlier reading by EE Evans-Pritchard, the two groups are really closely related in culture. Fighting between them has gone on for many years. The Dinka tend great herds of cattle and the Nuer come and raid them. The justification for this is in their origin mythology which says that when God made the two groups, he gave them each some cattle, but the Dinka went to God pretending to be Nuer and took their cattle from God, thus duping God. Accordingly, God told the Nuer to raid the Dinka to gain back their stolen cattle until the end of time. The unrest and antagonism of the area is great compared with that time when Evans-Pritchard did his fieldwork (Hutchinson 1999). There has been reform in method and perspective in political anthropology also. From the once synchronous viewpoint of Evans-Pritchard where everything could be explained as a category in relatively controlled environments, to post-colonial anthropology among hostile, wary, and warring people and the self-reflection of the anthropological presence, and the desire to found models on multiple, overlapping, and often chaotic existances that are not easily described.
        
Ritual In Politics

    The next topic of interest concerns the use of ritual in politics. In Victor Turner’s essay “”Passages, Margins, and Poverty: Religious Symbols of Communitas,” symbolism is explored in its relation to cultural rituals how they relate to power and control. Turner explains three aspects of culture that he believes to be loaded with symbolism: “liminality, outsiderhood, and structural inferiority” (Turner 1974:96). The first, liminality, has three phases of its own: separation, the between period, and acceptance back into society. Liminality includes those rites of passage where one is detached from the group, goes into an intermediary state where one is not part of the group but is not completely separate either, and finally reunites wholly with the group. Liminality can also include that in between state where an individual may be in the process of being ousted from a group as in excommunication from the church.
    Outsiderhood can be understood in terms of “being either permanently and by ascription set outside the structural arrangements of a given social system” (Turner 1974: 97).  From this group come individuals who are set apart from the group either voluntarily or through assignment: shaman, priests, seers, mediums, and (Turner adds) gypsies, hippies, and hoboes. Turner says that these are not to be confused with “marginals” who are people that do not belong to one group but reside somewhere between two or more groups with conflicting ideals (Turner 1974:97). He says that many people of the creative bent often live in this marginal state.
    Structural inferiority has to do with religious symbolism and how the “throw away” people are represented within a society as representative of humanity. An example Turner gives is of a conquered people relegated to the lower rungs of the new society dominated by the conquerors (Turner 1974:98). They are the structurally inferior to those newly in power. There is the recognition of the religious power of the indigenes but that is considered a weak power (“power of the weak”). The new regime of power is that of law and order controlled by the conquerors, and that is where there is structural superiority.
    In his book Ritual, Politics, and Power, David I. Kertzer explains the importance of ritual in politics, the symbolic nature of politics, the ritual significance of modern day politics, an anthropological view of the idea that politics is only as strong as the manipulation of symbolism in the rituals that are made into everyday affairs. “Ritual” says Kertzer, “is a ubiquitous part of modern political life…through participation in the rights, the citizen of the modern state identifies with larger political forces that can only be seen in symbolic form” (Kertzer 1988:1-2).
    Specific rites set organizations apart and render them as discrete entities of bodies of power. Kertzer talks about how this is done by organizations through the propagation of “myths regarding their origin and purpose, while members engage in symbolic practices that serve to mark them off from nonmembers” (Kertzer 1988:18). The rituals define the boundaries of the organization. 
    Kertzer shows how ritual is used to create political legitimacy. Two examples he cites are: the succession rites of royalty in the Bunyoro of Uganda, and in the annual reenacting a historic event to show superiority to the indigenes by the Afrikaners of South Africa. “People everywhere tend to sacralize their socio-political environment” (Kertzer 1988: 37). In other words political ritual becomes sacred to the extent of becoming an act of worship. “In rendering their political system sacred through the use of ritual, people end up legitimizing the power held by political leaders” (Kertzer 1988: 37-38).   Another way of using ritual to create political legitimacy is by borrowing it. Kertzer points out that the use of old rituals gives the feeling of stability. To continue an old ritual in a new political environment is to allow some of the traditional legitimacy of the old to rub off on the new. And as is said within the volume, it does not matter what perception individuals within the group have of symbol in ritual. Common identification with a symbol gives it power.
    Another biological reason for humans to rely on ritual is suggested in a discussion of schemas, a term from psychology meaning the ability (or limitation) of the human mind to slot incoming information in terms of categories. These categories are learned and altered through personal experience. Kertzer says that we cannot process all incoming data and must filter or select what information we focus on. This is something that happens automatically at the subconscious level but learned and altered through experience. That means that schemas can change. We also operate with filtering methods through a variety of schemas at any one time. More than one of our schemas can apply to one situation and then there is choice. Unique or emotional experiences are better remembered than general, concrete and discrete more memorable than generalizations. Kertzer uses the example of a political rally being more effective than a political speech.
    “Ritual provides an important weapon in political struggle” (Kertzer 1988:104), and is used by both those who seek to overthrow the existing power structure and those who seek to maintain it. Ritual placement during ritual is one of the ways that status is maintained.
    Ritual is used to communicate. “Diplomacy without ritual is inconceivable. Protocol is ever important, and the right symbols must be manipulated in just the right way” (Kertzer 1988:104). One example of this is Renaissance Venice, and how meticulous records were kept of the ceremonies performed for visiting emissaries and royalty, so as not to make some mistake in the treatment of an important guest. The point of this was to retain their (Venice’s) position of power through ritual. Power is communicated through architecture: the grand tombs of emperors, promised before death in exchange for political loyalty.
    Public support is fought over through political ceremony of speaking with the rite costume and symbol enmeshed. Truth does not seem to be as much of a concern as image. Political support is sought and won through carefully staged presentations at sites of natural or manmade disasters. Or at contrived meetings of heads of state who are fundamentally opposed in principle.  
    Ritual conflict can serve to avoid real conflict, war, and loss of life. One example given is of the Yanamamo of South America (Venezuela and Brazil) of whom two separate groups may act out aggression on a ritual stage in a series of ritual displays in attempts to unite their groups against others in real warfare. Kertzer talks about the ritualization of conflict, and says that the basis for the claim that humans are like animals in the use of ritual behavior patterns because the same conditions apply to humans and animals in competition for resources, yet the need for avoidance of physical violence against members of one’s group. So animals will fake aggression to warn off rivals instead of actually physically harming each other (at least initially).
    The taking of political prisoners and political assassinations are part of Kertzer’s rituals of conflict and crisis. There are two examples Kertzer gives us to illustrate his points about the using the symbols of politics to sway opinion. The first example is about the Italian Red Brigade kidnapping of the head of the Christian Democratic Party in 1978 – Aldo Moro. The Christian Democratic Party had received the support of the Italian Communist Party in what seemed like a truce between opposing forces. This angered the members of the Red Brigade, who then used the symbols of the Communist Party to gain strength from the association. Every part of the episode was loaded with symbolism. As Kertzer puts it, the Red Brigades transformed “the kidnapping [of Moro] from a random, bloody, and pointless exercise into a meaningful political statement, thus establishing the organization as a regular actor on the Italian political scene” (1988:136).
    How important ritual is in politics today? Ritual has the power to sway opinion, the power to organize and to define lives within our society, the power to decide who gets what, how much, and when. But, Kertzer says he does not want to “portray people as zombies imprisoned in a symbolically created universe they are powerless to change” (1988:174). But we certainly do seem to get sucked into that universe of symbolic meaning through ritual without awareness of anything but being reality.

Nationalism and National Identity

    The third theme I have found laced throughout the readings is that of the imagined communities of nationalism and national identity. The chapter by Benedict Anderson “Imagined Communities,” the essays about the book, and the video on Protestant Northern Ireland were most explanatory of this theme. Anderson talks about the evolution of nationalism: the loyalty felt by a group to their nation and how it is began in the middle ages, with the secularization of the word. The printed word was originally restricted to the church, and the sacred language of the church. Eventually, the printed word became used by the administrators of the state, and was restricted to vernacular but administrative language. It was not until bookmakers realized the money that could be made by expanding their markets that books began to be printed in the language of the people. This became a source of new sales, and with the printing of books in normal language; there was an opportunity for the people to learn to read. Literate groups, bonded through common knowledge gained through reading and the discourse that it could provide, now were vulnerable to what the words inferred about how a citizen should be. The printed word became the messenger of how people should behave towards their state, and in that way created a sense of nationhood or nationalism (Anderson 1983).
    A film viewed in class showed the power of ritual and symbolism, and also the ways in which the people living in Ireland (an island) divide themselves into two opposing factions, each with their own national identity, each group with a strong feeling of nationalism: pride, ties, language, celebrations that bind. In Northern Protestant Ireland, they keep their young men busy, therefore less likely to participate in acts of violence against their own group. Instead actions are taken against the others in the war between Catholic and Protestant. The film showed a Protestant group preparing for the climax of 12 days of preparation for a parade that would march through a regular parade route, and a bonfire upon which the crowd would burn an effigy of the Pope. The Protestant Irish are an inhibited group that is surely founded on the idea that one does not give information to the enemy. Trust no one from outside (Nationalism 1994).

Subalternity, Post-colonial Studies and Passive Resistance

    Village peasants no longer have control over their daily lives or production. That has given way to state control and modification in the way people run their daily lives. The state needs revenue on which to survive, therefore small peasant holdings that do no more that supply the residents’ subsistence are of no consequence to the state. They have no power. Only those who can retain land become the power holders. They must control enough land to produce (through the control of excess labor) surplus for the state. Maybe this we should keep in mind when we talk about the US. Women with dependent children cannot produce excess for donation to the state machine (Scott 1985).
    In the essay “Images of the Peasant in the Consciousness of the Venezuelan Proletariat, William Roseberry begins by referring to a suggestion from James Scott’s Weapons of the Weak, that the moral economy of the peasant demands protection from the state in exchange for the extraction of excess labor. According to Scott the peasant agreed with this arrangement in pre-capitalistic social systems, as long as protection of the his family was forthcoming. With the capitalist system, the labor is extracted, but the protection does not exist. There is unequal exchange, and no compensation in protection to make up the difference. This arrangement is not acceptable to the peasants and causes seeds of rebellion (Roseberry 1985).
    Roseberry goes on to say that this idea came from other analysis of peasant societies from studies that may not have a good foundation for their argument. In this essay, he examines Venezuelan peasantry from a small area in the Andes. The change from cacao to coffee to petroleum-based economy is discussed as it relates to this unique group of peasantry. How the peasantry became proletarianized by the change from independent coffee producers and subsistence farmers to wage earning petroleum workers dependent on the state for employment. Throughout the essay the dichotomies of human existence are named: backwardness vs. modern development, rural life vs. urban life, democratic government by the people vs. dictatorship, all affecting the peasantry in the push and pull of integration into the global economy (Roseberry 1985).

Global Capitalism

    Another theme of great interest and one that dominates much of the recent readings we have been doing is that of economic globalization and the ways in which its effects can both harm and help the communities that it touches. In “New Proposals for Anthropologists” Kathleen Gough is concerned with helping people in other parts of the world where superpowers have taken control of resources and affected the essence of their lives. They are no longer free. She has statistical facts to back up her claims. Countries are named that are under western control, countries are named as to economic status levels of the people and so forth to compare and contrast the effects of imperialism on the world’s people. She says that communism got a bad name in America. There are problems with the study of communist political systems because of blocking access of information. And that these countries need to be studied, there must be a way to do it through scholarly discourses, information needs to flow both ways (Gough 1968).
    Evangelism has missionized Africa and has become a globalizing force. I think the main issue the Jean and John Comaroff seek to explore in the chapter “Of Revelation and Revolution” is the effect the religious beliefs that Evangelical missionaries projected onto the African population led to the movement of the people towards a modernity that was able to encapsulate them.
    The impact of the Protestant evangelists as harbingers of industrial capitalism lay in the fact that their civilizing mission was simultaneously symbolic and practical, theological and temporal. The goods and techniques they brought with them to Africa presupposed the messages and meanings they proclaimed in the pulpit, and visa versa. (Comaroff and Comaroff 1990:204).
    The long conversation: missionaries wanted to civilize; natives wanted the potent power of the church. The results of the negotiations of the long conversation: promises made by the church were for material gain, and becoming civilized people. The actual result, the people became caught up in the semi-servile dependent state of workers for the global economy. But, they were filled with the spirit, a kind of Prosac for the third world. Step three, formal education of the natives equals hegemony. Hegemony equals compliance and control. 
    Eric Wolf’s discusses of three works that he believes “foreshadowed many of the issues of global power that concern us at the beginning of the twenty-first century” (Wolf 1990:231) in his article “Facing Power – Old Insights, New Questions.” The three projects in early political anthropological studies: 1940s Puerto Rican project that showed the heterogeneity of national character rather than unified; a huge labor migration and industrialization study in Central Africa in the 1940s and the location of the dependent and independent variables for comparing the migrant communities; and a 1960s project in Guatemala which showed constant contestation for power among elites. We take the old and review and revise and build on that and open new ways of thinking about systems and their effects on the people that must live within them.  
    Lastly, June Nash has a chapter is a discussion of Immanuel Wallerstein’s world system theory of capitalism and how his approach “has roots in the political economy of dependent development and unequal exchange” (Nash 1981:234). Nash shows the evolution in thinking about how the world system developed, and the arguments against the theory. Evolution in economic development from subsistence farming to farming of cash crops to intense plot cultivation to “green revolution” scientific farming (Nash 1981:235).          

Orientalism and Exoticism

    The last concept in political anthropology that I want to discuss here is that of the orientalism described by Edward Said. Study of eastern cultures and quest of the anthropologist for the exotic have combined to construct the oriental of the Orient. Orientalism is an academic discipline that began, according to Said (1979:50-51) in Vienna in 1312 and manifested in chairs of various departments. The Orientalist studies the Orient: a geographic location to the East of Europe, with cultural qualities that distinguish it as such. Orientalism is a huge and all encompassing field with many sub-specialties. Said objects to the suffix saying that all other academic fields that study something are ologies, as in Orientology.
    The Orient was recorded for the enjoyment of western culture. The west, through writing and discourse on Oriental cultures, has in fact created Oriental culture (at least has defined it). So different is eastern culture from our own, that we have the tendency to exoticize it. With western centers of academia focusing on Oriental culture, a wave of experts has been created, each building on the work of the others, to make a definition of Oriental culture that is believed by Orientals.
    In an extention of the theme of orientalism, author Richard Fox explores the question: How far can Said’s theory of orientalism travel and how far should anthropology travel with him?” (Fox 1992:130) “In his ethnography…it helped him see that anthropology’s concept of culture was part of the stereotyping tradition pushing orientalism along” (Fox 1992:130). Fox examines Ghandian philosophy and finds Said’s theory “lacking because it failed to discuss how Orientals, once orientalized by western domination, actually used orientalism itself against that domination” (Fox 1992:130).
    According to Fox, Said, in Orientalism, “writes of lands defined by domination – the borders of the orient mapped out by the superiority of the West’s power to inscribe them” (Fox 1992:143). Diffusion of theory occurs as it moves across space and time and encounters and adjusts to other theories (143), says Fox about the way Said describes the movement of theory from the center outward. Fox is interested in how well Said’s theory of Orientalism has traveled in real time, and how well it has served anthropological study.
    Orientalism, he says, traveled farther that Said’s discussion of it (Fox 1992:144). Fox found Said’s theory to be a good framework for his ethnography of Sikhs in Northern India (Lions of the Punjab, 1985). Fox then goes into his next project about Ghandi and “Ghandhian utopianism” and how Ghandi found his beginning point for protesting British control in an essay about India’s demand for self rule, when that rule would be patterned after British colonial rule as they had no memory of what India’s rule was before colonialization, that there was no basis for an Indian nationalism, and Indian identity.

The Absolute Finale

    In the end, it is not a finale at all but a beginning. We began our studies with pure hearts. We do not come to anthropology to deceive, to overpower, or to conquer. But there it is, anthropology began as a study of the vanquished, the defeated, the Other, from the gaze of the victorious conqueror. So to make it right, we must alter our optics to be more self-reflective. The themes running through political anthropology today reverberate with the good will of those who would seek to define (an) other’s culture, as they seek to overturn old habits of constructing culture and allow people to construct self identities without bias. 

 

Sources Cited

Anderson, Benedict
1983    Chapter 6: Official Nationalism and Imperialism. In Imagined Communities, pp. 83-111. New York: Verso Publishing.

Comaroff, Jean, and John Comaroff
1991    Of Revelation and Revolution. In The Anthropology of Politics: A Reader in Ethnography, Theory, and Critique, ed. Joan Vincent. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

Edward Said on Orientalism
1998    Videocassette. Instructional Technology Services.

Evans-Pritchard, E. E.
1940    Nuer Politics: Structure and System. In The Anthropology of Politics: A Reader in Ethnography, Theory, and Critique, ed. Joan Vincent. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

Fox, Richard
1992    East of Said. In The Anthropology of Politics: A Reader in Ethnography, Theory, and Critique, ed. Joan Vincent. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

Gough, Kathleen
1968    New Proposals for Anthropologists. In The Anthropology of Politics: A Reader in Ethnography, Theory, and Critique, ed. Joan Vincent. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

Hutchinson, Sharon Elaine
1999    Nuer Ethnicity Militarized. In The Anthropology of Politics: A Reader in Ethnography, Theory, and Critique, ed. Joan Vincent. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

Kertzer, David I.
1988    Ritual, Politics, and Power. New Haven: Yale University Press.

McGee, R. Jon, and Richard L. Warms
2000    Anthropological Theory: An Introductory History, Second Edition. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company.

Nash, June
1981    Ethnographic Aspects of the World Capitalist System. In The Anthropology of Politics: A Reader in Ethnography, Theory, and Critique, ed. Joan Vincent. Malden, Massachusetts:Blackwell Publishing.

Nationalism:Blood And Belonging – Mirror, Mirror, Northern Ireland
1994    Videocassette. BBC Wales/Primedia co-production in association with Primetime PLC.

Said, Edward W.
1979    Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.

Scott, James C.
1985    Weapons of the Weak: Everyday forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Vincent, Joan ed.
2002    The Anthropology of Politics: A Reader in Ethnography, Theory, and Critique. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

Roseberry, William
1985    Images of the Peasant in the Conciousness of the Proletariat. In The Anthropology of Politics: A Reader in Ethnography, Theory, and Critique, ed. Joan Vincent. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

Swartz, Marc J., Victor W. Turner, and Arthur Tuden
1966    Political Anthropology. In The Anthropology of Politics: A Reader in Ethnography, Theory, and Critique, ed. Joan Vincent. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

Turner, Victor W.
1974    Passages, Margins, and Poverty: Religious Symbols of Communitas. In The Anthropology of Politics: A Reader in Ethnography, Theory, and Critique, ed. Joan Vincent. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

Wolf, Eric R.
1990    Facing Power – Old Insights, New Questions. In The Anthropology of Politics: A Reader in Ethnography, Theory, and Critique, ed. Joan Vincent. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

Copyright © 2010 all rights reserved Victoria Kline victoriakline.com
last updated on October 9, 2010