Home 603Seminar in the Anthropology of Power


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
September 8, 2005

Week 2: Introduction to the Anthropology of Politics and Power

The Anthropology of Politics: Introduction by Joan Vincent

The book begins with a first introduction, which tells what the book is about, why it was written, and how the book is divided. Part I contains political anthropology before 1940, and includes reference to the Enlightenment period of progress and science, and to post-Enlightenment thinkers who began to question the absolute power of the scientific word. Part II contains well-known writings in political anthropology (“classics”) for the years between 1940 and 1972 (Vincent 2002: 2). Vincent lists the authors that are presented in Part II giving some background on each one and how they fit into the volume. In Part III, writings (mostly between the 1970s and 1980s) are of a different bent because of challenges to the foundations of the discipline of anthropology. These readings concern themselves with questioning the birth and growth of the field of anthropology out of a base of Imperialism and Colonialism. Part IV readings revolve around the globalization of trade, the effects of this on the widening gap in economics between “classes,” and the speed at which this has and is still taking place.

Question: When was the Enlightenment? What names are associated with the Enlightenment?
“…the ideas and values of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European Enlightenment is alive, if not well, at the beginning of the twenty-first” (Vincent 2002: 3). “The influence of the eighteenth-century western European Enlightenment has been so profound and so widespread that it has become imperceptible” (4) and Vincent says that the vocabulary and ideas of the Enlightenment became the vocabulary and ideas for the foundation of the newly forming sub-field of political anthropology. Therefore, there is reference to the Enlightenment in many of the Part II, III, and IV chapters.

The Enlightenment, a construct of the late nineteenth century, label comes from Immanuel Kant (Vincent 2002: 4). 

At the end the Introduction to Part I (20) Vincent gives some suggestions for further reading. I am surprised to see G. C. Spivak’s A Critique of Pure Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present, which is recommended for her treatment of Kant, Hegel, and Marx.

Here is a brief description of the three men G. C. Spivak wrote about in the first chapter of the book mentioned above:

  1. Immanuel Kant 1724-1804 was a great man in German philosophy, the foundation actually who wrote bunches and influenced a great many people then and now. He philosophized on man’s use of reason although never traveling beyond 70 miles of the town where he was born. He reasoned that it was important for people (men) to be knowledgeable of their own microcosm of home. That is what he was focusing on, his own close hometown. Perhaps that is a mini representation of the rest of the world. The term Enlightenment***
  1. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 1770-1831, best known for teleological view of history, the epitome of which was Christianity and the Prussian state. Most influenced by Immanuel Kant


  1. Karl Marx 1818-1883 best known for his theoretical treatise of communism and most influenced by Georg Hegel, and Ludwig Feuerbach

The introduction to Part I is entitled “Prelude: The Enlightenment and Its Challenges”. In this introduction, Vincent gives more details for what we are about to read. Part I ends with direct quotes from several of the Enlightenment, post-Enlightenment thinkers and philosophers for us to read and reflect on, who contributed important ideas and writing to this time in history.

Marx is one of the writers selected for the post-Enlightenment thinker example. We viewed a film in the first class that was dedicated to telling his story. I found out how little I knew about Marx, but I was no doubt affected by his thinking being a resident of Berkeley in the late 1950s and 1960s. Marx promoted the cause of the common working man in class struggle with those in power. As was pointed out in class Marx did not take all areas of social inequality into consideration in his paradigm, such as race and gender.


Power/Knowledge: Truth and Power, Interview of Michel Foucault

Foucault is kind of weird. He talks about what people do and how people behave and for what reasons but separates himself, or holds himself aloof from it all. He questions everything; he tries to figure out the ‘order of things’ through logical processes. He does not think like everyone else, at least that is the illusion he would have us believe.

In “Truth and Power” interviewers Alessandro Fontana and Pasquale Pasquino pose questions worthy of the intellectual power of Michel Foucault. Foucault answers in spoken essays and deserves to have the nickname “The Articulator”. The entire interview consists of 14 questions, some of them short and in response to the spoken essays, which emerge powerfully from the breath of Foucault. Others questions are a page long and essay-like themselves.

The first question has to do with the linkage between two of Foucault’s many areas of study, his earlier writings of madness or insanity in the Classical age, and later works involving criminal behavior and punishment. Then, a question is posed that queries Foucault about his ideas on discontinuity, and structuralism.

They continue with talk about the dichotomy between structure and event. This seems to be an important concept that leaves me somewhat bewildered. Structure is the way we think or the thinkable (maybe something solid), whereas event is what has happened, the history, which Foucault and the interviewers say is irrelevant or irrational.

Question: I want to make sure this is correct: They are saying that events in history (or from yesterday) do not have any relevance on structure (what we are capable of thinking)? (Foucault 113)

They move on to dialectic, Hegelian, and semiotic.
Then to concepts of ideology and repression as results or products of the persuasion of power, with ideology referring back to Marx, and repression referring back to Freud.  

Question: What does Foucault mean when he speaks about Psychiatry as a ‘dibious’ science with a low epistemological profile? Is he saying that if you use a basic foundation of a dubious science, that a problem is easier to solve?

Question: How is Foucault able to claim that medicine has more “solid scientific armature” than psychiatry?

Question: What does Foucault mean by “vulgar epistemology”? (110)

Question: Have you ever thought of mathematics and physics as nobler than medicine? I have always known medicine to be the “noble” science as it is premised on the idea of service to mankind. He seems to be attacking the social sciences, but medicine does not fall in the social sciences.

OK, I think I have something, math and science fall under pure reasoning or formal logic, anything having to do with how people think or what they do use informal logic, because people are not logical. The direction of their thinking and doing are based on multiple factors, not always in their own best interest. People as social beings do not conform to formal logic.

One of the main ideas I came away from this reading with is that there is power in the institutions of knowledge. Knowledge is created and then tended and guarded within the institution. Knowledge is the seed of power. Knowledge must be based on truth to be of lasting value and therefore of lasting power.

Question: Since we are not logical, don’t we make many of our decisions based on ideas that are not true? And then, do you believe that the institution is a source of truth and therefore (worthy and long-lasting) knowledge?



Foucault, Michel
1980    Truth and Power. In Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings 1972-1977. Colin Gordon ed. Pp. 109-133. New York: Pantheon Books.

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

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last updated on October 9, 2010