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 23, 2005

Essay 1: Enlightenment Thought as the Foundation of the
Anthropology of Politics

In the introduction to the volume The Anthropology of Politics, Vincent states that there is a surprising undercurrent to the writings contained in the collection: that of the ”subterranean presence of the ideas and values of the eighteenth-century European Age of Enlightenment in the anthropology of politics” (Vincent 2002: 1) To discover what she means by this, we begin with definitions of Enlightenment philosophy, post-Enlightenment, and counter-Enlightenment and how they are related to the foundations of the anthropology of politics. Included will be reference to many of the authors that Vincent cites and how their philosophies emerge from a base of Enlightenment thinking.

Enlightenment philosophy has its foundation in seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe but with roots back to the Greek philosophers. There are a great many names associated with the Enlightenment, too many to mention here. For the purposes of this paper I will incorporate those that are directly related to our readings. Those will be thinkers and philosophers, politicians, and intellectuals: eighteenth century Enlightenment philosophers Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and Immanuel Kant; nineteenth century post-Enlightenment thinkers: Henry Sumner Maine, Lewis Henry Morgan, and Karl Marx; and late nineteenth- early twentieth century counter-Enlightenment theorist: James Mooney.

Vincent says that the ideas of Smith, Ferguson, and Kant, as Scottish and German representatives of Enlightenment thinking, were most influential in shaping American and British political anthropological thought (Vincent 2002: 17). She goes on to say that there were two schools of thought or two theoretical foundations that these men put forth, the first was that of moral philosophy that Smith was most concerned with, and that included the relationship between the citizen and the state, the individual and society, and the ideas of community and society, law and peace. The second was that of political economy and included such concerns as the market, private property, and modernization. This area was the forte of Kant, with Ferguson somewhere between the two (Vincent 2002: 17).

Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a political economist and author of Wealth of Nations. He lived in Scotland with his mother until she died at the age of 90, and of course never married. He led an academic life lecturing without notes but with the ability to make a perfect argument on his feet (to the delight of his students and others in social gatherings). He was a close friend of David Hume, a contemporary of Voltaire whom he met in the 1760s, and was a scholar of history and philosophy (Farrer 1881).

Adam Ferguson was also a Scott: a historian and philosopher. He also knew David Hume, from whom he took over an academic library post. Ferguson’s writings had influence on Adam Smith. Ferguson is known for his Essay on Civil Society. Ferguson was interested in the origins of human nature, and the foundations of social contracts. He thought of human behavior as driven by “a will to power” as well as pleasure seeking. “It was a ‘natural’ history of the progress of mankind, along the lines that had been pursued by many Enlightenment philosophers, particularly David Hume” (Fonseca n.d.).

Immanuel Kant 1724-1804 was a great man in German philosophy, the foundation actually who wrote several influential books including Critique of Pure Reason; Critique of Practical Reason; and Critique of Judgment. 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. Volumes have been written in response to Kant’s original books.

One emphasis of Enlightenment philosophy was that reasoning could be used to solve any of man’s multitudes of problems. Camaroff and Camaroff (1991) discuss the Enlightenment in terms of an “ideological scaffolding” for a system of “structured knowledge” (qtd. Vincent 2002: 4). Vincent uses the words “the rise of utilitarian individualism,” “virtues of the self-disciplined, self-made man,” to describe the individualistic focus of the Enlightenment.

Private property and status, poverty as a mark of failure, “enlightened self-interest and the free market” and how the free market works towards the “greatest public good,” reason and method, science and technology, as the proper means for achieving an ever more educated and elevated, civilized and cultivated mankind” or “pure reason and enlightened self-interest,” (Vincent 2002: 4) all articulate a move towards self and ownership. There is the forging out of the state in search of new territory and subjects.

“Systematically structured knowledge – science and reason, progressive evolution, the commercial paradigm of the Enlightenment – tends towards homogeneity and exclusivity and to become hegemonic” (Vincent 2002: 5).

John Hooker of Washington State University provides a list of the main components of Enlightenment thought: the universe can be understood through human reasoning; empirical observation, reason, and systematic questioning can lead to the truth about the universe; people should stand on their own two feet, and become independent in order to learn the truth about the universe and its systematic rational ways. Humanity can be manipulated through engineering just like the natural world. Both worlds can be controlled (for their own betterment of course). Progress, everything is all about progress. Humans can be artificially progressed through education. Religion has no place in the universal truth (Hooker 1996, 17th Century).

Enlightenment thought is based on two developments: the scientific revolution in the physical sciences, and the extension of empirical models of physical sciences to social or human sciences. Everything can be explained as a system that functions mechanically. The Enlightenment was a movement away from faith-based belief systems the church espoused, towards the necessity of proof in terms of tangible evidence that could be shown through the methodology of science.

A definition of post-Enlightenment is in order as many of the participants in the Vincent volume fall under this heading. Post-Enlightenment seems to be in thinking in terms of communal good rather than individual good with an egalitarian model in division of resources, against progress and technology, skeptical and nihilistic (Murray 1998). As we discussed in class (September 22, 2005) the Enlightenment, post-Enlightenment, and counter-Enlightenment happened during the same time period, occurred somewhat simultaneously. Another thought that came up in the same discussion is that there is no real beginning to the Enlightenment, or an end point either. However, Enlightenment thought is still pervasive, and as Vincent says so prevalent as to be “imperceptible” (2002: 4).

Lewis Henry Morgan is held up as an example of post-Enlightenment thought. It makes it tough because I see him analyzing and categorizing the same way as the Enlightenment thinkers, and thinking in terms of progress of mankind. He put forth the idea that men evolved socially in three stages: savagery, barbarism, and civilization, with all societies developing towards the highest state. He did have the idea that all men could be equal – that they had the potential to be equal. But it was the evolution of society with a theoretical paradigm based on Darwinism that was the basis of Morgan’s theory (McGee 2000: 41-52).

For Henry Sumner Maine (1818-1888), another post-Enlightenment example of Vincent, the idea that the people of India, once free and now ruled over by the “virtually despotic government” of Great Britain was something worth taking note of (Vincent 2002: 23). Maine was an academic who lectured on ancient law, the history of law, and international law (McMaster n.d). He also wrote a great deal about law, and worked as legal member of the general governor of India’s council. 

The term counter-Enlightenment as mentioned in Vincent (2002: 4) deals with ”Subaltern knowledge…shadowy paradigms in the grey literature of a counter-Enlightenment” (Vincent 2002: 5). The voice of the subaltern in Enlightenment thought was mute. The subaltern had to be taken care of like a child, as he had no ability to think outside his tiny world. The subaltern was to be civilized to make him fully human. “Mooney’s counter-Enlightenment discourse stands for a subterranean, alternative anthropology of politics that, at a certain moment in time, was relegated to the past; it was excluded from the construction of the new academic sub-field of political anthropology that took the discipline by storm in the 1940s” (Vincent 2002: 19).

Counter-Enlightenment deflects all things Enlightenment or progressive.
Because applied Enlightenment thinking does more to broaden the gap in economic division, and more to strengthen the hierarchy between classes. Counter-Enlightenment thinkers such as Mooney, wanted to point out inequities between groups, and how embedded Enlightenment thinking alters our perception blinding us from reality the which is that all the science and empirical thinking has not made the lives of colonized individuals better, but overall worse. His work was with the Cherokee, and also wrote accounts of witnessing the Ghost Dance ritual as engaged in by different American Indian tribes. He believed that they were not lesser human beings that needed to be civilized, but had their own sophisticated system of law and order, it simply was not the same as what we (Europeans) were used to. I think Mooney could also be classified as a post-Enlightenment thinker.

If we look to Spivak for explanation of counter-Enlightenment and the use of the voice of the subaltern for explanations of culture, forget about counting anything or making a chart out of humans, or trying to civilize or control them, that is not how to find out about real people.

However, one can get to know the writers and where their sentiments lay in critical reading of their texts. Spivak looks at the works of three Western Philosophers that were and are widely read: Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel, and Karl Marx to trace the foundations of post-colonial thought and reasoning. These three authors have great impact in social thought. Spivak says that in the field of philosophy, “Germany produced authoritative ‘universal’ narratives where the subject remained unmistakably European” (Spivak 1999: 8).  The “native informant” is referred to on many pages for instance on page 6 “the native informant, although denied autobiography…is a blank, though generative of a text of cultural identity that only the West…could inscribe” Spivak says she borrows the term native informant from ethnography (1999: 6).

There is reference to women and southern women being today’s native informant: “In the pores of this book will be the suggestion that, the typecase of the foreclosed native informant today is the poorest woman of the South” (Spivak 1999: 6).

Spivak starts with the philosopher Immanuel Kant and his “Critique” series of volumes whom I have discussed above in relation to his Enlightenment influence, then works her way Georg Hegel and then Karl Marx, each generation feeding off the influence of the previous. 
Karl Marx is one of the writers selected by Vincent as a post-Enlightenment thinker example.

We viewed a film in the first class that was dedicated to telling his story. Marx promoted the cause of the common workingman in class struggle with those in power. As was pointed out in class discussion (September 15, 2005), Marx did not take all areas of social inequality into consideration in his paradigm, such as race and gender. (Karl Marx 1987) Also, in relation to this, Karl Marx could also be considered a counter-Enlightenment theorist.

The selection of Vincent readings in Part II, represent all three modes of Enlightenment viewpoints (regular, late, and counter), and I know they are there because Vincent has said so. However, I find it difficult to be definite about all of the author’s past influence and therefore leanings. It seems that it may show up in the political viewpoint, conservative being more an Enlightenment influenced thinking mode, and liberal being more post- or counter-Enlightenment in perspective. If I could definitely make this connection, it may be easier to ferret out the influences. But, whatever they may be, as we discussed in class, whether one is Enlightenment, post- or counter-, he is influenced by the philosophies of the Enlightenment. 


Sources Cited

Farrer, James Anson
1881    Adam Smith: Biographical Sketch. September 19, 2005. <http://socserv2.socsci.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/smith/farrer.html>.

Fonseca, Goncalo L.
n.d.      Adam Ferguson, 1723-1815. September 20,2005. <http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/profiles/ferguson.htm>. New York: The New School for Social Research.

Hooker, John
1996    The European Enlightenment. September 20, 2005. <www.wsu.edu/~dee/ENLIGHT/ENLIGHT.HTM>.

Karl Marx and Marxism
1983    Videocassette. Thames Production.

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

McMaster University
n.d.      Henry Sumner Maine. Archive for the History of Economic Thought. September 23, 2005. http://socserv2.socsci.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/

Murray, Charles
1998    The Real Culture Wars. September 23, 2005.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty
1999    A Critique of Post Colonial Reason:  Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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