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
October 20, 2005

Week 8: The Anthropology of Politics: Part III – Imperial Times, Colonial Places

Chapter 12: From the History of Colonial Anthropology to the Anthropology of Western Hegemony by Talal Asad
“Asad’s 1973 agenda – the historical relationship between the West and the Third World – clearly embraced orientalism. Indeed, Edward Said’s…shares the anthropological critique of the Euro-centeredness of scholarship on Third World regions” (Vincent 2002:130). “Asad called for anthropology to consider seriously the process of European global power” (Vincent 2002: 131).

This essay is concerned with the connection of colonialism and anthropology and how they evolved together. Anthropologists became agents of colonial government helping them to subdue the new subjects by defining them. From this beginning anthropology developed as an academic discipline, “concerned at first to help classify non-European humanity in ways that would be consistent with Europe’s story of triumph as ‘progress’” (Vincent 2002:133).

Asad says the influence of anthropologists on colonial rule has been misinterpreted, and wants to do away with some of these misconceptions. Anthropology’s roll in helping colonial government maintain control over the colony has been grossly overstated. Their input into the power structure was minimal. However, he says that the reverse is very true: the influence of the colonial government on the anthropologist was great indeed. Colonial control allowed anthropologists to access a field, and to begin their academic ascendance. They entered the field with agendas as they went about their duties of describing and naming elements of the other culture.

Question: Is it possible for a researcher to be without agendas? We have already spoken of this at length. We bring to the table all our preconceived prejudices and biases, conscious or unconscious. It would certainly be difficult to know what we carried around with us unconsciously. How can we be sure we are not perniciously infecting our ethnographic or development work with colonial mindsets?             

Chapter 13: East of Said by Richard G. Fox
“For Fox, the question is: How far can Said’s theory of orientalism travel and how far should anthropology travel with him?” (Vincent 2002:130) “In his ethnography…it helped him see that anthropology’s concept of culture was part of the stereotyping tradition pushing orientalism along” (Vincent 2002:130). 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” (Vincent 2002:130).

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” (Vincent 2002:143). Diffusion of theory occurs as it moves across space and time and encounters and adjusts to other theories (Vincent 2002:143), 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 (Vincent 2002:144). Fox found Said’s theory to be a good framework for his ethnography of Sikhs in Northern India (Lions of the Punjab, 1985). 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.
Nice way of framing his argument as “baggage handling.”

Chapter 14: Perceptions of Protest: Defining the Dangerous in Colonial Sumatra by Ann Stoler
Compares the murders of the family of a Dutch planter by a plantation worker in 1876, to that of a murder of a family of a Dutch planter by a “Javanese coolie” in 1929. In the first instance, there was bare reaction, no press beyond the minimal. In the second instance, there was a huge reaction in the fear and disgust of the Dutch people. The workers were becoming dangerous, there were “extremists” working against the system, etc. (Vincent 2002:153). Stoler says it was not the crimes that differed, but the length of time the Dutch had been colonizing Sumatra that made a difference in the Dutch reaction to them.

In 1876, the colony was new, and resistance was expected. By 1929, the colony was well established and the pecking order set. Colonial control had been legitimated over time, and therefore the reaction was that of owners being violated rather than the other way around.           

Chapter 15: Culture of Terror – Space of Death by Michael Taussig
“The space of death is one of the crucial spaces where Indian, African, and white gave birth to the New World” (Vincent 2002:173). Taussig talks about terror, torture, in other words the leverage of physical force that is the basis for the power structure in the New World. How do those in power maintain control: through physical violence and the fear that it generates. Taussig begins by introducing Jacobo Timerman, a newspaper editor who fought against terror and violence with a pen (his weapon of discourse) (Vincent 2002:172-173) resulting in imprisonment giving him more ammunition for symbolic duels.

The main example Taussig uses in this essay of the study of terror is a report submitted to the British government by one of their foreign agents, Roger Casement. The report outlined the atrocities that were occurring in British colonies in the Congo. The rubber trade was in full swing, and those Europeans who went to the Congo to extract rubber were fortune hunters.

The only way to make a good profit was to use indigenous labor to harvest the rubber. The only way to get the laborers and keep them working was first through physical force, isolation, the creation of false dependency, and violence resulting in many deaths. In Europe, the report was otherworldly, ghastly, unspeakable, unimaginable. What happened to Casement is that he got reassigned. It was just too much for the Brits to deal with at the time. The situation was one of depravity and piracy. Not for the weak of constitution.

Question: This reminds me of Lord of the Rings. When we are making up rules to suit ourselves, this is what we descend to, base physical force. We always go back to the question: Is this the true nature of humans? How about the true nature of men? Is it just our culture training that inhibits the natural tendency to control through physical force and therefore fear? 

Question: Market price and profit versus treatment of people. The way people are controlled in the market exchange system now, here in the US is also through fear. The fear is not of physical violence, but of a much more insidious emotional appeal – the fear of loss of status and security. That ever-threatening position makes life without stress in a wage earning position a near impossibility.  

Chapter 16: Images of the Peasant in the Consciousness of the Venezuelan Proletariat by William Roseberry
This essay 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 was OK with this arrangement in pre-capitalistic social systems, as long as protection of the peasant 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 OK with the peasants and causes seeds of rebellion.

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.  

Chapter 17:  Of Revelation and Revolution by Jean and John Comaroff
Evangelism comes to Africa. I think the main issue the Comaroff’s seek to explore is the effect of 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. (Vincent 2002:204)

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. 

Chapter 18: Between Speech and Silence by Susan Gal
Power is bestowed upon males because of their vocal-ness. Women, whose voice is muted, are not accorded space in the power structure. However, Gal says that silence is a way of wielding power, that women are much more powerful than one would think, as they use silence as a form of resistance.

Gal discusses the connection of speech, silences, and power by dividing her talk into three issues: that of the gendered link to silence, how verbal interaction is the “site of gender definitions and power,” and the ability to represent the self through speech rather than some one else being the representative.            Educated women are not considered in the same way as education allows entry into the discourse and therefore educated women become players in the vie for power. This is one of the promises of education for women. Educated women have the ability to act as free agents and not be passed from one dependent position to the next. They also have the opportunity to add to the economy of the state rather that simply subsisting. 

Chapter 19: Facing Power – Old Insights, New Questions by Eric Wolf
Discussion 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” (Vincent 2002:131). This essay is devoted to the discussion of 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.  

Chapter 20: Ethnographic Aspects of the World Capitalist System by June Nash           
This 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” (Vincent 2002: 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 (235). 


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