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Political Organization and the
Maintenance of Order
anthropology’s interest in power and
maintenance of order
► political
organization refers to the way
power is distributed and embedded in
► who has power
► how does power differ from authority
► how is power organized and administered
distinction between power and
► power:
ability to bring about results
 power may be informal and based on force
 coercive power versus persuasive power
 Symbolic power based on positive expectations
of those who accede to it
► authority
is the socially recognized right to
exert power
► legitimacy - the socially recognized right to
hold, use, and allocate power
Eric Wolf: 4 Modalities of Power
► Potency,
capability, charisma (individual)
► Ability of person to impose its will in social action
upon another
► Tactical or organizational power -- The
instrumentalities through which individuals or
groups direct or circumscribe the actions of others
► Structural power – power that organizes and
orchestrates the settings themselves & that
specifies the direction & distribution of energy
Power: Foucault’s panopticon
► The
shaping of perception
► Discursive practices in the absence of active
► The gaze in the absence of the perceiving
► a world in which the gaze, free of all
obstacle, is no longer subjected to the
immediate law of truth: the gaze is not
faithful to truth, nor subject to it, without
asserting, at the same time, a supreme
Foucault on Discourse (and power)
form of power that circulates in the social
field and can attach to strategies of
domination as well as those of resistance (
Diamond and Quinby, 1988, p. 185)
► the 'discursive field‘ -- the relationship
between language, social institutions,
subjectivity and power
► 'disciplinary power'
internalized controls
► cultural
control: through meaning
 sinners are going to hell
► social
control: through relations and
 gossip, excommunication
► stopping
at red lights at midnight
externalized controls
► sanctions:
externalized social controls
designed to encourage conformity to social
 law is formal negative sanctions
 controlling under-age student drinking
positive sanction to join versus
►formal negative sanction not to
 witchcraft
dispute resolution
► Inuit
song duels
► adjudication by courts
► ability to employ sanctions vary from level
to level
 municipal, provincial and federal law
 household authority to punish children?
► anthropologists
and conflict resolution and
Anthropology of warfare
► The
materialist/ecological school
 causes of pre-state warfare are to be found largely in
the material foundations of the cultural system
► The
biocultural school
 causes of warfare are ultimately to be found in a
combination of ecological and biological elements
► The
historical school
 war is to be found in the specific historical context of
the events in question and the personal motivations of
the people involved in those events
political organization: an early preoccupation of anthropologists
► British
India and Africa: how are people
ruled without a state
► Victorian Europe and the appearance of the
modern nation-state
► idea of acephalous societies
 without heads
early evolutionary scheme matched
with subsistence strategies
► band,
tribe, chiefdom, state (Elman Service)
 foragers, horticulturalists, agriculturalists,
► still
see different types of political
organization as related to
subsistence strategy
population density and heterogeneity
degree of hierarchy and social stratification
presence of bounded territory
degree of formalization of rule
Band, Tribe, Chiefdom, State
► sequence
can be replaced with contrast
between uncentralized and centralized
political systems
► Replace evolutionary perspective with:
 ethnographic present
 historical perspective
Uncentralized political systems
► include:
bands and tribes
► associated with:
subsistence level economies such as foraging
small, homogeneous populations
little social stratification
relatively autonomous groups
often relatively mobile without strict territorial
 no formal leader or organization beyond kinship
the band
► small
group of politically independent, through
related, households
► all social relationships based on kinship
► least complex form of political organization
 perhaps the oldest form as well
► associated
with foraging forms of subsistence
► decisions made through consensus
 disgruntled leave
► no
fixed leadership, only informal recognition of
 typically male, but females have power as well
 most successful hunter and most senior woman
The Tribe
► tribal
system consists of separate bands or
► integrated through lineages, clans, age
grades, or other associations cross-cutting
kinship and territory
 less autonomy for greater security
► associated
with farming or herding
subsistence strategies
 greater food production
► greater
population density
The tribe
► consists
of one or more autonomous
communities which may then form alliances
► may range across a broad territory
► social stratification related to kinship and
cross-cutting associations
► needs for alliance
defense or raiding
pooling of resources
capitalize on a windfall
often return to autonomous communities
The tribe
► informal
► no centralized leadership
► typically someone respected for wisdom or
prowess – charisma & “big men”
► group decisions by consensus
 leaders may influence through oratory
 decisions enforced through
of cooperation
that anti-social actions cause disease
The tribe
► leaders
of localized descent groups or a territorial
► authority is personal
 not elected, no formal office
 status result of personal behavior
► status
often achieved through giving away
 many wives
 extended kin networks
► Big
Women in Vanatinai (Maria Lepowsky)
 give more mortuary feasts
 may gain power as sorcerers, healers, gardeners
kinship organization in tribes
► clan
may be the organizing unit and seat of
political authority
 elders of clan may form council
► segmentary
lineage system – The Nuer of East
► patrilineal clans
 maximal lineage, major, minor, minimal lingeage
 smallest group defined by one great grandfather
 all segments equal and no leadership above minimal or
primary segments
► form
alliances to face threats
Us and Them
► Bedouin
 I against my brother; I and my brother against
our cousin; I, my brother and our cousin
against the neighbors; all of us against the
► based
on complementary or balanced
► a model for ethnicity?
other examples of tribal organization
► age-grade
► association organization
 Cree military societies and warriors’ clubs
► differentiation of social role based on age,
commonly found in small-scale societies of North
America and tribal groups of East Africa
► Age sets are a type of sodality
► Age grades may be marked by changes in
biological state, such as puberty
► Or by socially recognized status changes such as
marriage and the birth of a child
► Persons of junior grade may defer to those of
more senior grade who in turn teach, test, or lead
their juniors
Maasai Age Sets (E. Africa
► rigid
system of age-sets
► apply primarily to men; women automatically become
members of the age-set of their husbands
► groups of the same age (give or take five years or so)
are initiated into adult life during the same period
► The age-set is a permanent grouping
 lasts throughout the life of its members
hierarchy of grades
 junior warriors, senior warriors
 junior elders (sometimes classed as senior warriors), and
senior elders
► the
ones who make decisions affecting the whole tribe
tribal organization
► term
used differently than in popular usage
► not a catch-all for anyone not living in a
state or those considered to be inferior
 tribalism = chaotic political situation
► also
not equivalent to usage by some
aboriginal groups today
Centralized political systems
► include:
chiefdoms and states
► associated with:
 intensive agricultural or industrialization
► technology
becomes more complicated
► labour specialization increases
large, diverse population
less mobility
opportunity for control of resources appears
appearance of coercive force
male leaders more frequent
political authority is concentrated in a single individual
(chiefdoms) or a body of individuals (the state)
regional polity in which one or more local
groups are organized under a single ruling
individual – the chief – who is at the head
of a ranked hierarchy of people
The Chief
► Divine
king – macrocosm and microcosm
► status determined by closeness to chief
► office of chief often hereditary
 passing to son or to sister’s son
based on talents
►often conceived as a semi-sacred position
► may
amass personal wealth to add to power
true authority figure with a formal office
► can distribute resources
associated with redistributive economies
chief controls surpluses and labour
may collect taxes or tribute
may recruit labour for community projects
► irrigation,
a temple, a palace
 can conscript for military
► recognized
hierarchy linked to chief
► tend to be unstable
► may form confederacies
 Iroquois League of Five Nation, Algonquin Confederacy
► Rank
► do not have unequal access to economic resources
or to power, but they do contain social groups
having unequal access to prestige
► unequal access to prestige often reflected in
position of chief to which only some members of a
specified group in the society can succeed
► Ascribed status
Band & tribe vs. chiefdom
► in
band and tribal societies competitive
displays & conspicuous consumption by
individuals disappears & anyone foolish
enough to boast how great he is gets
accused of witchcraft & is stoned to death
► reciprocity predominates, not redistribution
the state
► the
most formal of political organizations
and is one of the hallmarks of civilization
► political power is centralized in a
government which may LEGITIMATELY use
force to regulate the affairs of its citizens
► Weber’s monopoly on the legitimate use of
The state: associated with -► increased
food production (agriculture and
► irrigation and transformation of landscape
► increased population
► fixed territory
► developed market system
► appearance of cities developed urban sector
The state: associated with -► appearance
of bureaucracy
► military
► usually
an official religion
► delegation of authority to maintain order
 within and without its borders
► right
to control information
► authority is formal and impersonal
 Holding office and the person
The state: associated with -► differentiation
in population appears – social
► appearance of ethnicity
► permanent, heritable inequality
 slaves, castes and classes
► social
conflict increases
original states appeared 5000 years
► primary
states are agricultural
► theories about their formation
► military needs, irrigation needs,
environmental conditions
why the state? from band to state
► more
► more people
► more sedentism
► more inequality and ranking
► less reliance on kinship
► more internal and external conflict
► increased power and responsibility to leaders
► increased burden to citizens to support political
► increased use of formal, legal structures for
The Nation (-State)
► modern
nation-state a more recent phenomenon
 most have appeared since the end of WWII
► communities
of people who see themselves as
“one people” on the basis of common ancestry,
history, society, institutions, ideology, language,
territory, and (often) religion
► anthropology questions this reality while
recognizing the power of the idea
► differences are suppressed in modern nationstates
The State, The Nation, and Ethnicity
► 181
states but 5000 nations?
► idea that nation and state coincide is rare
► The appearance of ethnicity and the rise of the
► (Nash) nation-state responsible for the rise and
definition of social entities called ethnic groups last 500 years
 grew out of the wreck of empires, breakups of
civilizations - disruptions of mechanic societies
 within borders of nation-state - social and cultural
Race and Ethnicity
► races
are ethnic groups assumed to have a
biological basis, but actually race is socially
constructed, there are social races
 There are no biological human races
► up
until 14th cent. in Europe cultural & social
evolution based on the idea of progress from kinbased societies to civil society through governance
& law
► after 16th cent. in Europe dispositions of blood
distinguished the character of difference (racist
notions of social & cultural evolution)
► forged
in the process of historical time
► subject to shifts in meaning
► Subject shifts in referents or markers of
ethnic identity
► Subject to political manipulations
► ethnic identity is not a function of primordial
ties, always the genesis of specific historical
forces that are simultaneously structural &
Political Organization and Ethnicity
► ethnicity
is founded upon structural
inequities among dissimilar groups into a
single political entity
► based on cultural differences & similarities
perceived as shared
► identification with & feeling a part of an
ethnic group & exclusion from certain other
groups because of this affiliation (endogamy
& exogamy)
building blocks of ethnicity
► associated
with distinctions between
language, religion, historical experience,
geographic isolation, kinship, notions of race
► markers of ethnic identity may include
collective name, belief in common descent,
sense of solidarity, association with a
specific territory, clothing, house types,
personal adornment, food, technology,
economic activities, general lifestyle
Ethnicity and Boundaries
► where
there is a group there is some sort of
► where there are boundaries there are
mechanisms for maintaining boundaries
 cultural markers of difference
 cultural markers of difference must be visible to
members and non-members
► "fluidity"
of ethnic identity - ethnic groups
vanish, people move between ethnic
groups, new ethnic groups come into
► ethnogenesis
- emergence of new ethnic
group; part of existing group splits & forms
new ethnic group, members of two or more
groups fuse
► society
in which ethnic distinctions persist in
spite of generations of interethnic contact
► economic niche & plural society
► no assimilation
► peaceful (??) coexistence of different
► many contemporary plural societies the
result of colonialism
► nation
was once a term that referred to
tribe, indigenous people, or ethnic group collectivity sharing single language, religion,
history, territory, ancestry, kinship (Herder &
► nation comes to mean the state = a
country, but a sociopolitical form, the
modern state composed of diverse ethnic
Nation as “Imagined Community”
► "it
is imagined because the members of
even the smallest nation will never know
most of their fellow members, meet them,
or even hear of them, yet in the minds of
each lives the image of their communion"
(Anderson p.15)