Welcome to Scribd, the world's digital library. Read, publish, and share books and documents. See more
Download
Standard view
Full view
of .
Save to My Library
Look up keyword
Like this
1Activity
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
EQUALITY AS A VALUE: Ideology in Dumont, Melanesia and the West. Joel Robbins

EQUALITY AS A VALUE: Ideology in Dumont, Melanesia and the West. Joel Robbins

Ratings: (0)|Views: 39 |Likes:
Published by evelyn_enduatta
EQUALITY AS A VALUE: Ideology in Dumont, Melanesia and the West. Joel Robbins

SOCIAL ANALYSIS, No. 36, October 1994.
EQUALITY AS A VALUE: Ideology in Dumont, Melanesia and the West. Joel Robbins

SOCIAL ANALYSIS, No. 36, October 1994.

More info:

Categories:Presentations
Published by: evelyn_enduatta on Mar 22, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

Availability:

Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less

04/30/2014

pdf

text

original

 
1989 "Defining the Posunodern", Lisa Appignanesi (ed.)
Postmodernism:
ICA
Documents, London, Free Association Books: 7-10. McCarthy, Thomas 1987 "Introduction" in Jtirgen Habennas,
The Philosophical Discourse
o
Modernity,
trans. F. Lawrence, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press: vii
xvii
Portoghesi, Paolo 1982
After Modern Architecture,
New York: Rizzoli. Poster, Mark
1981
''The Future According
t
Foucault: The Archaeology of Knowledge and Intellectual History"
in D.
Lacapra and S. Kaplan (eds.)
Modern European Intellectual History: The Appraisals and New Perpectives,
Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press: 137-52. Rau et,
~rard
1983 "Structuralism and Post-Structuralism:
An
Interview with Michel Foucault",
Telos
53:119-206. Rorty, Richard . 1985 "Habennas and Lyotard on Posunodernity"
in
Richard Bemstem (ed.)
Habermas and Modernity,
Cambridge, Polity Press. van Reijen, Willem 1990 "Philosophical-Political Polytheism: Habennas versus Lyotard",
Theory, Culture and Society
7:
95-103. Wel bery, David . .
..
. 1985 "Postrnodernism in Europe: On Recent Gennan Wntmg m
S.
Trachtenberg (ed.)
The Postmodern Moment,
London, Greenwood Press: 229-250. White, Stephen 1988
The Recent Work
o
Jiirgen Haber mas: Reaso n, Justice and Modernity,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 20
SOCIAL ANALYSIS
No. 36, October 1994
EQUALITY
AS
A VALUE: Ideology in Dumont, Melanesia
nd
the West.
Joel Robbins
Introduction
"It
is
a platitude
to
state that inequality
is
socially ubiquitous." (Hamilton 1986:9) "Sociologists typically write about inequality, not equality." (Turner 1986:15)
If
one
concentrates no more on function
but
on meaning.
then
each
sort
o
representation must
be
grasped where it is
ful y
accentuated and elaborated, where it rises
to
predominance and not where
it
is kept,
by
the
prevalence
of
other representations,
in
a
rudimentary or
residual
state.
(Dumont 1980:xxxix)
har
all people are equal and should
in
some sense
be
treated
as
such
is
surely the greatest scoff law in the Western tradition.
Even
if
we
grant that
the
Western tradition
is
in some sense an egalitarian one on
the
level of ideology,
no
one would
claim
that equality
is
regularly and thoroughly either achieved or aimed
for
in practice in any of the concrete societies to which the tradition has been attached. Equality
as
a value is
so
glaringly unrealized that it represents the most obvious rent
in
our ideological fabric and the one at which social critics most often begin the job
of
unraveling the whole. Such critiques from within the Western tradition are both necessary and laudable. But the fact that equality (whatever
its
rhetorical value on the ideological plane) is such an empirical non-starter in Western societies has
led to
a curious blindness
on
the part of Western social scientists:
they
are increasingly unable
to
see
equality
as an
important feature of social life anywhere.
At any
rate,
as
Turner tells us
in
the statement quoted above, social scientists are certainly
more
likely to write about inequality
than
its
opposite. The general attitude towards equality
in
contemporary social science
is
best characterized as suspicious. People's claims to
be
acting
to
maximize equality
or
that equality actually exists in some sphere of their own society are taken
to
be ideological covers or supports
for
existing inequalities.
It
is
as
if
in
some
way
21
 
equality
is
in its essence ideal and illusory, while inequality
is
simply the nature
o
social reality. This leads
to
a logic whereby all of the egalitarian aspects of a culture or ideology can be discounted in the face of any empirical (not
to
mention ideally sanctioned) inequalities, whereas any empirical equalities that might be found are immediately discounted as either ideological distractions, safety valves, or some other epiphenomenon in the service of a more fundamental inequality. Consider how absurd it would be, in the present climate,
to
contend that one had found a case
in
which the equalities were real and the inequalities were illusory, where inequalities simply served
to
mask more fundamental equalities or represented simply an ideal (re)forrnulation of empirically existing equalities. When the argun'tent
is
turned around this way the language
is
all wrong, the assertions sound absurd. But this
is
the language of our social science, and such absurdity represents a lintit to our ability
to
conceive of equality. The irony, of course, is that just such a notion of basic human equality, an equality which
we
feel is often warped or misrepresented
in
thought and practice, motivates our critiques of inequality
in
the first place. The assumption that underlies most of our critical practice is, as Wright (1992:121) puts it, that [i]ndividuals are more 'naturally' equal than
they
are socially unequal. But the clumsiness that comes when
we
talk about equality as a fundamental feature of
any
existing society suggests that we have given up hope of discovering what equality might be like when it is culturally valued and socially realized. In our own Western circumstances suspicions about equality are warranted often enough, and pointing out the ideological function of the notion of equality
is
important; but the situation
is
otherwise when anthropologists uncritically bring this suspicion
to
their analyses of other cultures. The cultures anthropologists study
may
not be egalitarian in any meaningful sense, but then again
they
might. Behind
the
present essay, as its most general motivation, stands the claim that anthropologists ought
to
be able
to
show both
why
the concept equality occupies the awkward place it does in our own culture and also what other sorts of places it might have
in
other cultures. Then anthropologists would at least be in a position to spur the Western critical imagination out of its rather pessimistic rut. As Beteille (1986:128) has advised,
if
we are
to
take equality seriously,
we
must enlarge
the
concept
o
equality.
If
anthropologists are
to
assist
in
this task of enlargement,
they
will have
to
take other cultures' ideas of equality seriously and avoid approaching them simply as mystifications of more or less minimal conceptual complexity. Claims about a disciplinary blindness to equality
may
seem overdrawn or inaccurate
to
anyone who has not been attentive
to
developments
in
the field
o
anthropology over the last decade or so. Despite
the
general Western skepticism concerning claims
to
have found an actually existing egalitarian society, the force
o
the binary logic implicit
in
anthropology's mission
to
study the other has often
led
to
the labeling
to
the societies
they
study as egalitarian, acephalous, non· stratified, or primitive communist. Such terms were, however, rarely well theorized and stood more as descriptive epithets or impressionistic tags than as analytic concepts. Flanagan and Rayner (1988:1) are thus accurate when
they
assert 22 that egalitarianism remains a residual category
in
the discipline. The theoretical vagueness of egalitarianism and related expressions
is
evidenced
by
how quickly anthropologists abandoned these terms during the last decade. Such rapid abandonment would not have been the case, one imagines,
if
anthropologists had possessed any satisfactory theory of what an egalitarian society consists
in.
Echoing Evans-Pritchard's earlier claims of a shift
from
fllllction
to
meaning,
we
can say that the decline
of
notions
of
egalitarianism has come about as a consequence of the rise of a variety of concepts and theories that have engineered a shift
from
meaning
to
inequality, power and domination as the
foci
of anthropological studies. Various sorts of Marxism, feminism and cultural studies, along with the specific theories of Bourdieu, Bakhtin, Foucault, Gramsci, Hall, Said etc., have
in
different ways sharpened the anthropological ability
to
detect inequalities and have motivated anthropologists
to
be on the lookout for them in all domains of social life. These various approaches are also all suspicious of egalitarian claims. Indeed, even when some theoretical strands of movements that have participated in the shift
to
inequality, power and domination highlight the concept of egalitarian societies, as Collier and Yartagisako (1987:36-37) suggest
is
the case in feminist anthropology, the trend
has
been
to
argue that any inequalities
in
a society disqualify an egalitarian reading of its social life. Given both an enhanced ability
to fmd
instances
o
inequality and the tendency
to
let any instances of inequality render a society
Wlworthy
of examination as egalitarian, it
is
not suprising that egalitarianism
has
become a virtual non-topic in anthropology. One might imagine that Melanesia, one of the ethnographic areas focused
on
in
this essay, has been exempt
from
the recent anthropological concern with inequality. Melanesianist ethnographers have regularly described the cultures
they
study as aggressively egalitarian (Forge 1970:257), fiercely egalitarian (Burridge 1969:38), or as ones where men assume a thoroughgoing posture of equality (Schieffelin 1976: 129),
to
choose some of the more colourful examples.
If
we
are willing
to
settle
for
more pedestrian proclamations of egalitarianism,
the
majority
o
Melanesian ethnographers will oblige in supplying them (e.g.,
from
different phases of the field's development, Lawrence 1964:11, LiPuma 1988:40). But while these sorts of claims of egalitarianism were more often asserted than argued
for,
anthropologists have recently begllll
to
argue pointedly that
they
are incorrect.
This
trend
h s
been well documented in Jolly's (1987) article The Chimera of Equality
in
Melanesia. Indeed, the very title of the article
is
a symptom of
the
suspicious climate whose history she
so
ably traces. After discussing Forge's The Golden
Fleece,
published
in
1972 and one
of
the
few
attempts actively
to
actively think out what might qualify Melanesian societies as egalitarian, Jolly (1087:172-3) writes: ... ten years later, the dominant discourse had shifted
from
egalitarianism
to
talk of 'inequalities' among men and between men and women ... This dramatic shift was primarily the result of the challenge both Marxist and feminist theory presented in the context of Melanesian ethnography [footnote omitted].
23
 
This shift finds its landmark
in
Strathern's (1982) edited volume,
Inequality in
the
New Guinea Highlands
while the tenor of the "dominant discourse" that was ftrmly in place
by
the mid to late 1980's can be exemplified
by
the following two quotations:
n
many of these societies [of the Northern Highlands] clans are essentially communities of men
in
which women have only secondary rights (an arrangement that seriously qualifies Highlander's anthropological reputation for egalitarianism) (Lederman 1987:340). Although compared to many other Highlands groups Kewa have only mild fears of female pollution and today practise very little sexual separation, women are clearly politically subordinated
to
men and economically dependent
on
them. This
is
the other side of
the
male 'egalitarian ethos' coin (Josephides 985:8). The scare quotes around '"egalitarian ethos'" in Josephides conlribution are perched above the phrase like vultures waiting
to
devour a dying concept -the egalitarian epithet in Melanesia as elsewhere
is
quite obviously
in
trouble1. To summarize, I am in no
way
claiming that the study of inequalities, whether
consnued
in
indigenous tenns
or
in our
own,
is
useless. I
am,
however, convinced
that a failure
to
recognize how equality and inequality are differently defmed and orgartized in different cultures threatens the viability of
any
properly anthropological project. To
see
inequality everywhere, especially where an "egalitarian ideology"
is
vocally stressed, is an easy ethnocenlrism, relying as it does
on
our own ingrained sense, probably accurate enough as far as the Western world goes, that equality is never really a paramount value in any culture. Attempts
to
spot inequality and dontination anywhere and everywhere risk merely reproducing the Western social science and social philosophy upon which
they
are based, rather than expanding them or "enlarging" their concepts. Such efforts at reproduction might well bolster certain critical trends in theory that
feel
accurate or important
in
our own home contexts. But the possibility exists that in not taking equality as a value seriously as a possible aspect of other cultures
we
are missing out
on
opponunities
to
engage
in
the critical practices of situating Western discourses of equality by viewing them from another vantage point and of presenting other models of equality currently unthought
o
in the West. The remainder of this essay thus develops two themes. The first considers the place of equality in Western cultures. One needs little coaxing
to
recognize that equality
is
a confusing, polysemous concept in the West. It
is in
fact, something of a loose cannon on the ideological deck, firing consistently
in
favour of no panicular political side. Rather than take this state of affairs as an indication that equality
is
simply a mystification, however, the present task is
to
subject it
to
a cultural analysis that can
to
some extent explain its multivocality and political slipperiness. The second theme consists in the development of an analysis of the definition and place of equality in another group of cultures: those
o
Melanesia. The Melanesian material
is
24 analysed with an
eye
toward specifying alternative modelings of equality and describing what
at
least one kind of "egalitarian" culture looks like in some detail. There
is
a final aspect of this essay that requires introduction, as
it
underlies much of what
has
already been said and all that follows.
n
essence, this project is an attempt at doing "Dumontian" anthropology.
As
will be explained below and
in
the conclusion, the analysis springs
from
what I consider
to
be typically Dumontian motivations and proceeds theoretically and methodologically along the lines
of
Dumont's own analyses. Although I think
few
would argue that Dumont does not present a fairly coherent and original version of anthropology throughout his work,2 the fact that "Dumontian" sounds somewhat queer as an adjective, and does not
resonate nearly
as
richly as,
say,
Durkheimian, Maussian,
or
L~vi-Straussian,
indicates that Dumontian anthropology has been neither
fully
codified nor institutionalized as
yet.
But if
we
define "egalitarian" as a culture
in
which equality is a paramount value, then Dumont
is
the most likely candidate among anthropological theorists
to
aid us
in
analyzing one. He
is
the one anthropologist working with a coherent theory of the operations of value
in
culture. Delineating what that theory is will be the task of the next section and constitutes a third major goal of this essay.
Dumont s Anthropology
While a thorough review of Dumont's works
is
neither possible nor desirable here, the above mentioned lack of standardization of a Dumontian approach necessitates that one make an effon
to
specify which aspects of his work one
is
putting forward as a coherent program. Dumont
is
often enough understood primarily as a structuralist. Dumont (1986:234) himself
is
not beyond referring
to
his "structural allegiance," an allegiance made plain
to
readers of,
in
panicular,
Homo Hierarchicus
and his work
on
kinship. Douglas (1975:185)
in
fact remarks
in
regard
to
Homo Hierarchicus
that, "when
it
was first published
in
French it was
the
first serious structural analysis of a particular society." At times one gets the sense that Dumont would like
to
fmd
the similarities between his approach and Uvi-Strauss' explained most forcefully
by
reference
to
their common Maussian heritage, rather than
by any
casting of himself as an epigone of his contemporary; he also claims Evans-Pritchard as a major influence. Still, it is quite obvious that much of the force of Dumont's work comes from his supple use of both the holism and the relationalism that are central
to
structuralism. will define these terms further
in
the course of a consideration of the important differences between Dumont and Levi-Strauss. Uvi-Strauss
has
arguably developed the most sophisticated technique anthropologists have for specifying cultural differences. His structuralism allows
for
a consideration not only of differences between individual symbols and understandings but also, in the best cases, for a determination of more orgartized
or
fundamental differences in the ways such symbols, understandings, and their attendant social actions are related. As, for example, in his studies of kinship, the
25

You're Reading a Free Preview

Download
/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->