Political anthropologyFrom Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
concerns the structure of political systems, looked atfrom the basis of the structure of societies. Political anthropologists includePierreClastres,E. E. Evans-Pritchard,Meyer Fortes,Georges Balandier,FredrikBailey, Jeremy Boissevain,Marc Abélès, Jocelyne Streiff-Fenart, Ted C.Lewellen,Robert L. Carneiro, John Bornemanand Joan Vincent.Political anthropology developed as a recognizable, well-defined branch of anthropology only in the 1940s and 1950s, as it became a main focus of theBritish functionalist schools, heavily inspired by Radcliffe-Brown, and openlyreacting against evolutionism and historicism. The approach was empirical, withthe main bulk of work carried out in colonial Africa. The British structural-functionalist school was institutionalised with African Political Systems, edited byFortes and Evans Pritchard (1940). A similar degree of institutionalization of adistinctive political anthropology never took place in post-war America, partly dueto the Parsonian view of the sciences which artificially relegated anthropology tothe sphere of culture and symbolism. The very strong stress on social equilibrium, which was so evident in Evans-Pritchard’s approach, was quickly questioned in a series of works that focusedmore on conflict and change (Leach 1954). These works attempted to show howindividuals acted within political structures, and that changes took place both dueto internal and external pressures. Contradictions and conflict came to the fore. Aspecial version of conflict oriented political anthropology was developed in the so-called ‘Manchester school’, started by [Max Gluckman]. Gluckman focused onsocial process and an analysis of structures and systems based on their relativestability. In his view, conflict maintained the stability of political systems throughthe establishment and re-establishment of crosscutting ties among social actors.Gluckman even suggested that a certain degree of conflict was necessary touphold society, and that conflict was constitutive of social and political order.NicuGavriluta,Antropologiesocialăşiculturală
From the 1960s a ‘process approach’ developed, stressing the role of agents(Bailey 1969; Barth 1969). It was a meaningful development as anthropologistsstarted to work in situations where the colonial system was dismantling. The focuson conflict and social reproduction was carried over into Marxist approaches thatcame to dominate French political anthropology from the 1960s.Pierre Bourdieu’swork on the Kabyle (1977) was strongly inspired by this development, and hisearly work was a marriage between French post-structuralism, Marxism andprocess approach.From stateless anthropology to an anthropology in and of the stateWhile for a whole century (1860 to 1960 roughly) political anthropology developedas a discipline concerned primarily with politics in stateless societies, a newdevelopment started from the 1960s, and is still unfolding: anthropologists startedincreasingly to study more “complex” social settings in which the presence of states, bureaucracies and markets entered both ethnographic accounts andanalysis of local phenomena. This was not the result of a sudden development orany sudden “discovery” of contextuality. From the 1950s anthropologists whostudied peasant societies in Latin America and Asia, had increasingly started toincorporate their local setting (the village) into its larger context, as in Redfield’sfamous distinction between ‘small’ and ‘big’ traditions (Redfield 1941). The 1970salso witnessed the emergence of Europe as a category of anthropologicalinvestigation. Boissevain’s essay, “towards an anthropology of Europe”(Boissevain and Friedl 1975) was perhaps the first systematic attempt to launch acomparative study of cultural forms in Europe; an anthropology not only carriedout in Europe, but an anthropology of Europe. The turn toward the study of complex society made anthropology inherently morepolitical. First, it was no longer possible to carry out fieldwork in say, Spain,Greece, Italy, Mexico, Algeria or India without taking into account the way inwhich all aspects of local society were tied to state and market. It is true thatearly ethnographies in Europe had sometimes done just that: carried out fieldworkin villages of Southern Europe, as if they were isolated units or ‘islands’. However,from the 1970s that tendency was openly criticised, and Jeremy Boissevain(Boissevain and Friedl 1975) said it most clearly: anthropologists had “tribalisedEurope” and if they wanted to produce relevant ethnography they could no longerafford to do so. Contrary to what is often heard from colleagues in the politicaland social sciences, anthropologists have for nearly half a century been verycareful to link their ethnographic focus to wider social, economic and politicalstructures. This, of course, does not mean to abandon an ethnographic focus onvery local phenomena, the care for detail.
In a more direct way, the turn towards complex society also signified that politicalthemes increasingly were taken up as the main focus of study, and at two mainlevels. First of all, anthropologists continued to studypolitical organizationandpolitical phenomena that lay outside the state-regulated sphere (as in patron-client relations or tribal political organization). Second of all, anthropologistsslowly started to develop a disciplinary concern with states and their institutions(and of course on the relationship between formal and informal politicalinstitutions). An anthropology of the state developed, and it is a most thriving fieldtoday. Geertz’ comparative work on the Bali state is an early, famous example. There is today a rich canon of anthropological studies of the state (see forexample Abeles 1990).From the 1980s a heavy focus on ethnicity and nationalism developed. ‘Identity’and ‘identity politics’ soon became defining themes of the discipline, partiallyreplacing earlier focus on kinship and social organization. This of course madeanthropology even more obviously political. Nationalism is to some extent simplystate-produced culture, and to be studied as such. And ethnicity is to some extentsimply the political organization of cultural difference (Barth 1969). The interest in cultural/political identity construction also went beyond the nation-state dimension. By now, several ethnographies have been carried out in theinternational organizations (like the EU) studying the
as a culturalgroup with special codes of conduct, dressing, interaction etc. (Abélès, 1992;Wright, 1994; Bellier, 1995; Zabusky, 1995; MacDonald, 1996; Rhodes, ‘t Hart,and Noordegraaf, 2007). Increasingly, anthropological fieldwork is today carriedout inside bureaucratic structures or in companies. And bureaucracy can in factonly be studied by living in it – it is far from the rational system we and thepractitioners like to think, as Weber himself had indeed pointed out long ago(Herzfeld 1992). The concern with political institutions has also fostered a focus on institutionallydriven political agency. There is now an anthropology of policy making (Shore andWright 1997). This focus has been most evident in Development anthropology orthe anthropology of development, which over the last decades has established asone of the discipline’s largest subfields. Political actors like states, governmentalinstitutions, NGOs, International Organizations or business corporations are herethe primary subjects of analysis. In their ethnographic work anthropologists havecast a critical eye on discourses and practices produced by institutional agents of development in their encounter with ‘local culture’ (see for example Ferguson1994). Development anthropology is tied to global political economy andeconomic anthropology as it concerns the management and redistribution of bothideational and real resources (see for example Hart 1982). In this vein, Escobar(1995) famously argued that international development largely helped toreproduce the former colonial power structures.Many other themes have over the last two decades been opened up which, takentogether, are making anthropology increasingly political: post-colonialism, post-