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Introduction : Anthropology confronts inequality
Charles Tilly Anthropological Theory 2001 1: 299 DOI: 10.1177/14634990122228746 The online version of this article can be found at: http://ant.sagepub.com/content/1/3/299
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yields a mere 19 articles – less than 6 per cent! – whose titles include variants on the words caste. Just one example: after three years’ ﬁeld experience among Australian aborigines. and when outsiders looked to anthropology for major descriptions and explanations of inequality. For Warner.018907] Introduction Anthropology confronts inequality Charles Tilly Columbia University. 1963: xiii). ethnicity. A large team continued the Newburyport study until 1959. His approach to class analysis incited plenty of debate and criticism. concerned Newburyport itself. in fact. race. beginning with Stephan Thernstrom’s Poverty and Progress (1964). USA Anthropology once centered on inequality. During the last few decades. Marquand’s mordant portrait of an anthropologist in Point of No Return (1949). Anthropology has formidable advantages in the description and 299 Downloaded from ant. with gender by far the leading mention. Nevertheless. Both Poverty and Progress and Point of No Return. lower-middle. slavery and/or status. gender.Anthropological Theory Copyright © SAGE Publications London. A quick count of 337 titles in the Annual Review of Anthropology from 1984 to 2000. Warner placed his inﬂuential Yankee City studies squarely in the lineage of RadcliffeBrown. Massachusetts in 1930. chiefs. race. Warner’s anthropological work put Newburyport’s inequality on the intellectual map. CA and New Delhi Vol 1(3): 299–306 [1463-4996(200109)1:3. however. Critical reaction to Warner’s studies even launched a whole school of historical investigation. Newburyport became Yankee City. 2013 . and Malinowski (Warner. structures roughly equivalent to kinship systems in small non-literate populations. lower-upper. inequality has lost its centrality in the anthropological enterprise as anthropology has lost prominence as a source of general ideas about inequality.com by guest on February 10. That is a pity. Under Warner’s pen. Lloyd Warner began intensive study of Newburyport. Warner also conducted or inspired multiple comparative studies of other American communities. power. and signiﬁcantly shaped how non-anthropologists thought about inequality. class. for example. anthropologist W. political economy. To be sure. During the same decades. sociolinguistics. and his division of Newburyport’s people into upper-upper. inequality. upper-lower. Lowie. and lower-lower classes became standard language in discussions of American social inequality. and ethnicity still keep inequality on the anthropological agenda. hierarchy. minority. Thousand Oaks. not to mention John P.299–306. the days are long gone when many anthropologists took hierarchies and inequalities as major objects of study.sagepub. social class hierarchies provided organizing structures for industrial societies. but his model of investigation dominated empirical analyses of American class structure for a generation. upper-middle. specialists in archaeology. gender.
skepticism about the generality and uniformity of markets. studies of inequality pivot on four main questions: 1 2 3 4 What asymmetrical relations prevail among persons. Since professional students of inequality concentrate overwhelmingly on differential locations and monetary rewards within capitalist labor markets. functional. for example. categories. or lineage as observable. can we conceive of inequalities by race. verifying. while not entirely incompatible pair by pair. 2. 3. Description and explanation of inequality present anthropologists with a number of important challenges. groups. 300 Downloaded from ant. At the level of metatheory. built-in resistance to teleologies of modernization. competitive. groups. has two versions: descriptive and explanatory. and relational models. anthropologists have a splendid opportunity not only to redress the empirical balance. and 4 occur. If. operation. Anthropological evidence can be of great value in adjudicating. inequality is a phenomenon for which scholars have proposed genuinely competing explanations. At the level of theory. 1994). and reproduction over a wide range of social settings will provide crucial information about their adequacies and inadequacies. Similarly. They can surely get much more. strictly cultural theories of inequality will have great difﬁculty in accounting for those effects. for example.com by guest on February 10. caste vs. 2013 . and relational theories. for example. gender. and social locations end up in the positions they occupy? What effects do 1 and 2 have on individual and collective social experience? How do 1.sagepub. coercive. Explanatory accounts specify why 1. sensitivity to culture. or modifying those explanations. in turn. Descriptive accounts of inequality trace and catalog various patterns of asymmetrical relations (for example. Prevailing cultural. and employment of direct observation as a means of gathering evidence (see. functional. but also to improve on market-based explanations. The least students of inequality can get from more sustained anthropological investigation is better speciﬁcation of scope conditions for available cultural. Breman. competitive. Speaking very generally. concern for visible victims of unequal struggles. Both descriptive and explanatory accounts are essential. and 3 change? Each of these questions. and social locations? How do persons. but readers have the right to try their own metatheories on the materials reported by the authors.ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY 1(3) explanation of inequality: access to a wide range of variation. coercive. and consequential attributes of social structures? Must we instead take them to be shared ideas or linguistic constructions? This symposium’s authors huddle together toward the realistic end of the realist–idealist continuum. categories. class) and their correlates. inequality challenges its analysts to thread their way among competing ontologies and epistemologies: to what extent and how. knowledge of inequalities outside the world of jobs and wages. The papers in this symposium demonstrate how much anthropologists have to offer. 2. reports from Katherine Verdery and Caroline Humphrey on East Europe’s inequality-generating processes cast doubt on the generality of market-based competitive theories. virtual monetization has effects as sweeping and uniform as Keith Hart’s analysis indicates. differ sufﬁciently that close observation of inequality’s production. perdurable.
participate in social processes. lead the owners of those minds to act in parallel ways toward people they place on one side or the other of a racial boundary. They then assume that the categories resemble each other from one mind to the next. In this issue. assume that only individuals exist. reconstruct life histories. their locations in larger systems. The ﬁrst is individual vs. As for historicism vs. 2013 . then aggregate the information to examine unit-to-unit variation or regroup it into categories for comparison. Third. First. they bias explanations toward the presupposition that durable attributes of social units (rather than. furthermore. however. Even more profound and subtle questions confront anthropological students of inequality. such procedures face serious logical limits. race. Similar mental categories. therefore that collective effects such as racial discrimination must result cumulatively from common properties of individual dispositions to act. language. and representations. ethnicity. Anthropologists who follow interpersonal relations. striking similarities appear in the operation of deference. correlates. they lend themselves easily to representations of inequality as consisting of locations within abstract hierarchies rather than of concrete connections among people. categorical effects. local patterns of inequality by gender. principles of division as ostensibly different as religion. whereas the second view insists on structural effects. historicism vs. but show up with particular clarity in studies of inequality. to the extent that crucial inequality-generating mechanisms operate incrementally and through interpersonal negotiation. teachings. patron–client relations. and representations whose overall connections (like those of a trade diaspora or a kindred) are rarely or never visible to their participants. Outside of anthropology.TILLY Introduction to special issue Methodologically. goes the standard argument. they curtail or eliminate evidence about interactions with others as causes. and observe social interaction directly have an opportunity to compensate for these weaknesses of individualized evidence. territorial proximity. we see Humphrey and Verdery pondering their own observations of East European social life to arrive at fresh insights concerning inequality-generating processes in general. labels. or sequences) cause their behavior. caste. Many students of social processes. taboos. subjugation. Finally.com by guest on February 10. and interpersonal routines. anthropologists also have a distinctive contribution to make. students of inequality commonly assemble information about individuals or households from surveys and administrative records. and effects of inequality. and market 301 Downloaded from ant. diagnoses. or class unquestionably accumulate enormous historical content in the form of stories. remedies. With their expertise in connecting persons. say. those mechanisms disappear from view. universalism. Within a phenomenon such as nationalism. anthropologists stand in a good position to assess the relative strengths of individual and categorical accounts. Let me single out two dilemmas that pervade social analysis in general. The ﬁrst view reduces all social effects to individual causes. Second. Thus the competitive models of inequality my article describes generally assume that racial categories reside in individual minds. on the other side. other analysts suppose that racial categories operate through relations. the question arises with peculiar intensity in studies of inequality. Yet. notably including inequality-generating processes. practices. For all their value in establishing whether well-deﬁned patterns of difference or co-variation exist. On one side. practices. and the emergence of chiefdoms in a wide variety of historical settings. the second. universalism.sagepub. processes. In a line of thought quite familiar to anthropologists.
she denies that durable. under feudal. while Keith Hart’s and my own seek to identify common properties and connecting processes at a larger scale. with different effects. but argue that exploitation operates quite differently. since in my more utilitarian account both boundaries and conﬁgurations within boundaries shift with relations of exploitation and opportunity hoarding. anthropologists have an opportunity to renew discussions of historicism vs. her argument challenges mine. The arrangements she describes therefore resemble many trade diasporas. she argues that meanings and emotions based on deep commitment to shared moral systems motivate both the desire to cast out unworthy community members and the willingness to tolerate visible material inequality so long as its beneﬁciaries meet their moral commitments. as my article suggests they should. Here on-the-spot readers have a chance to judge the relative plausibility of phenomenologicalcultural (Humphrey) and relational-material (Tilly) explanations for inequality. With their historical-geographical range. with Caroline Humphrey’s and Katherine Verdery’s displaying the virtues of sustained ethnography within well-deﬁned settings. and India – by careful analysis of exclusion in contemporary Russia. and other modes (Hobsbawm. How can we reconcile historical-cultural particularity with recurrent causal processes? Resort to fundamental human nature will not do the job. Humphrey argues that Russians have created powerful unity-maintaining practices with strong consequences for inequality: the more they emphasize unity. Marxist mode of production analyses. In my article’s terms. tolerate signiﬁcant differences in power and wealth within such solidary systems. cementing them with local adaptation. 1964). Russians. for it begs the question of explaining variation. First. she argues. South Africa. and the more serious the penalties visited upon those excluded. Humphrey seeks to identify very general exclusionary processes – noticeable. My article in this symposium proposes to approach the problem by identifying causal mechanisms of very general scope. Finally. Although some people have 302 Downloaded from ant. Such a view counters my own emphasis on material costs and beneﬁts. just so long as members meet their obligations. she sees strong continuities in exclusionary rationales and practices from early imperial times to the present. But it is also possible in principle that basic inequality-generating processes differ signiﬁcantly from one historical setting to another. What is more. Her documentation of widespread exclusionary practices in today’s Russia lends insight into the travails of postsocialism. treat exploitation as a very general cause of inequality. Her exclusion looks more like being thrown off a moving train than being walled off from your neighbors. Russians build strong systems of opportunity hoarding. but causal mechanisms that (a) incorporate local cultural material. 2013 . visible boundaries separate the Russian included from the excluded. religious sects. capitalist. But Humphrey raises three interesting challenges to the arguments of my own article for this symposium.com by guest on February 10. in Northern Ireland.sagepub. the more they build boundaries excluding others from that unity. Once again. and revolutionary conspiracies. and therefore (c) produce varying but still systematic and explicable aggregate effects. universalism. for example. and join in stigmatizing outcasts. Close local observations at hand. acknowledge their common membership. This symposium’s four articles illustrate anthropology’s contribution to studies of inequality. They break into two pairs.ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY 1(3) connection relate in similar ways to claims for political autonomy. according to Humphrey. Readers who care little for such scholarly tournaments nevertheless have good reasons for reading Humphrey. (b) occur in different combinations and sequences.
In Transylvanian villages. had continued long after the collectivization of the 1950s. to acquire no land at all was to fall into an excluded lower class. what did membership in the ‘same’ families that had existed in the 1940s or 1950s mean? Where collective farms had plowed over boundaries and paths. for governmental agents incessantly regulate and manipulate property rights in pursuit of programs that often align badly with the interests and preconceptions of the people who interact most directly with the property in question. or settings. enforceable claims to land in Transylvania come to depend heavily on recognition and registration of those claims by pre-communist authorities. however. Katherine Verdery likewise analyzes postsocialist transitions. the times over which such rights endure. power.) In Verdery’s chosen territory of Transylvania. the times in which people act to claim rights to property. The result is increasing inequality. right back to 19thcentury Austro-Hungarian authorities. Transylvania’s villagers were struggling over who would be included. Since land ownership was again becoming the primary criterion of community membership and standing. or settings on the grounds that such a view reiﬁes the structures. As in Humphrey’s Russia. but hers take place in rural Romania. how could a village reconstitute the ‘same’ parcels as families had farmed in the 1940s or 1950s? What about parcels farmed under mixed. In general. legal authorization of dissolution for collective farms in 1991 precipitated the problem. she shows us that increasing numbers are falling – or ﬁnding themselves pushed – off the train. who excluded. see Stevens. Or consider similarities to the credit networks that sustained families in 16th-century England. Verdery examines a very general problem in a very particular place and time. but also access to networks of mutual aid on which people relied heavily for survival under socialism.TILLY Introduction to special issue become newly rich and powerful in postsocialist transformations and many have maintained their attachments to segments of the old system. 303 Downloaded from ant. Again. Just as losing credit consigned 16th-century English households to moral oblivion. as in Humphrey’s Russia. and moral standing.sagepub. 2013 . as described in my article. or rather times: the times at which governments intervene to change available legal deﬁnitions of rights to property. at stake were not only prestige. she calls our attention to the grounding of property rights in time. The law authorized restitution of ceded lands to the families that had ceded them. and a serious threat to Russia’s future. losing claims to land excludes Transylvanian villagers from local collective life. population turnover. Unlike 16th-century credit. Verdery is analyzing just such a case. or ﬁctive ownership back then? What about families that arrived and worked on collective farms after collectivization? What of former landowning families who had left the village since the 1950s? Such questions pertained both to times set by governmental agents and to those commonly invoked by local residents as they participated in land commissions. disputed. Those times intersect everywhere that governments exist. (It is only fair to signal that Verdery rejects my attachment of the various temporal modes to particular social structures. relations. including those who lived and worked on collective farms. Frequently people on the ground struggle in governmental time to acquire those legal sanctions of their property rights that will most closely approximate their conceptions of those rights as embedded in local time.com by guest on February 10. Relevant times become ever more complicated (for parallel processes of top-down control and bottom-up negotiation. relations. Time immediately came into play: as of when did prior rights to land apply? In the 1990s.
Although Verdery. or otherwise intervened in claims to land. conﬁrmed.sagepub. Keith Hart likewise confronts time and inequality. as Verdery emphasizes. power. In Transylvania and elsewhere. promoted a vast increase of inequality.com by guest on February 10. Hart examines how successive phases of monetization have transformed material inequality among world regions. They look sidewise to contemporary shifts and struggles with respect to legal rights and effective control. eventually power struggles deﬁne relevant times. like Humphrey. and prestige are at risk. In all three of these temporal perspectives. Despite the illusion that time determines property. 1999). labor. and the consuming public to contain and humanize the power of capital. raises doubts that categorical differences operate as neatly as my arguments require. and negotiations over land ownership within villages. But the invention of virtual money. 2013 . thus generating momentous increases in world inequality. and the 20th-century communications revolution each concentrated economic advantages in fewer hands. beneﬁting from the radical decline in communication costs. the 19th-century bureaucratic revolution. on something like the recurrent model of communitarian or artisanal socialism. Tilly. money became a more inﬂuential means of connection. as well as to other moments when particular households exercised effective control over different pieces of land. 304 Downloaded from ant. He argues that the 18th-century industrial revolution. and exclusion than in the previous phase. the whole world is his oyster. inequality is doubly at stake: the relative positions of individuals and households in hierarchies of wealth. on something like the model of 19thcentury liberal revolutions opting out on the part of well-connected closed circuits of network users. consequential categorical differences. Hart’s own professed preferences lie somewhere between options 4 and 5. Verdery is actually describing and explaining the relational creation of new. corporations. and means of material production to survive within their disconnected fragments world revolution on the part of (or perhaps on behalf of ) the losers in the economic processes generating ever-increasing inequality alliance among segments of government. but so are relations. leaving only those still exercising immediate control over land. disputes. among households within villages. They also look forward to the positions of households in regard to future transfers. It did so. domination. including relations of patronage and mutual aid. Despite his occasional references to the necessity of world revolution. He therefore sees a 21st century teetering among ﬁve very different options: 1 2 utter subjection of world resources to the wills and advantages of a few connected capitalists explosion of the money-connected system. argues Hart. In each of these phases.ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY 1(3) 1999. people use their previously accumulated political capital to forward their own preferred temporal reference points. but at a much larger geographic scale than Humphrey and Verdery. 3 4 5 This is no modest vision. property times look backward to moments when state authorities registered. by allowing capitalists to invest and disinvest in different parts of the world rapidly and at their own convenience. exempliﬁed by the creation of futures markets anchored not only in goods and services but also in securities. Eventually. altered.
Third. Verdery. but (a) always in the company of two other mechanisms. it is also surprising how little construction.com by guest on February 10. differences in perspective. Occupational niches. Thus at very different scales. selectivity of problems. rare minerals. (2) organization of other people’s effort in the production of value by means of that resource. Verdery. My article attempts three things. precious commodities. and Humphrey. and Hart focus respectively on mutual aid networks. Don Kalb. From my perspective. or features of the eras and places addressed by my co-authors? My own guess is that a closer look at the materials examined by Humphrey. suggest that further alliances between the partially excluded middle classes and the totally excluded working classes – again perhaps on the model of 19th-century revolutions – have become both feasible and necessary. Verdery. Opportunity hoarding. indeed. it invokes Craig Muldrew’s treatment of credit in 16th-century England to illustrate how the dynamics of interpersonal relations cause shifts in durable patterns of inequality. both of which should be quite familiar to anthropologists and particularly susceptible to investigation by ethnographic methods. Verdery. Roma/Russian. Second. produces a signiﬁcant range of inequalities. it lays out a primitive general theory of categorical inequality centering on the dynamics of interpersonal relations. The theory treats the exclusionary processes stressed by Humphrey. scientiﬁc knowledge. First. 2013 . which involves (1) sequestration of a value-producing resource. Given the centrality of exploitation to Marxist and marxisant explanations of inequality. and borrowing of bounded categorical differences (such as female/male.sagepub. and Timothy Earle) as a privileged means of access to the relevant dynamics of interpersonal relations. and Hart all feature inclusion and exclusion as inequality-transforming processes. mechanism of exploitation. Is this due to substantive disagreements. (4) commitment of some portion of the value added to reproduction of control over the resource and over other people’s effort. and Hart. the analyses of Humphrey. I recognize both that continua such as from rich to poor exist and that 305 Downloaded from ant. and Hart as special cases of a very general interpersonal mechanism called opportunity hoarding: conﬁning use of a value-producing resource to an in-group. (3) allocation to those others of less than the value added by their effort. Verdery. land. and Hart will reveal more exploitation than their own analyses allow. emulation and adaptation. He does not say how the beneﬁts of such a soft revolution would extend to the more serious victims of capitalist expansion his analysis identiﬁes: poor people outside the centers of world capitalism. if often complementary. and inside information about markets and politics similarly lend themselves to opportunity hoarding. His closing words. it is striking how little exploitation appears in the accounts of Humphrey. it makes a case for anthropological study (exempliﬁed here by the works of Eric Wolf. and electronically diffused information. Humphrey. craft technologies. in my view. however. Verdery.TILLY Introduction to special issue He envisions middle-class activists as fortiﬁed vis-a-vis national governments by their increased capacity to shield money from taxation and to ally with fellow sufferers outside their own countries. or citizen/alien) ﬁgure in the explanations of inequality proposed by Hart. (b) no more so than the separate. So does my analysis. reinforcement. As relevant value-producing resources.
(1964) ‘Introduction’. of course. W. Tilly. knowledge. NJ: Princeton University Press. (1949) Point of No Return. Hobsbawm. Thernstrom. Lloyd (1963) Yankee City. Stevens. This journal’s readers must decide.J. and effort.sagepub. such an argument deserves serious empirical attention rather than quick dismissal. Brown. Warner. One vol. Delhi: Oxford University Press. John P. Boston: Little. abridged edn. whether the theory helps them do their own explanatory work. At least I hope so. E. 306 Downloaded from ant. I claim nevertheless that socially organized categorical differences underlie a large share of the inequality that western observers commonly attribute to individual differences in talent. Journal of Political Philosophy 7: 306–28. Jan (1994) Wage Hunters & Gatherers: Search for Work in the Urban and Rural Economy of South Gujarat. References Breman.ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY 1(3) sometimes who belongs to some network is much clearer than who does not belong. MA: Harvard University Press. Charles (1999) ‘Power – Top-Down and Bottom Up’. Cambridge. Even readers who remain dubious on that score should ﬁnd the ensemble of articles in this issue an encouragement to giving description and explanation of inequality greater prominence in today’s anthropology. in Karl Marx: Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations. Jacqueline (1999) Reproducing the State. London: Lawrence & Wishart. CT: Yale University Press. Marquand. Stephan (1964) Poverty and Progress.com by guest on February 10. Princeton. New Haven. 2013 . Given its deep grounding in earlier anthropological investigations..
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