You are on page 1of 2

Capital & Class

140 and an increase in conflict . M . Godelier


Why then is the `race' issue so import- translated by Rupert Swyer
ant to the new right? On page 1 Gordon The Making of Great Men .
and King state that the central project of Male domination and power among the
the new right is to preserve the class struc- New Guinea Baruya
ture of contemporary capitalism . An Cambridge University Press, 1986
analysis of the `racial' dimensions of that 251pp, £30 (h/b), £10 .95 (p/b)
class structure, of the ideological and
political processes which have resulted in Reviewed by Sasha Josephides
the racialisation of certain class fractions, GODELIER TELLS US that his book is about
would have provided the context which power, primarily the power of men over
explained the power and strength of the women, but in reality it touches on almost
new right. This strength is not just because every major debate within anthropology
of their access to politicians and the media . of the last couple of decades, provides a
It is because of their ability to frame an general ethnography of the Baruya (some
understanding of `race' issues and a justi- of it unnecessarily voyeuristic), includes a
fication of racism which makes sense to technical argument regarding the differ-
the majority of white citizens . Gordon and ences between `big man' and `great man'
Klug provide some insights on this ques- societies, and concludes with a rather
tion . More work needs to be done . curious exhortation to the reader not to
imagine that s/he is less savage than the
Baruya .
For the purpose of this review I shall
concentrate on the central theme of the
book which is the claim that male domina-
tion does not originate in the emergence of
classes but predates them . By looking at
structures which existed in Baruya society
prior to colonisation Godelier is able to
identify mechanisms which subordinate
women to men and which clearly belong
to a classless society . He recognises that
inequalities also exist among men (hence
the title of the book which signals that
only some men become great) and that
particular women can have a higher status
than particular men . But men as a group
dominate women as a group and the way
this manifests itself is through the exclu-
sion of women from control over the means
of production, destruction and exchange .
The social mechanism which separates
men and women into two distinct groups
and which both institutes and legitimises
female subordination is considered to be
male and female initiation . Female initi-
Book Reviews

ation Godelier sees as a way of making 141


women consent to their subordination .
The reason why initiation is seen as so
crucial appears to be because of the kinds
of symbolic statements made regarding
the reproductive and nurturing abilities of
the two sexes and because of the statuses
conferred on the sexes as a result of the
rituals .
Godelier's material to support this
thesis includes data on the Baruya economy
and their warfaring traditions, statements
on the symbolic meaning and use of bodily
fluids, and a corpus of myths regarding a
past matriarchy . Neither the data nor the
analysis offers anything new to those
acquainted with the literature on the
Melanesia or even with more general
works on gender and anthropology . This Barry Munslow (ed .)
is not to devalue the data which is in itself Africa : Problems in the Transition to
interesting and useful, but in view of the Socialism
amount of work which has been carried London : Zed Books, 1986
out in this area and the controversies 221pp, £18 .95 (h/b), £6 .95 (p/b)
regarding how this kind of material can be
interpreted, it is disappointing that Reviewed by Harry Goulbourne
Godelier should present both the material
and the analysis as a `new discovery' with- THERE ARE SEVERAL reasons for saying
out in any way justifying his particular forthwith that this collection of essays is a
interpretation nor taking into account any welcome addition to the literature which
other . describes and analyses what is happening
Where the book is more promising is in in post-colonial Africa . I will mention only
its attempt to relate all forms of inequality three of these .
and therefore treat the mechanisms which First, the interest in the question of
result in the general subordination of transition is significant, if only because it
women as part of the same process which indicates that the academic community is
allows certain men to become `great' . In taking this problematic phase in the
order to do this Godelier picks out a development of human society seriously,
number of different strands which are following the pioneering work of Charles
relevant to the analysis . However these Bettelheim but particularly Clive Thomas,
are not sufficiently developed . In a way with respect to the Third World . To vary-
the strength of this book is also its weak- ing degrees the pieces live up to the expec-
ness : it attempts to bring together a tations engendered by the title of the
number of different issues which one can collection . A great many of the problems
agree with Godelier, should be related, involved in the process of transition from
but it does not succeed in relating them in the underdeveloped, some would say
a coherent and convincing manner . simply the backward, conditions in which