Anthropologists Studying Politics

This was the comment page for two readings:

  • Lavenda & Schultz chapter 12, “How Do Anthropologists Study Political Relations?” (349-372)
  • De León, “Prevention through Deterrence” (21-37) in The Land of Open Graves.

These readings continued part 3 of the Hartwick College Introduction to Anthropology 2016 course. I revisited some of this material in 2020 using a different textbook in the class on Political Organization.

Rough notes below followed by Disqus comments. For more information on the De León chapter, see the excerpt in Cultural Anthropology 2019

Began class with Ongka’s Big Moka as a way of linking various parts of what we are doing in the course

Language: What is Ongka saying?
Economics: What is the Moka system?
Politics (this class): What authority does Ongka have?
Kinship: How does kinship intersect with economics & politics?
What evidence of colonial encounters? (discussed in the previous class)
The film series is titled “Disappearing World.” Is Ongka’s world disappearing?

Lavenda & Schultz title their chapter “How do anthropologists study politics?”

But for most people, this is not the real question. The real question is “Why are anthropologists studying politics?”

One of the basic questions of Anthropology: How do people organize?

Early assumptions were that Euro-American institutions are the correct form of government, law, political order (Lavenda & Schultz:352)
Assumptions that others are either warped, primitive, or lacking, in “state-less” societies. This corresponds to contemporary idea of “spreading democracy.”
Early anthropologists were sometimes sent to investigate how people were displaying amazing feats of organization, such as Resistance (The Nuer), Big Mokas, and with The Azande (Lavenda & Schultz:352)
At times, assumed kinship as organizing principle without state government (Assumption that in “their” societies they mix kinship and politics, whereas our evolved society is a meritocracy)

Anthropology’s holistic understanding of politics

Challenges idea of “lack” or “absence”
Challenges idea that in modern societies, kinship and gender become less relevant to politics (Lavenda & Schultz:359)
Provides tools for analyzing politics:
Domination/Hegemony (Lavenda & Schultz:352-353)
Biopower and Governmentality (Lavenda & Schultz:355-356)

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