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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Political Anthropology

Political anthropology concerns the structure of political systems, looked at from the basis of the structure of societies. Political anthropologists include Pierre Clastres, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Meyer Fortes, Georges Balandier, Fredrik Bailey, Jeremy Boissevain, Marc Abélès, Jocelyne Streiff-Fenart, Ted C. Lewellen, Robert L. Carneiro, John Borneman and 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 the British functionalist schools, heavily inspired by Radcliffe-Brown, and openly reacting against evolutionism and historicism. The approach was empirical, with the main bulk of work carried out in colonial Africa. The British structural-functionalist school was institutionalised with African Political Systems, edited by Fortes and Evans Pritchard (1940). A similar degree of institutionalization of a distinctive political anthropology never took place in post-war America, partly due to the Parsonian view of the sciences which relegated anthropology to the sphere of culture and symbolism.

Anthropological Approaches to Politics

· the study of social organization is also the study of political organization and processes

· power: control, authority, or influence over others

· the central focus of political anthropological studies can be seen as “where does power

come from?”; “Power lies within any human relationship, whether that power is openly

displayed or carefully avo ided.” (Alice Kehoe)

· areas that anthropologists have explored:

o comparative legal systems

o authority, leadership (charisma) – influence of Max Weber

o levels of social/political complexity: band (egalitarian), rank (chief), stratified

(class) societies, and nation-state

o bureaucracy in complex (read modern) societies; social group formation, social


o colonization and post-colonization

· where does power come from? culture? economic institutions? (remember our earlier

lecture on the “peace of the gift”) ; social institutions? (kinship, religious); political


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