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7: Political Anthropology - A Cross-Cultural Comparison (McDowell)

[ "article:topic-guide", "Political Anthropology" ]
  • Page ID
    5188
  • LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    • Identify the four levels of socio-cultural integration (band, tribe, chiefdom, and state) and describe their characteristics.
    • Compare systems of leadership in egalitarian and non-egalitarian societies.
    • Describe systems used in tribes and chiefdoms to achieve social integration and encourage connections between people.
    • Assess the benefits and problems associated with state-level political organizations.
    • Evaluate the extent to which the Islamic State meets the formal criteria for a state-level political organization.

    All cultures have one element in common: they somehow exercise social control over their own members. Even small foraging societies such as the Ju/’hoansi or !Kung, the Inuit (or “Eskimo”) of the Arctic north, and aboriginal Australians experience disputes that must be contained if inter-personal conflicts are to be reduced or eliminated. As societies become more complex, means of control increase accordingly. The study of these means of control are the subject of political anthropology.

    • 7.1: BASIC CONCEPTS IN POLITICAL ANTHROPOLOGY
    • 7.2: LEVELS OF SOCIO-CULTURAL INTEGRATION
    • 7.3: Egalitarian Societies
      Many foragers are egalitarian societies in which there are few differences between members in wealth, status, and power. Highly skilled and less skilled hunters do not belong to different strata in the way that the captains of industry do from you and me. The less skilled hunters in egalitarian societies receive a share of the meat and have the right to be heard on important decisions. Egalitarian societies also lack a government or centralized leadership.
    • 7.4: Band-Level Political Organization
      Societies organized as a band typically comprise foragers who rely on hunting and gathering and are therefore nomadic, are few in number (rarely exceeding 100 persons), and form small groups consisting of a few families and a shifting population. Bands lack formal leadership.  Bands were probably the first political unit to come into existence outside the family itself. There is some debate in anthropology about how the earliest bands were organized.
    • 7.5: Tribal Political Organization
      Whereas bands involve small populations without structure, tribal societies involve at least two well-defined groups linked together in some way and range in population from about 100 to as many as 5,000 people. Though their social institutions can be fairly complex, there are no centralized political structures or offices in the strict sense of those terms. There may be headmen, but there are no rules of succession and sons do not necessarily succeed their fathers as is the case with chiefdoms.
    • 7.6: Ranked Society and Chiefdoms
    • 7.7: Stratified Societies
      Opposite from egalitarian societies in the spectrum of social classes is the stratified society, which is defined as one in which elites who are a numerical minority control the strategic resources that sustain life. Strategic resources include water for states that depend on irrigation agriculture, land in agricultural societies, and oil in industrial societies. Capital and products and resources used for further production are modes of production that rely on oil and other fossil fuels.
    • 7.8: STATE LEVEL OF POLITICAL ORGANIZATION
    • 7.9: ISIS OR THE ISLAMIC STATE: A STATE IN FORMATION?
    • 7.S: Conclusion and Questions
      Citing both state and stateless societies, this chapter has examined levels of socio-cultural integration, types of social class (from none to stratified), and mechanisms of social control exercised in various forms of political organization from foragers to large, fully developed states. The chapter offers explanations for these patterns, and additional theories are provided by the works in the bibliography.

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