Political Anthropology The Organization of Power

Political Anthropology
The Organization of Power
What is Political Organization
the way a society maintains order internally and manage its
affairs with other societies externally.
Such organization may be relatively uncentralized and
informal, such as bands and tribes, or centralized and formal, as
in chiefdoms and states.
 The main operations of political organizations are:
1. determining public policy
2. preventing and resolving conflict
3. maintaining order
4. managing the distribution of social resources among the
several sectors of society (i.e., determining “who gets
what”, particularly with respect to wealth and power).
Power, Authority, and Influence
ability to exercise one’s will over
others and cause them to do things they
would not do otherwise.
socially approved use of power –
legitimate power.
 Influence
the ability to affect the behavior of
others without coercion or holding an
explicit leadership status or office
Max Weber believed that there were three principal ways in
which rule could be rendered legitimate, or rightful, in the eyes
of the governed
1. Traditional Authority
 Rule is accepted by followers because it
is believed to be the correct moral order,
usually a moral order that has a deep
history—the “way things always have
members are selected for office on the
basis of loyalty, not job ability, they often
have no expertise in their areas of
bureaucratic responsibility
2. Rational-legal Authority
 Authority established through rational legal means has
two key features:
1. the system of rule is created by laws that have popular
support; and
2. leaders are selected and advanced on the basis of their ability
to get the job done—by “rational” criteria.
leaders are legitimate
because they are elevated in
accordance with law, and
because they are experts
3. Charismatic Authority
some leaders manage to obtain authority over a set of followers by
opposing tradition and while operating outside the prevailing system
of rule—without a lawful office.
Such persons are reformers who gain followings because followers
believe that they are endowed with exceptional qualities or powers.
Often, they are believed to have a special relationship with God, or
some other powerful deity.
However, some modern charismatic leaders
appeal to secular values and acquire followers
because of the followers’ belief that the leader is
revealing errors in popular practices.
charismatic authority is most important as a
source of change and reform in authority systems
that are legitimized in other ways,
Political Anthropology
Culture and the Political Process
How are power and social control
How are group decisions made?
How is social order enforced?
How are conflicts dealt with?
How Is Order Maintained Within a Society?
Ideological (Internal)
• culturally instilled values (guilt, shame)
• expectation of supernatural harm or reward
 Behavioral (external)
• informal
• ridicule and ostracism, gossip
• praise
• formal
• laws and rules
• institutionalized threat of force
External sanctions rely on actions other members of society take
toward specifically approved or disapproved behavior. Positive
sanctions encourage approved behavior, while negative sanctions
discourage disapproved behavior.
Law and Conflict Resolution
Formal and informal
Conflict mediators
• Oracles – people or things
that have prophetic abilities
• Ordeals
• Oaths – supernatural source
Often older men
• Nuer leopard skin chief
Delphic Oracle, Greece
Among the Nuer, the
leopard-skin chief tries
to settle disputes
between lineages.
the process by which leaders mobilize followers and make
their policies binding on their follower’s actions
what motivates followers to follow
them, even under conditions that
expose followers to great risk
Any leader’s effectiveness at
mobilizing support partly is the
result of the political
organization in which he/she acts.
attitudes that followers have
may be more important to getting
things done than is the form of
organization with which the
leader is associated.
How Do Political Systems Obtain People's compliance
1. Coercion
the use, or threatened use, of physical force to gain
compliance; e.g., confinement, torture, and execution
Systematic use of force ultimately requires construction of
police stations, military installations, prisons, and so on, plus
maintaining the personnel to staff them. Its expensive
2. Remuneration
 leaders provide a payoff in tangible benefits (e.g. income or
property, personal security, social welfare support etc. ) to those
who comply with their orders and policies.
Remuneration implies punishing the disloyal
by withholding or removing benefits.
3. Intellectual Commitment
followers more or less spontaneously support a leaders
because they are devoted to certain values and principles that
the leader advocates.
followers sometimes support leaders on principle
The absence of force
and payoff obviously
puts attention on the
power of shared culture
to generate support.
Symbols of Power and Authority
The symbol of the
office of the Speaker,
The Mace is carried by
the Serjeant at Arms
Traditionally used by elders and
senior members of the Ashante of
Ghana, stools are a symbol of
achievement and authority. A
king's stool is covered with gold,
and symbolizes wealth, power, and
how he is presenting himself
What is he wearing? How is
he sitting? What attitude does
he project
What is the reason for the
presence of attendants?
what kind of occasion this is?
Yoruba (Nigeria and Benin)
king wearing a beaded
crown. with young
attendants holding
ceremonial swords
How can you tell that this is
an important, powerful man?
What if he were sitting in an
ordinary chair, dressed in a
business suit--would your
perceptions be the same?
What symbols of power and
importance can you see?
Political organizations vary cross culturally with
respect to three main dimensions:
1. the level of integration, or numbers of
communities over which the political system has
2. the degree to which decisions that govern the
group’s actions are centralized; and
3. the source of a leaders’ ability to direct the
activities of others (i.e., whether that ability
results from influence, authority, raw power, or
some combination of those elements)
Degrees of Organizational Complexity
 Uncentralized
• Band
• Tribe
 Centralized
• Chiefdom
• State
1962, Elman Service
In general, as the economy
becomes more productive,
population size increases
leading to greater regulatory
problems, which give rise to
more complex social relations
and linkages (greater social
and political complexity).
Bands the political organization of foraging groups
Rarely more than 30-40 people
 kin-based
 Flexible extended family units
 No formal political organization
 No socioeconomic stratification
 The political order
(polity) is not a distinct
institution, but is
embedded in the overall
social order.
How are group decisions
• adult consensus
• informal leaders
• egalitarian
How is social order
• ridicule and ostracism
How are conflicts dealt
• negotiation/mediation
• mobility
Multiple autonomous
small communities
that share common
Usually pastoralists
or Horticulturalists
Several hundred to
thousands of people
No formal political
Little socioeconomic
How are group
decisions made?
• Consensus among
descent groups
How are social norms
• ridicule and ostracism
How are conflicts dealt
• negotiation/mediation
• semi-official mediation
Masai: Kenya & Tanzania
Tribes The Village Head
achieved position comes with
very limited authority.
• He cannot force or coerce people to
do things.
• He can only persuade, harangue,
and try to influence people to do
acts as a mediator in disputes,
but has no authority to back his
decision or impose punishments.
 The village head must lead in
• He must be more generous, which
means he must cultivate more land.
• He hosts feasts for other villages.
Tribes –Big Man
Big Man -like a village head,
except that his authority is
regional in that he may have
influence over more than one
unofficial prestige status
The benefit is greater influence
Big Man form New
and community standing.
Guinea wearing
his “official” regalia.
Pantribal Sodalities and Age Grades
Sodalities are non-kinbased organizations
that may generate
cross-societal linkages.
• often based on common
age or gender.
• Some sodalities are
confined to a single
• Some sodalities span
several villages; these
are called pantribal
sodalities. they can
mobilize a large number
of men for raids.
Age Sets
sodalities that include all of
the men or women born
during a certain time
Similar to a cohort of class
of students
•Members of an age set
progress through a series of
age grades together (e.g.,
initiated youth, warrior, adult,
elder, (freshmen, sophomore,
junior, senior, graduate).
•Sodalities create nonkin
linkages between people based
on age, gender, and ritual and
create a sense of ethnic
identity and belonging to the
same cultural tradition
Agriculturalists or pastoralists
Multiple communities that share
common identity and tribute system
Thousands to many thousands of
Centralized political organization
based on hierarchical lineage system
a political unit of permanently allied
tribes and villages under one
recognized leader with authority
Significant socioeconomic
stratification based on lineage
Old Chief of the
Arawa Tribe,
Rotorua, New
How are group decisions
• Chief and advisors
How is social order
• ridicule and ostracism
• official order
• use of force
How are conflicts dealt
• negotiation/mediation
• centralized arbitration
Asante Chief
Small hierarchical
 Tribute - tax paid to chief
to be redistributed
according to “community”
 Chiefs – Leaders own,
manage, and control basic
factors of the economy and
have special access to
Iroquois, New York
Formalized leadership
•Unrelated to personal
•Rules of succession
•Office is permanent - it
outlasts the individuals
who occupy them
•Loyalty, status, coercion –
but not too much
Zulu Chief
Multiple cities that share
tax and administrative
infrastructure system
Tens of thousands to
billions of people
Centralized political
organization possessing
coercive power
Social stratification is a key distinguishing feature.
the rule of states is divorced from kinship; there is no
pretense that the rulers constituents are kin
How are group decisions
• rulers decide “on behalf
of” populous
How is social order
• official enforcement
• threat or use of sanctions
 How are conflicts dealt
• negotiation/mediation
• centralized arbitration
• not necessarily kinbased
• class-based
Codification of laws
• More formalized in
industrial societies
• Courts – adjudicate and
mediate Officials
Monopoly on use of
• Police force
Hammurabi’s Code (1750 BC)
Nearly all populations nowadays are governed by states to one
degree of control or another degree.
However, where states have a poor tax base, or are weakened by
internal disunity, their authority is not likely to be binding at local
levels or in remote regions.
Thus, many traditional, non-state kinds of political
organizations have not been drawn firmly under state control,
and the lives of citizens in these areas are often affected more by
historical political organizations than they are by the state itself.
The Tausug
Tausug, which means "people of
the current", is a Philippine
ethnic group which lives in the
northern part of Sulu province.
Farming, fishing and trading are
their major economic activities
The Tausug
The Tausug have a tenuous
relationship with the central
government of the Republic of the
Legally the Tausug are integrated into
the state bureaucracy. They elect local
leaders, send representatives to congress
But in practice the national Philippine
state is too powerless in its southern
provinces to govern them effectively
group actions continue to be mainly
organized by informal, traditional
organizations and leaders.
The Tausug
Most of their political operations carried through the
ordinary, “multi-use” institutions of social life; e.g.,
kinship groups, age sets, religious associations, and so on