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Cultural Anthropology

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Introduction to Cultural Anthropology ­ SOC401
VU
Lesson 25
POLITICAL ORGANIZATION
Need for Political Organization
All societies have political systems that function to manage public affairs, maintain social order, and resolve
conflict. Yet the forms of these political systems are diverse, sometimes embedded in other social structures.
Studying Political Organization
Political organization involves issues like allocation of political roles, levels of political integration,
concentrations of power and authority, mechanisms of social control and resolving conflicts.
Anthropologists recognize four types of political organization based on levels of political integration,
concentration, specialization. Political organization is found within bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states.
Nowadays, non-state forms of political organization have state systems superimposed on them.
Types of Political Systems
Societies based on bands have the least amount of political integration and role specialization (Kung in
Kalahari).
Bands
Bands are most often found in foraging societies and are associated with low population densities,
distribution systems based on reciprocity, and egalitarian social relations.
Tribal Organizations
Tribal organizations are most commonly found among horticulturists and pastoralists (Neur in Sudan).
With larger and more sedentary populations than are found in band societies, tribal organizations do also
lack centralized political leadership and are egalitarian. Tribally based societies have certain pan-tribal
mechanisms that integrate clan members to face external threats.
Clan elders do not hold formal political offices but usually manage affairs of their clans (settling disputes,
representing clan in negotiation with other clans etc.).
Chiefdoms
Chiefdoms involve a more formal and permanent political structure than is found in tribal societies. Political
authority in chiefdoms rests with individuals, who acts alone or with advice of a council. Most chiefdom
tends to have quite distinct social ranks, rely on feasting and tribute as a major way of distributing goods.
In the late nineteenth and twentieth century, many societies had chiefdoms imposed on them by colonial
powers for administrative convenience (for e.g. British impositions in Nigeria, Kenya and Australia). The
pre-colonial Hawaiian political system of the 18th century was a typical chiefdom.
Useful Terms
Public Affairs: issues concerning the public at large instead of specific individuals only
Social Order: the state of being where society functions as per the expectations of people and can provide
them with a sense of security
Sedentary: settled
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Introduction to Cultural Anthropology ­ SOC401
VU
Colonial powers: at different phases of history, different nations have been powerful enough to colonize
other nations. In the 19th century Britain was a colonial power which was able to colonize many other
countries located on the African and the Asian continents
Pre-colonial: the period in history when a particular nation had not yet been colonized
Allocation: distribution
Integration: tied together or linked in a particular manner
Suggested Readings
Students are advised to read the following chapters to develop a better understanding of the various
principals highlighted in this hand-out:
Chapter 12 in `Cultural Anthropology: An Applied Perspective' by Ferrarro and/or Chapter 23 in `Anthropology' by
Ember and Pergrine
Internet Resources
In addition to reading from the textbook, please visit the following web-site for this lecture, which provide
useful and interesting information:
Political Organization3
http://anthro.palomar.edu/political/default.htm
Please use hyperlinks on the website to read the introductory materials and the information provided on
bands, tribes and chiefdoms
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Table of Contents:
  1. WHAT IS ANTHROPOLOGY?:Cultural Anthropology, Internet Resources
  2. THE CONCEPT OF CULTURE AND THE APPLICATION OF CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY
  3. MAJOR THEORIES IN CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY:Diffusionism
  4. GROWTH OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY (continued):Post Modernism
  5. METHODS IN CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY:Comments on Fieldwork
  6. METHODS IN CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY (continued):Census Taking
  7. COMPARATIVE STUDY OF PRODUCTION, DISTRIBUTION AND CONSUMPTION IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE WORLD
  8. ECONOMIC ANTHROPOLOGY (continued):THE DISTRIBUTION OF GOODS AND SERVICES
  9. FOCUSING ON LANGUAGE:Languages of the World, Structure of Language
  10. FOCUS ON LANGUAGE (continued):Levels of Complexity, Cultural Emphasis
  11. OBTAINING FOOD IN DIFFERENT CULTURES:Optimal Foraging, Suggested Readings
  12. FOOD AND CULTURE (continued):Food Collectors, Food Production
  13. OBTAINING FOOD IN DIFFERENT CULTURE (continued):Pastoralism, Agriculture
  14. RELEVANCE OF KINSHIP AND DESCENT:Kinship Criteria, Rules of Descent
  15. KINSHIP AND DESCENT (continued):Tracing Descent, Primary Kinship Systems
  16. THE ROLE OF FAMILY AND MARRIAGE IN CULTURE:Economic Aspect of Marriage
  17. ROLE OF FAMILY AND MARRIAGE IN CULTURE (continued):Family Structures
  18. GENDER AND CULTURE:Gender Stratification, Suggested Readings
  19. GENDER ROLES IN CULTURE (continued):Women Employment, Feminization of Poverty
  20. STRATIFICATION AND CULTURE:Social Ranking, Dimensions of Inequality
  21. THEORIES OF STRATIFICATION (continued):The Functionalists, Conflict Theorists
  22. CULTURE AND CHANGE:Inventions, Diffusion, Donor, Conventional
  23. CULTURE AND CHANGE (continued):Cultural Interrelations, Reaction to Change
  24. CULTURE AND CHANGE (continued):Planned Change, Globalization
  25. POLITICAL ORGANIZATION:Bands, Tribal Organizations, Chiefdoms
  26. POLITICAL ORGANIZATION (continued):State Systems, Nation-States
  27. POLITICAL ORGANIZATION (continued):Social Norms, Informal Mechanisms
  28. PSYCHOLOGY AND CULTURE:Emotional Development, Psychological Universals
  29. PSYCHOLOGY AND CULTURE (continued):Origin of Customs, Personality Types
  30. IDEOLOGY AND CULTURE:Ideology in Everyday Life, Hegemony
  31. IDEOLOGY AND CULTURE (Continued):Political ideologies, Economic Ideology
  32. ASSOCIATIONS, CULTURES AND SOCIETIES:Variation in Associations, Age Sets
  33. ASSOCIATIONS, CULTURES AND SOCIETIES (continued):Formation of Associations
  34. RACE, ETHNICITY AND CULTURE:Similarity in Human Adaptations
  35. RACE, ETHNICITY AND CULTURE (continued):Inter-group Relations
  36. CULTURE AND BELIEFS:Social Function of Religion, Politics and Beliefs
  37. LOCAL OR INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE:Changing Definitions of Local Knowledge
  38. LOCAL OR INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE (continued):The Need for Caution
  39. ANTHROPOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT:Influence of Development Notions
  40. ANTHROPOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT (Continued):Contentions in Development
  41. ANTHROPOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT (Continued):Operational
  42. CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY AND ART:Relevance of Art, Art and Politics
  43. CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY AND ART (continued):Art as a Status Symbol
  44. ETHICS IN ANTHROPOLOGY:Ethical Condemnation, Orientalism
  45. RELEVANCE OF CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY:Ensuring Cultural Survival