The Good, the Bad, and the Dead

The Place of Destruction in the Organization of Social Life, Which Means Hierarchy

in Social Analysis
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  • 1 University of Virginia fhd@virginia.edu
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Abstract

This article is a thought exercise concerning the following observation: many societies define the good by means of the bad and often organize, wittingly or not, methods of destruction to instantiate the good. Such methods, sometimes dressed up as sacrifice, at other times as scapegoating, and still other times as the experience of necessity, always lead to a hierarchy. Whatever the means, destruction helps to organize social systems throughout the world. The article uses well-known models to develop an understanding of these processes. Beginning with the role of sacrifice in the Kula, the analysis touches on lynching in the United States and then, utilizing underplayed facts in Dumont’s discussion of India, moves to defense spending in contemporary culture. So why is destruction a form of accumulation, the generator of sociality?

Contributor Notes

Frederick H. Damon completed his PhD in Anthropology at Princeton University and is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia. He has conducted research on Muyuw, Woodlark Island, in Papua New Guinea for a total of 48 months from 1973 to 2014. He has initial research experience in China and has been teaching courses on contemporary US society since the late 1970s. Originally focused on questions of exchange and production, with attention to ritual orders and the orders that rituals create, his current work is concerned with large-scale temporal and spatial comparisons.

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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