The argument I present here is that the ‘retreat’ in the social sciences from concepts of the social and society (and their reformulation in other terms) is intimately connected to an intensification of reductionist thought and practice. But this, as I will explain, is not merely a feature of the social sciences (where reductionist argument appears to play an increasing role). It could almost be described as a movement (a social movement?) extending well beyond the human and social sciences where the public at large, as it were, is not only being more exposed to non-social even anti-social arguments of a reductionist kind, but appears to be actively accepting and desirous of them. The idea of the social as integral to understanding is being bypassed or, if it is maintained as a key point of reference, emptied of much of the import it once had. The social has become a vacated category. Thus, there is often a shift away from a concern with social relational and interactive structures, as well as institutional and organizational formations. The complexities of their internal dynamics, their structurating processes, and the forces of their effects on human action within and beyond them have increasingly been neglected in the social sciences.
The Social Construction of Reductionist Thought and Practice
Oligarchic Corporations and New State Formations
Current configurations of global, imperial, and state power relate to formations of oligarchic control. A major feature of this is the command of political organizations and institutions by close-knit social groups (families or familial dynasties, groups of kin, closed associations, or tightly controlled interlinked networks of persons) for the purpose of the relatively exclusive control of economic resources and their distribution, these resources being vital to the existence of larger populations. For many theorists, the state, throughout history and in its numerous manifestations, was born in such processes and continues to be so. Moreover, the oppressive powers of state systems (e.g., the denial or constraining of human freedoms, the production of poverty and class inequalities) and the expansion of these in imperial form are a consequence of oligarchic forces.
George Kingsley Garbett—Kingsley, to all his friends and colleagues—the Managing Editor of Social Analysis, was involved in the journal in different capacities since its foundation in 1980. He performed the editorial role for the longest period of time, guiding it through various changes of direction. His energy and inspiration are evident in the formation of thematic issues. He always took a keen intellectual interest in the contributions, and the mark of his thought is apparent in many of them.
The present issue is composed of independently submitted articles that share particular themes. Both Bar-On Cohen and Gamliel, in their thorough groundedness in the detailed empirical description of practice (martial arts and Yemenite Jewish women’s wailing, respectively) explore critically major conceptual theoretical concerns at the heart of contemporary anthropology.
In the Event—Toward an Anthropology of Generic Moments
The exploration of events and situations has long been at the focus of anthropological ethnographic description. In common with many other disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, this has been so in two main and frequently combined senses: (1) as exemplifications or illustrations, usually in the form of case studies, of more general ethnographic descriptive or theoretical assertions, or (2) as happenings or occasions, slices of life, that establish a conundrum or problematic that the presentation of an ethnography and its analysis will solve or otherwise explain. Most anthropological ethnographies offer examples or variations of the first. The second is relatively common, especially among historians, but perhaps the work of Clifford Geertz is the most celebrated example in anthropology. An outstanding instance is Geertz’s (1980) study Negara, which opens with the mass suicide of the Balinese court before the Dutch invaders. This event sets the stage for his exploration of the Balinese theatre state.
Outside All Reason—Magic, Sorcery and Epistemology in Anthropology
Magic, sorcery and witchcraft are at the epistemological centre of anthropology. They embed matters at the heart of the definition of modern anthropology, and the critical issues that they raise are of enduring significance for the discipline. But the questions these phenomena highlight expand beyond mere disciplinary or scholastic interest. They point to matters of deep existential concern in a general quest for an understanding of the human forces engaged in the human construction of lived realities. Anthropology in the embracing Kantian sense is involved. The phenomena that are deemed to be magic and sorcery (including all that which such scholars as Durkheim (1915) and Mauss (1972) would include under the label ‘profane’) project towards the far shores of human possibility and potentiality. The human profundities to which they might lead are already there in the imagery and metaphors of thinkers, both abstract and concretely pragmatic, worldwide. Within European traditions the world of the magician and the sorcerer is routinely evoked to explore the continuing crisis that is faced by humankind, more recently, for example, in the works of Dante, Goethe and Nietzsche right through to the most contemporary philosophers and social commentators. The essays in these pages contend with some of the overarching existential issues towards which a concern with the magical must extend.
Old Permutations, New Formations? War, State, and Global Transgression
The very institution of the state is widely conceived of as inseparable from war. If it constitutes peace within the borders or order of its sovereignty, this very peace may be the condition for its potential for war with those other states and social formations outside it. Indeed, in different state systems their very internal order depended on predation beyond their borders. The one was the function of the other. Since ancient times it has been observed that the distribution of wealth within states, even the creation of what the Greeks recognized as democracy, was critically related to the perpetration of war. Hobbes’s royalist vision of the state within the context of England and Europe is consistent with that founding paradox of the state that I have outlined here. This is so despite his famous legitimation of the state as necessary for the overcoming of conflict and violence that was inherent in human being and especially in social processes otherwise not mediated through the institutions of the state. In other words, for Hobbes the state is an extension of fundamental human nature. The state is peace-making by virtue of its appropriation and monopolization of the wherewithal for violence. But this direction toward peace is a protective function organized to the benefit of the citizens of the state who surrender their capacity for violence to the state. Clausewitz’s celebrated recognition of war as an extension of politics expands on Hobbes making more explicit the paradox of the state. This paradox arises from the monopolization of violence, for it can lead to excessive violence demanding political constraint.
In Pursuit of the New Millennium
Bruce Kapferer, Annelin Eriksen and Kari Telle
An approach is outlined toward imaginary projections upon presents and futures at the turn of the current millennium. The religiosity or the passionate intensity of commitment to imaginary projections is stressed, particularly the way that these may give rise to innovative social and political directions especially in current globalizing circumstances. While new religions of a millenarian character are referred to, the general concern is with the form of new conceptions of political and social processes that are by no means confined to what are usually defined as religions.
Rohan Bastin, Marit Brendbekken, René Devisch, Allen Feldman, Ørnulf Gulbrandsen, Bruce Kapferer, Michael Lambek, Knut Rio and Kari G. Telle
Notes on contributors
André Droogers, Sidney M. Greenfield, Don Handelman, Michael Houseman, Robert E. Innis, André Iteanu, Bruce Kapferer, Galina Lindquist, Piroska Nagy and Don Seeman
Notes on Contributors