Many of the communities in which anthropologists work are hierarchically organized, and the people who live in them often describe this arrangement in positive terms. Nevertheless, anthropologists rarely paint hierarchy in a favorable light. This special issue aims to question this tendency with ethnographic insights into social contexts where hierarchy is regarded as a desirable social good. By way of an introduction to the research articles, we explore those aspects of Western thought that make it difficult for anthropologists to take hierarchy seriously. In addition, we develop an interpretive approach that treats hierarchy both as a relational form and as a theoretical model—that is, as a framework for understanding value—drawing in part on our own ethnographic research in southern Africa.
Hierarchy, Value, and the Value of Hierarchy
Naomi Haynes and Jason Hickel
The Concern for Sociality—Practicing Equality and Hierarchy in Denmark
Maja Hojer Bruun, Gry Skrædderdal Jakobsen and Stine Krøijer
Equality is one of the concepts that people often associate with Scandinavia. Within anthropology, the works of Marianne Gullestad (1946–2008)—particularly, her monograph Kitchen-Table Society (1984) and the anthology The Art of Social Relations (1992a)—are among the few attempts to contribute to the theoretical debate on egalitarianism and sociality. With her concept of ‘egalitarian individualism’, Gullestad inscribes Scandinavia within broader comparative studies of ideological systems revolving around two dichotomies: hierarchyequality and holism-individualism (Béteille 1986; Dumont 1970, 1986; Kapferer 1988; Robbins 1994). Gullestad (1992b: 183) developed a theory of a specific “Norwegian, Scandinavian or Northern European variety” of modernity and of the general modern themes of individualism and equality. Exploring egalitarian individualism from different angles, she argued that equality is cast as ‘sameness’ in Scandinavia (Gullestad 1992d: 174 ff.), meaning that people develop an interactional style that emphasizes similarity and under-communicates difference in order to feel equal and to establish a sense of community. In Gullestad’s (1992b: 197) view, ‘equality as sameness’ is a central cultural idea that balances and resolves the tensions in the Norwegian ideological system between the individual and society, independence and community, equality and hierarchy.
Religion has long stood at the center of debates on the environmental crisis of late modernity. Some have portrayed it as a malade imaginaire, providing divine legitimation for human domination and predatory exploitation of natural resources; others have looked up to it as an inspirational force that is the essential condition of planetary revival. There is an ongoing battle of the books on the salience of religion in the modern world. Some trendy volumes declare that God Is Back (Micklethwait and Wooldridge 2009). Others advert to The End of Faith (Harris 2004, harp the theme of The God Delusion (Dawkins 2006), or claim that God Is Not Great (Hitchens 2007). Both sides provide ample evidence to support their adversarial claims. In much of Canada and Western Europe, where religious establishments have courted or colluded with the state, religion has come to be viewed as the enemy of liberty and modernity. Not so in the United States, where the Jeffersonian separation of religion from politics forced religious leaders to compete for the souls of the faithful—and thus to make Christianity more reconcilable with the agenda of modernity,
individualism and capitalist enterprise.
Cosmopolitan politesse, continued
This issue’s forum continues a lively discussion of Nigel Rapport’s notion of ‘cosmopolitan politesse’ that was previously featured in these pages in the summer of 2018. Rapport has long proposed this sort of politesse as a ‘form of virtue’ and ‘good manners’ (2018: 93) premised on ‘the ontological reality of human individuality’, which in turn necessitates an ‘interactional code’ according to which we must presume both ‘common humanity’ but also ‘distinct individuality’ to the point where we ‘classif[y] the Other in no more substantive fashion than this’ (92). Given anthropology’s history of intricately taxonomising humans according to various criteria, this is indeed a challenging proposal – all the more so in the context of legal anthropology, where being subject to specific norms and laws is often taken to be constitutive of distinctive subjectivities, sensibilities and survival strategies. In this issue, Don Gardner responds, directing his critical attention towards the notion of personhood undergirding Rapport’s plea for a revitalised Kantian liberalism in an era of resurgent xenophobia and ethnonationalism. In the process, we see two accomplished scholars taking positions within (and consciously outside of) a whole range of classical debates in the Western philosophical cannon with pressing relevance for contemporary legal anthropology, from nature versus nurture to free will versus determinism, individualism versus collectivism and structure versus agency.