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Foundation and Empire (with apologies to Isaac Asimov)

A Consideration of Hardt and Negri's Empire

Bruce Kapferer

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass. 2000), pp. 478.

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Introduction

Outside All Reason—Magic, Sorcery and Epistemology in Anthropology

Bruce Kapferer

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.

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Introduction

The Social Construction of Reductionist Thought and Practice

Bruce Kapferer

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.

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Coda

Recollections and Refutations

Bruce Kapferer

I find this collection a Proustian experience. It excites memories regarding events and significant others who for some of us writing here continue to be poignantly influential in the different courses that we have taken in the constantly forming subject of anthropology. Most of us who were involved with Gluckman’s Manchester circle have different recollections of what it was and the scope of its influence, such recollections (or imaginings of the past) gathering their import through our different standpoints and projections in a moving present. In this regard, I find the two historical essays (Mills, Kempney) useful for the general confirmation that they give to a large amount of received opinion in this volume and elsewhere. Frankenberg’s essay imparts a strong sense of the spirit of the main period of Manchester and reminds us of important emissaries of ideas that had their source in the department during Gluckman’s time. There is a difficulty with collections such as this for they always run the risk of excluding scholars who were influential (and there are many who were at Manchester at the time who possibly have received insufficient mention). Here I stress that the Manchester of Gluckman’s idea was very much a collective event. Gluckman may have stamped his personality on things, but there was, I think, a powerful notion that those gathered at Manchester—and earlier at the RLI—were participating in the exploration of new possibilities for the then still very young discipline of anthropology. In both settings, Gluckman grouped around him scholars with diverse intellectual interests and skills, and he strove to exploit this synergy.

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Bruce Kapferer

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.

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Bruce Kapferer

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.

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Introduction

In the Event—Toward an Anthropology of Generic Moments

Bruce Kapferer

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.

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The Aporia of Power

Crisis and the Emergence of the Corporate State

Bruce Kapferer

The argument focuses on the corporate state as an increasingly significant political assemblage that has enabled new configurations of power with related social effects. Here the discussion proceeds from Karl Polanyi's thesis in The Great Transformation. A critical idea that Polanyi pursued related to the state production of economism and individualism, which prepared the ground for the expansion of capital in its globalizing form. The essay develops this idea, indicating that the nationalist capitalism of the state led to a radical change in the political and social orders of states, gradually giving rise to the corporate state assemblage. The emphasis here is on the corporate state as a socio-political order that places radically distinct structural dynamics into impossible conjunction, leading to progressively disastrous social effects concerning poverty and the emergence of new configurations in which war and violence take specific shapes.

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Bruce Kapferer

The cosmologies implicated in sorcery practice are human-centric. Within them, human beings are at the heart of processes that are integral in the formation of their psychical, social and political universes. Sorcery fetishises human agency, often one which it magically enhances, as the key mediating factor affecting the course or direction of human life-chances. The fabulous character of so much sorcery practice, its transgressive and unbounded dimensions, a rich symbolism that appears to press towards and beyond the limits of the human imagination, is surely connected to the overpowering and totalising impetus that sorcery recognises in human agency and capacities. Sorcery is that magical additional force that unites with the intentional direction of human beings into their realities – a creative and destructive directionality. Such sorcery must needs affect the lives of others because of their co-presence, their ongoing involvement in each other’s life circumstances.

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Introduction

Old Permutations, New Formations? War, State, and Global Transgression

Bruce Kapferer

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.