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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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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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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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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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Ritual Dynamics and Virtual Practice

Beyond Representation and Meaning

Bruce Kapferer

Symbolic meaning and representational and reflexive perspectives remain dominant orientations in the analysis of ritual. While these must be crucial, this essay argues that a focus on the perceptual dynamics of rite, especially as these are located in ritual aesthetics, may expand an understanding of the force of rite. The discussion develops critically upon Victor Turner’s seminal work, suggesting ways in which ritual analyses may be redirected. The related concepts of dynamics and virtuality (distinguished from the cyber-technological kind) are developed, indicating that these may be critical for understanding how rites change or transform the situations to which they are directed. Ritual as a dynamic in virtuality that has no essential or necessary relation to the ordinary realities that surround it may, because of this fact, be greatly empowered as a force that can pragmatically intervene in ordinary realities.

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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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Introduction

Oligarchic Corporations and New State Formations

Bruce Kapferer

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.

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Bruce Kapferer

Gluckman and the Manchester School pioneered approaches in anthropology that are now commonplace. But they were interested in achieving generalizations of both a local and more global kind. Their central methodology was that of situational analysis and extended-case analysis, which are examined here as attempts to make anthropology, via its ethnographic field method, a scientific discipline that opened out to novel ideas and theories concerning the human condition. This essay critically assesses the thinking that underpinned the methodology of situational analysis and suggests some areas of redirection. The overall idea is to impart some sense of the spirit that motivated various aspects of the Manchester innovation, especially the politics that gave it some coherence, and the wider importance of its directions that are occasionally overlooked in reflections on the history of social anthropology.

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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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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.