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.
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