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Pathways of Power

Pathways of Power: Building an Anthropology of the Modern World

Eric R. Wolf
with Sydel Silverman
FOREWORD BY Aram A. Yengoyan
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 483
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  • Book Info
    Pathways of Power
    Book Description:

    This collection of twenty-eight essays by renowned anthropologist Eric R. Wolf is a legacy of some of his most original work, with an insightful foreword by Aram Yengoyan. Of the essays, six have never been published and two have not appeared in English until now. Shortly before his death, Wolf prepared introductions to each section and individual pieces, as well as an intellectual autobiography that introduces the collection as a whole. Sydel Silverman, who completed the editing of the book, says in her preface, "He wanted this selection of his writings over the past half-century to serve as part of the history of how anthropology brought the study of complex societies and world systems into its purview."

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92487-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword: Culture and Power in the Writings of Eric R. Wolf
    (pp. vii-xviii)
    Aram A. Yengoyan

    With the death of EricWolf, anthropology lost one of its early advocates for cultural anthropology as a link between the humanities and the social sciences. From the 1950s on, Wolf approached anthropology as a form of humanistic understanding that combined theory and interpretation within a historical and comparative perspective markedly influenced by his rethinking of various works by Marx and Marxist writers. In developing this bridge, Wolf saw the problem of culture as a historical and processual emergent in which class and power relations are critical for understanding what culture means as a local expression and as a concept paramount...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xix-xxi)
    Sydel Silverman
  5. Introduction: An Intellectual Autobiography
    (pp. 1-10)

    I was born in Vienna in 1923, at a time when the Hapsburg Empire had been dismantled and Austria had shrunk to a miserable remnant of its former glories, leaving the city as the hydrocephalic head of a dejected, economically depressed political unit. My father’s family had been in Austria since about 1650, while my mother’s family were Russians from the Ukraine, who, after participating in the 1905 revolution, were exiled first to France and then to the Mongol-Chinese-Russian borderland. My parents met when my father, an officer in the Austrian reserve army during World War I, was a prisoner...


    • [PART I. Introduction]
      (pp. 11-12)

      My first serious effort to reflect on anthropology as a discipline was undertaken more than a decade after I earned my doctorate, after three rounds of intensive fieldwork and several theoretical excursions into the anthropology of complex societies. The Council of the Humanities of Princeton University invited me to contribute a volume on anthropology to its series on “Humanistic Scholarship in America.” The aim of the series was “to present a critical account of American humanistic scholarship in recent decades.” Anthropology had not originally been part of the plan for the series, perhaps because of uncertainties over its status as...

    • 1 American Anthropologists and American Society
      (pp. 13-22)

      I shall argue that in the last hundred years there have been three major phases of American anthropology and that these three phases correspond largely to three phases in the development of American society. Such a triadic scheme represents, of course, an oversimplification, but the oversimplification will serve its purpose if it leads us to think about problem setting in our discipline not merely in terms of the truth and falsity of answers to questions asked but about our whole intellectual enterprise as a form of social action, operating within and against a certain societal and cultural context. I must...

    • 2 Kroeber Revisited
      (pp. 23-37)

      For anthropologists of my generation, Alfred L. Kroeber was the living embodiment of American anthropology. His books and his words accompanied us through graduate school, and he appeared in our professional lives again and again. I knew him only after his retirement, when he gave a course at Columbia, a course dedicated entirely to the Yurok. But his influence at Columbia was strong through his students, especially Julian Steward, whose understandings of anthropology should, I think, be seen as a reaction to Kroeber, the outcome of a dialectic between Kroeber and himself. When I met Kroeber, I found him personable...

    • 3 Remarks on The People of Puerto Rico
      (pp. 38-48)

      Twenty-nine years have passed since the research embodied inThe People of Puerto Ricowas undertaken, and twenty-one years since the book reporting that research appeared in print (Steward and others 1956). Turning its pages now is like a visit to old friends, once intimately known and understood, with whom one was engaged on many different levels—- psychological, occupational, political. Among these friends revisited is also one’s former self, in my case the person I was then, twenty-five years old. One is always uneasy, fingering the mementos of one’s past. One fights down not so much the seven deadly sins as...

    • 4 On Fieldwork and Theory
      (pp. 49-62)

      These are trying times in anthropology. The discipline, of course, is no stranger to crisis. Some have long prophesied its likely demise, proclaiming that anthropology “will be history or it will be nothing,” or it will be psychology, sociology, or evolutionary biology or “nothing.” Others damn it for its ambition to be the orchestrated study of humankind in its combined biological, linguistic, and sociocultural dimensions and welcome its fragmentation into routinized specializations. Anthropologists once felt secure in possessing the patented concept of “culture,” but they now confront numerous others who have adopted one or another form of this idea, while...

    • 5 Anthropology among the Powers
      (pp. 63-80)

      I center this discussion on how an anthropology concerned with society and culture came to be built up and shaped within the wider field of relations that accompanied its birth and its subsequent transformations. I ask how we can understand the history of our endeavor, especially social anthropology, not only as an unfolding of ideas inside the discipline but also as it was shaped within a sociopolitical environment. We know that environment was generated by powerful forces of capitalism, colonial expansion, and national rivalry. It does not, however, serve us to see all modes of anthropological thought and practice as...


    • [PART II. Introduction]
      (pp. 81-82)

      As anthropology expanded its range from the study of “primitives” to encompass state-organized societies, it was the usual practice to employ unexamined holistic concepts, such as “culture” or “society,” and to describe such entities in terms of totalizing “culture patterns” or “national cultures.” Alternatively, it borrowed from sociology a model of social process in which societies exhibiting the syndromes of Gemeinschaft (collectivism, mechanical solidarity, status ascription, sacredness) were supposedly displaced and replaced by societies marked by the syndromes of Gesellschaft (individualism, organic solidarity, contract, secularism). Julian Steward taught his students to question the assumed nature of such wholes, as well...

    • 6 Building the Nation
      (pp. 83-99)

      In recent years anthropology has increasingly widened its field, to include not only “primitive contemporaries” but much more highly organized cultures as well. In doing so, it has trespassed more and more on the carefully delimited fields of other disciplines, causing both outsiders and members of the profession to welcome or to view it with alarm, according to their respective lights. One of the most disputed outposts is held by anthropologists who have found it in themselves to deal with such a complicated structure as the modern nation. It is to this study that I would like to contribute my...

    • 7 The Social Organization of Mecca and the Origins of Islam
      (pp. 100-123)

      The present paper attempts to analyze some aspects of the early development of Islam in terms of certain anthropological concepts. It would like to take issue with the popular view best expressed in the words of Paul W. Harrison that “Mohammedanism is little more than the Bedouin mind projected into the realm of religion” (1924: 42). It is concerned primarily with the change from a type of society organized on the basis of kin relationships to a type of society possessed of an organized, if rudimentary, state. It will try to show that this change took place in an urban...

    • 8 Aspects of Group Relations in a Complex Society: Mexico
      (pp. 124-138)

      Starting from simple beginnings in the 1920s, anthropologists have grown increasingly sophisticated about the relationship of nation and community. First they studied the community in its own terms, taking but little account of its larger matrix. Later they began to describe “outside factors” that affected the life of the local group under study. Recently they have come to recognize that nations or “systems of the higher level do not consist merely of more numerous and diversified parts” and that it is therefore “methodologically incorrect to treat each part as though it were an independent whole in itself” (Steward 1950: 107)....

    • 9 The Virgin of Guadalupe: A Mexican National Symbol
      (pp. 139-146)

      Occasionally we encounter a symbol that seems to enshrine the major hopes and aspirations of an entire society. Such a master symbol is represented by the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint. During the Mexican War of Independence against Spain, her image preceded the insurgents into battle. Emiliano Zapata and his agrarian rebels fought under her emblem in the Great Revolution of 1910. Today she adorns housefronts and interiors, churches and home altars, bullrings and gambling dens, taxis and buses, restaurants and houses of ill repute. She is celebrated in popular song and verse. Her shrine at Tepeyac, immediately north...

    • 10 Closed Corporate Peasant Communities in Mesoamerica and Central Java
      (pp. 147-159)

      One of the salient aims of modern anthropology, conceived as a science, is to define recurrent sequences of cause and effect; that is, to formulate cultural laws. This paper is concerned with recurrent features in the social, economic, and religious organization of peasant groups in two world areas, widely separated by past history and geographical space: Mesoamerica and Central Java. These have been selected for comparison because I have some measure of acquaintance with Mesoamerica through fieldwork and a degree of familiarity with the literature dealing with the two areas.

      The cultural configuration I wish to discuss is the organization...

    • 11 The Vicissitudes of the Closed Corporate Peasant Community
      (pp. 160-165)

      It is periodically incumbent on a discipline to review the ideas that it has found useful in the past and to reconsider whether they will serve its purposes in the future. In this spirit I want to reexamine some efforts at anthropological generalizations now more than a quarter of a century old. I refer here to two articles—one on types of Latin American peasantry written for a special issue of theAmerican Anthropologiston Latin America; the other on closed corporate communities in Mesoamerica and Java (Wolf 1955b, 1957). I want to locate these papers against the backdrop of...

    • 12 Kinship, Friendship, and Patron-Client Relations in Complex Societies
      (pp. 166-183)

      The anthropologist’s study of complex societies receives its major justification from the fact that such societies are not as well organized and tightly knit as their spokesmen would on occasion like to make people believe. If we analyze their economic systems, we shall find in any one such society resources that are strategic to the system—and organizations set up to utilize these strategic resources—but we shall also find resources and organizations that are at best supplementary or wholly peripheral. If we drew these relations on a map, some areas would show strong concentrations of strategic resources and the...

    • 13 Ethnicity and Nationhood
      (pp. 184-190)

      A hundred years ago many liberals and socialists heard and expected that a liberal or socialist internationalism would put an end to the array of competitive nation-states. Very much contrary to these expectations, nation-states have multiplied in the modern world. New nation-states have emerged through the breakup of empires and culture spheres predicated on other principles of organization. Contrary to expectations, too—and contrary especially to the predictions that modernization would put an end to ethnic exclusivity—groups and clusters of groups passionately dedicated to the politics of ethnicity have also proliferated. Everywhere, the expansion of citizenship has seemingly been...


    • [PART III. Introduction]
      (pp. 191-192)

      When I came into anthropology, “community studies” were beginning to expand the discipline’s earlier concentration on autonomous “tribes.” Studying a community involved finding a cluster of rural people who shared a distinctive way of life and the experience of living together in the same place, while yet being encompassed within some larger totality, usually identified as a complex society, state, or nation. When I wrote my dissertation I described my field site as “a coffee-growing community” in this sense. I similarly used the term “peasants” quite unproblematically at that time, both to designate agrarian smallholders and to distinguish them from...

    • 14 Types of Latin American Peasantry: A Preliminary Discussion
      (pp. 193-214)

      As anthropology has become increasingly concerned with the study of modern communities, anthropologists have begun to pay attention to the social and cultural characteristics of the peasantry. It will be the purpose of this article to draw up a tentative typology of peasant groups for Latin America, as a basis for further fieldwork and discussion. Such a typology will of necessity raise more questions than can be answered easily at the present time. To date, anthropologists working in Latin America have dealt mainly with groups with “Indian” cultures, and available anthropological literature reflects this major interest. Any projected reorientation of...

    • 15 Specific Aspects of Plantation Systems in the New World: Community Subcultures and Social Classes
      (pp. 215-229)

      It is important, I think, to begin a discussion of community, subcultures, and social classes on the plantation by underlining the fact that the plantation is by definition a class-structured system of organization. Technologically, it enables laborers to produce more than they need to satisfy their own culturally prescribed standards of consumption. Economically, the owners of the plantation appropriate that surplus in culturally sanctioned ways. The individual members of the labor force cannot sell the goods they produce; nor can they consume the proceeds of such sales. The entrepreneurs who operate the plantation monopolize the right to sell in a...

    • 16 Peasants and Revolution
      (pp. 230-240)

      In the modern world, two sectors of society and economy confront each other: the sector of advanced industrial plants or factories in the field, and the sector of peasant holdings and artisan activity. This contrast exists on a world scale: between industrial and agricultural countries in each hemisphere; between neighboring countries on each continent; and within countries themselves (Frank 1967). The nature of the relation between the two sectors is the key political problem of our time; the search for an adequate resolution of the dichotomy, the central problem of the social sciences. How one views the role of peasantry...

    • 17 Phases of Rural Protest in Latin America
      (pp. 241-251)

      The twentieth century has witnessed the irruption of the rural population of Latin America into the political process: news of land invasions, uprisings, and petitions for agrarian reform in various countries of the continent furnish daily subject matter for the world press. These events involve large numbers of people: the Mexican Revolution of the century’s second decade claimed a million dead; the internecine fighting between armed bands during the ColombianViolenciain the late 1940s and through the 1950s claimed an estimated 200,000 victims; the peasant movement in Brazil in the early 1960s mobilized hundreds of thousands; the Peruvian press...

    • 18 Is the “Peasantry” a Class?
      (pp. 252-259)

      A discussion of the peasantry in terms ofclassruns an uneasy course between the advocates of society as an organic unity and the prophets of conflict, revolution, and class war. A good case can be made that the science of society developed largely as a political weapon, wielded by its protagonists to halt the process of social integration and to restore the social order, riven by the conflicts of the French Revolution and its reverberations. A convincing genealogy links Louis G. A. Bonald with Joseph de Maistre, Claude Saint-Simon, Auguste Comte, and Emile Durkheim. A parallel lineage can be...

    • 19 On Peasant Rent
      (pp. 260-271)

      Peasant studies in American anthropology have taken two different approaches. A first approach strove to explore the understandings in peasants’ minds, seeking a definition of peasant values or worldview. The second took its departure from the study of the material, economic, and political processes at work in peasant life, and aimed at constructing a political economy of peasantry. Central to the first approach was the concern with the cultural encounter between city and country, civilization and folk, “great tradition” and “little tradition.” Central to the second approach was the definition of mechanisms linking cultivators to economy and polity, to market...

    • 20 The Second Serfdom in Eastern Europe and Latin America
      (pp. 272-288)

      Iberian America and Eastern Europe, characterized by such different histories and located so far apart in space, share certain commonalities that require explanation. Both Iberia itself and the European East have been seen as culturally different from the European heartland. For some, “Africa began at the Pyrenees”; for others, “the Swiss-Austrian frontier marked the border of the Balkans.” The economy of both regions was characterized by the rise of the large estate, thehaciendaorfazendain Latin America and similar latifundia under various names in the East. Moreover, in both areas the advent of industrial capitalism—which harnesses “free”...

    • 21 Peasant Nationalism in an Alpine Valley
      (pp. 289-304)

      On top of a mountain range just west of the city of Bolzano—called the “Nonsberg” in German and the “Val di Non” in Italian, lie two small villages, inhabited by mountaineers who make a living by cultivating the scant pockets of usable soil and by pasturing cattle on mountain meadows and high-altitude pastures. St. Felix, with a population of about 350 people, communicates in variants of German; Tret, with about 300 people, uses variants of Romance. Administratively, Tret lies within the province of Trento, St. Felix, within the province of Bolzano (Bozen). The two provinces together make up the...


    • [PART IV. Introduction]
      (pp. 305-306)

      The final part of this collection consists of contributions that examine some of the basic tools of our trade, the foundational conceptions that have informed the development of anthropology. I look upon these not as ultimate truths but, rather, as maps of the territory we have decided to explore. Such concepts define what we can say about the objects of our interest, and they underlie choices of where we look to find answers to our questions and how we structure our research. There is an intimate connection between “theory” and what we can learn and know, but learning to know...

    • 22 Culture: Panacea or Problem?
      (pp. 307-319)

      Just before the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in December 1980, theNew York Timesasked me to discuss the condition of anthropology and anthropologists. In the piece I wrote (Wolf 1980) I talked about the split between materialists and mentalists and suggested that the proliferation and severance of specializations within the discipline had called into question the old culture concept, both as the unique possession of humankind and as the distinctive, internally coherent, and transgenerational repertoire of artifacts and customs characteristic of any given society or culture-bearing population. I tried to say that anthropology was alive, even...

    • 23 Inventing Society
      (pp. 320-334)

      Every discipline works with a set of household concepts; in the social sciences, these include Culture, Society, and the Individual. We rely on these rough-and-ready instruments of knowledge because they are close at hand, because they are helpful in most situations, and because—widely shared and easily understood—they economize on lengthy and pedantic explanations. Yet economy in denotation and connotation can come to inhibit thought, as well as promote it. Then it is not enough to invent or import new words; we need to take a closer look at our intellectual armamentarium. These days some of our colleagues may...

    • 24 The Mills of Inequality: A Marxian Approach
      (pp. 335-352)

      In this symposium we have been asked to consider social inequality from a comparative and developmental perspective. Gerald Berreman (1981) has appropriately pointed to the relative paucity of such considerations in recent anthropology, though Stanley Diamond has justifiably argued that the issue of equality and inequality has constituted the hidden agenda of anthropology since its beginning (1974). Berreman invites us to embark on a general discussion of the topic, and yet one grounded in empirical evidence. If anthropology has anything to contribute to an understanding of this topic, it should be because of the wealth of culturally different situations studied...

    • 25 Incorporation and Identity in the Making of the Modern World
      (pp. 353-369)

      It is a singular honor to address you in the name of the great Finnish scholar whose work unites the social science traditions of Scandinavia with those of the English-speaking world and for whom the purpose of these sciences was “to explain . . . social phenomena, to find their causes, to show how and why they have come into existence” (Westermarck 1908: 24–25). I shall try to do justice to that purpose by speaking about incorporation and identity in the making of the modern world.

      By processes of incorporation I mean the recruitment of people into particular modes...

    • 26 Ideas and Power
      (pp. 370-382)

      These comments are made to requite, at least in small measure, thehauimposed on us by Elman Service’s contributions to anthropology in general and to the education of a cohort of graduate students in particular. In the fall of 1946 a group of veterans, recently returned from the war, entered graduate studies in anthropology at Columbia University. For this group, which called itself (half in jest) the Mundial Upheaval Society, Elman was something of a hero: he hailed from Tecumseh, Michigan, certainly an improbable place to come from for most New Yorkers; he had boxed in the Golden Gloves...

    • 27 Facing Power—Old Insights, New Questions
      (pp. 383-397)

      In this essay I engage the problem of power and the issues it poses for anthropology. I argue that we actually know a great deal about power but that we have been timid in building upon what we know. This has implications for both theory and method, for assessing the insights of the past, and for raising new questions.

      The very term makes many of us uncomfortable. It is certainly one of the most loaded and polymorphous words in our repertoire. The Romance, Germanic, and Slavic languages, at least, conflate a multitude of meanings in speaking aboutpouvoirorpotere,...

    • 28 Perilous Ideas: Race, Culture, People
      (pp. 398-412)

      Each endeavor to understand humankind works with a set of characteristic ideas that orient its inquiries and justify its existence, and for anthropology ideas about race and culture and—more recently—about peoplehood or ethnicity have played that guiding and legitimizing role. Franz Boas, who stands at the beginning of American anthropology, taught us to be especially attentive to issues of race and culture. It is appropriate to address these issues today, not only because 1992 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Boas’s death but also because one of the important lineage segments in anthropology reckons intellectual descent from Franz Boas...

  10. References
    (pp. 413-446)
  11. Index
    (pp. 447-463)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 464-464)