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Precedence: Social Differentiation in the Austronesian World

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This collection of papers is the sixth volume in the Comparative Austronesian series. The papers that comprise this volume examine the concept of precedence as a form of local discourse and as a mechanism for ordering status, at different levels, within specific Austronesian-speaking societies. This is the first volume of its kind to focus entirely on precedence and to provide an explication of its social uses and the way in which it is contested. Each paper is ethnographically-focused and offers its own distinctive approach to the examination of precedence. The papers, however, relate closely to one another and are thus able to proffer a variety of comparative reflections.

    eISBN: 978-1-921536-47-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. 1. Precedence in perspective
    (pp. 1-12)
    James J. Fox

    The concept of precedence defines a relative relationship. It is significant not in its focus on this single relationship but rather in the possibility it offers for a concatenation of relationships, thus producing an ‘order of precedence’ in which relations are recursively arrayed asymmetrically one to another. As such, precedence involves the conjunction of two analytic categories: recursive complementarity and categorical asymmetry (Fox 1994). A complementary category consisting of two elements – one of which is considered as ‘anterior’ or ‘superior’ to the other, such ‘elder’ > ‘younger’, ‘first-born’ > ‘last-born’ or ‘trunk’ > ‘tip’ – is applied in recursive, or repeated...

  5. 2. Origin and Precedence: The construction and distribution of status in the highlands of Bali
    (pp. 13-50)
    Thomas A. Reuter

    What are the prospects for a universal theory of status? There is one major obstacle to all generalization attempts in the social sciences: the classes of phenomena they propose to exist and whose existence they seek to explain often show a very limited degree of cross-cultural validity. General theories of ‘status’ are no exception. The etymology of the word suggests something at a standstill, an image that is difficult to reconcile with the immense variability of status systems across different societies and in the same societies during different historical periods. Obviously, it is the most universal theories of status that...

  6. 3. Distinguishing Hierarchy and Precedence: Comparing status distinctions in South Asia and the Austronesian world, with special reference to South Sulawesi
    (pp. 51-90)
    Greg Acciaioli

    The importance of differential status in the societies of archipelagic Southeast Asia and the greater Austronesian world is conspicuous; the proper terms for analysis of this social phenomenon remain, however, problematic. In this paper I wish to explore some of the ways in which questions of differential status have been addressed. Specifically, I want to examine the notion of hierarchy, as it has been elaborated from the work of Louis Dumont (1980). In this treatment I suggest that his use of hierarchy in the analysis of South Asian caste has been somewhat misconstrued (largely due to misleading comments by Dumont...

  7. 4. The Discourse and Practice of Precedence
    (pp. 91-110)
    James J. Fox

    Precedence refers both to forms of discourse and of practice. In considering precedence as an analytical category, it is appropriate to distinguish aspects of discourse and practice. However, in social analysis based on the use of precedence, it is the fusion of these aspects that gives credibility to the concept.

    In this paper, I wish to begin by considering precedence as discourse, focusing on the kinds of relational categories that, applied recursively, provide coherence to forms of precedence. From this vantage, I would like to consider briefly how such discourse relates to practice in a number of different Austronesian-speaking societies....

  8. 5. Trunk and Tip in West Timor: Precedence in a botanical idiom
    (pp. 111-132)
    Andrew McWilliam

    This paper brings together an appreciation of two related cultural themes from the island of Timor in eastern Indonesia. The first of these themes explores the expression of precedence in Timorese social contexts and its significance as an index of status differentiation. A second related concern, and one that arguably represents a key indigenous expression of precedence, is the enduring representation of social processes through botanical idioms and particularly the metaphor of the tree. In Timor, the botanical idiom of the tree is often expressed in binary metaphorical form as ‘trunk and tip’. It is this particular encoded configuration of...

  9. 6. Precedence in the Formation of the Domain of Wai Brama and the Rajadom of Sikka
    (pp. 133-166)
    E. D. Lewis

    The regency of Sikka in east central Flores is an ethnological laboratory in miniature for the study of differentiation in Austronesian societies. Except for an enclave of Lamaholot-speakers in north-eastern Sikka, a Lionese population in the district’s west and small communities of immigrants from Sulawesi on the shore of Maumere Bay, all of the peoples of the regency of Sikka speak dialects of a single language, Sara Sikka, and possess a common cultural heritage. Nevertheless, the district’s Sikkanese population includes communities whose patterns of social organization are quite distinctively different from one another. The most striking differences are those between...

  10. 7. Precedence, Contestation, and the Deployment of Sacred Authority in a Florenese Village
    (pp. 167-190)
    David Butterworth

    ‘There will be no road through the middle of our village!’¹

    Thus declared the ‘source of the domain’ (tana pu'an) of Romanduru village in the central highlands of Sikka Regency in April 2006, and to this day the proposed road has not been built. In this paper I elucidate the legitimacy of the authority of the tana pu’an in this matter by identifying the order of precedence that differentiates the status of the clans of Romanduru. In doing so I describe various strategies used to contest this order of precedence and argue that the contestation in fact strengthened the authority...

  11. 8. A Tale of Two Villages: Hierarchy and precedence in Keo dual organization (Flores, Indonesia)
    (pp. 191-208)
    Gregory Forth

    A recent turn in the social anthropology of Austronesian-speaking communities has involved analysis of local social forms with reference to concepts of ‘hierarchy’ and ‘precedence’. In this context, ‘hierarchy’ more specifically refers to Dumont’s notion of ‘hierarchical opposition’, or ‘hierarchical encompassment’ (1979, 1980), and particularly a version applied by students of Dumont to several Indonesian societies (see for example, Barraud 1979, Barnes et al. 1985, Pauwels 1990; see also Platenkamp 1990, Forth 2001). Deriving from ethnographic studies by Australian-based anthropologists (for example, Lewis 1988; Molnar 2000; McWilliam 2002; Reuter 2002), ‘precedence’, a social principle conferring higher status on groups considered...

  12. 9. Hierarchy, Precedence and Values: Scopes for social action in Ngadhaland, Central Flores
    (pp. 209-228)
    Olaf H. Smedal

    While anthropologists have been alerted to the regimented and thwarted research which a strict adherence to regionally developed ‘gatekeeping concepts’ (Appadurai 1986) may effect, it is neither necessarily more productive nor less hazardous to export/import such concepts across regions. As a case in point, James Fox has remarked (1989:51–53, 1994) that there are inherent difficulties in applying Dumont’s concept of hierarchy (1980) to societies of eastern Indonesia. These do not have the encompassing religious coherence that Dumont has attributed to India; for this reason, hierarchy cannot be described as a single principle nor identified with a specific opposition, such...

  13. 10. Hierarchy and Precedence in Keiese Origin Myths
    (pp. 229-244)
    Timo Kaartinen

    There are two senses in which localized origin is socially significant to people living in the East Indonesian islands of Kei. Each Keiese village society consists of heterogeneous elements which trace their ancestry to places outside their present environment. Traditions of ancestral migration and contact with other island communities indicate a claim to chiefly offices and status, but they occur among common people as well. Apart from the stories of migration, however, there are myths of origin which only concern the origins of the local society itself. In present-day Kei, the origin myths are generally known but rarely subject to...

  14. 11. Contestations: Dynamics of precedence in an eastern Indonesian domain
    (pp. 245-274)
    Michael P. Vischer

    This contribution is concerned with a fundamental issue in the study of human societies: the process by which unequal or asymmetric relations are established, asserted and contested. A second and underlying concern is the development of a comparative method in anthropology, which goes beyond the regional mutually interpretative stance that, in the best of cases, still stands for comparison. In the case of precedence, particular processes of social differentiation involving asymmetric relations can be compared that have been identified as being characteristic to the societies of eastern Indonesia and, by extension, also to the societies of the wider Austronesian world.¹...

  15. Contributors
    (pp. 275-278)