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The Anthropological Study of Class and Consciousness

The Anthropological Study of Class and Consciousness

EDITED BY E. Paul Durrenberger
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 317
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  • Book Info
    The Anthropological Study of Class and Consciousness
    Book Description:

    Presenting prehistoric, historic, and ethnographic data from Mongolia, China, Iceland, Mexico, Brazil, and the United States, The Anthropological Study of Class and Consciousness offers a first step toward examining class as a central issue within anthropology. Contributors to this volume use the methods of historical materialism, cultural ecology, and political ecology to understand the realities of class and how they evolve.   Five central ideas unify the collection: the objective basis for class in different social orders; people's understanding of class in relation to race and gender; the relation of ideologies of class to realities of class; the U.S. managerial middle-class denial of class and emphasis on meritocracy in relation to increasing economic insecurity; and personal responses to economic insecurity and their political implications.   Anthropologists who want to understand the nature and dynamics of culture must also understand the nature and dynamics of class. The Anthropological Study of Class and Consciousness addresses the role of the concept of class as an analytical construct in anthropology and how it relates to culture. Although issues of social hierarchy have been studied in anthropology, class has not often been considered as a central element. Yet a better understanding of its role in shaping culture, consciousness, and people's awareness of their social and natural world would in turn lead to better understanding of major trends in social evolution as well as contemporary society. This book will be of great interest to students and scholars of anthropology, labor studies, ethnohistory, and sociology.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-157-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    Steinbeck was writing of California. We write about the world as the processes he described in The Grapes of Wrath have overtaken the planet. He outlined the processes (1939: 324–325):

    And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in to few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that...

  5. TWO Thinking Political Communities: The State and Social Stratification among Ancient Nomads of Mongolia
    (pp. 29-64)

    The distant ancestors of today’s Mongolians constructed some of the great polities of the Old World. More than 2,000 years ago, the first nomadic state, called by the name Xiongnu, challenged the Han dynasty of China, dividing East Asia into two distinct political spheres for more than three centuries (Lattimore 1940; Di Cosmo 2002: 196–199). Eight hundred years ago, most of Eurasia knew only one political order, that which arose from beneath the hooves of Mongol cavalry to become the largest land empire in human history. Despite these notable political accomplishments by the nomadic peoples of eastern Eurasia, surprisingly...

  6. THREE Dividing Land and Creating Class: The Development of a Landlord-Tenant Political Economy in Medieval Iceland
    (pp. 65-84)

    Structured inequalities in the production and distribution of surplus labor are not unique to the modern world. For much of the world the archaeological record is the only means to access the emergence of class relations. In contexts with historical documentation, the archaeological record provides information on the real distribution of people and productive resources to compare with the written, and inherently consciously constructed, accounts of class. From this perspective archaeology can fulfill two critical roles in the study of class beyond the simple opportunity to study class in the prehistoric world. First, following the tradition of E. P. Thompson,...

  7. FOUR Fried’s Evolutionary Model, Social Stratification, and the Nuosu in Southwest China
    (pp. 85-104)

    Social stratification in Nuosu societies in southwest China has a long history extending back to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), if not earlier, documented in Chinese chronicles.¹ Although often treated by historians and ethnologists as a single, bounded society with unique characteristics relative to other ethnic groups, including the Han Chinese themselves, the Nuosu communities in the area of the Da Liangshan (Great Cold Mountains) in southwestern Sichuan historically have shown considerable variation, especially in areas where the Nuosu have lived in close proximity to other ethnic groups. Here I compare two Nuosu areas on the periphery of Da Liangshan....

  8. FIVE Class and Consciousness in the “Antiglobal” South: On Poverty, Climate Change, and the Illusion of Creating Wealth
    (pp. 105-148)

    The rapid warming of the earth’s climate is driven mainly by people’s increasing consumption of goods and services of all kinds, including fossil fuels; thus it is a direct result of the kind of “growth” that most economists regard as inherently beneficial to society. The goods being consumed are ultimately finite and scarce, products derived from raw materials and transformed into commodities through inputs of technology, labor, and large amounts of extrasomatic energy. Yet many people, especially relatively affluent individuals living in the “developed” countries, believe that this wealth is potentially limitless, that it is created by humans, and that...

  9. SIX Crash, Collapse, and Catastrophe in Postindustrial North America
    (pp. 149-168)

    The world as we know it is soon to end, according to many, possibly most, North Americans. In the early twenty-first century, end-of-the-world discourse has burst forth from the lunatic fringe into excited conversations, face-to-face, from the pulpit, on the Internet, and on late-night talk radio. This paper examines four major disaster scenarios for the class specificity of their constituencies, preoccupations, symbols, prescriptions, and villains, as an arena for the development of class consciousness.

    I will discuss briefly the “end of the world as we know it” as a contrast set, then focus in on a vast, largely working-class discourse,...

  10. SEVEN Class and Consciousness: The American Farmer’s Daughter
    (pp. 169-200)

    The current focus of empirical analysis of class and class consciousness on the intersecting processes of capitalist relations, historically constituted regional frameworks, and the contexts of lived experiences and understandings (Adams and Gorton 2006; Durrenberger and Erem 1997; Heyman 2007) provides a fruitful framework for examining conceptions of class consciousness for young farm women in American agriculture. Diverse regional commodity markets and transnational dynamics intersect with race, religion, ethnicity, immigration status, and the cultural values that defined gendered divisions of farm family labor to circumscribe young farm women’s social and economic realities as well as consciousness of their ability to...

  11. EIGHT Immigrant Heterogeneity and Class Consciousness in New Rural US Destinations
    (pp. 201-222)

    Immigrant groups tend to be associated with processes that fragment labor markets, work sites, communities, and other social spaces where class allegiances develop. Loyalties and affiliations are more likely to be based on local histories, ethnicity, national origin, enclaves, neighborhoods, important cultural places, or other dimensions of shared experience that may differ from time to time and place to place, such as church membership and political affiliation. Further, the growth and persistence of petty capitalist activity and multiple livelihoods among immigrants are corollaries to the fragmentation of production into enterprises that produce specific products, whether houses or hazardous toys, through...

  12. NINE Class Consciousness in a Complicated Setting: Race, Immigration Status, Nationality, and Class on the US-Mexico Border
    (pp. 223-248)

    The US-Mexico border is particularly interesting for examining the complications of class consciousness. Class relations and perceptions on the US side are deeply interwoven with race relations between Anglo Americans and Mexican Americans,¹ while racism and nationalism also affect understandings of Mexico in the United States and vice versa. The border inherently involves connections and comparisons across the international boundary, and the region is central to the current international division of labor in manufacturing. In turn, citizenship and immigration status strongly affect class and race in the United States, although none of these categories match up with the others in...

  13. TEN Difference and Dispossession: Considerations on the Making and Unmaking of a Labor Elite at Saturn
    (pp. 249-274)

    The 1999 United Auto Workers (UAW) elections at General Motor’s (GM) Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, were hotly contested.¹ Flyers, newsletters, and palm cards flooded the shop floor, and representatives from rival union caucuses crowded factory doors, handing out campaign literature to workers who came in and out for their shifts. One palm card helped turn the election, break the monopoly on union power that the Vision Caucus had in the plant for over a decade, and dissolve Saturn’s widely acclaimed labor-management partnership.

    The card pictured a red SUV and carried the slogan, “The Vision Team is Leading the...

  14. ELEVEN Do Hair and Class Gel?
    (pp. 275-296)

    Americans spent over $50 billion on cosmetics and toiletries in 2006 (Singer 2007). That is more than the US government spent in the same year on elementary, secondary, and vocational education combined, according to the US Office of Management and Budget report. As sales in luxury items continue to grow, an upscale hair salon offers a space to consider the expression of class and status by working-class hairdressers and the leisure-privileged middle-and upper-middle-class patrons.

    This work is based on fieldwork over a three-month period in the summer and fall of 2003. I spent about ten hours a week hanging out...

  15. TWELVE Dreams, Illusions, and Realities: Conclusions
    (pp. 297-304)

    Michael is using interest from his trust fund to pay for this trip. I am grateful, but also angry at the inequalities in our realities. No matter what I say or do, he can’t understand what it’s like to scrabble for the money for rent and heat and food. Worse, he thinks he does understand.

    I worked an entire summer once to pay my own way on an Outward Bound trip, he says.

    I roll my eyes.

    Big whoop, I say. Working a whole summer for a want, not a need, is not the same. There’s no desperation there. No...

  16. List of Contributors
    (pp. 305-308)
  17. Index
    (pp. 309-317)