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Hierarchy: Persistence and Transformation in Social Formations

Knut M. Rio
Olaf H. Smedal
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Louis Dumont's concept of hierarchy continues to inspire social scientists. Using it as their starting point, the contributors to this volume introduce both fresh empirical material and new theoretical considerations. On the basis of diverse ethnographic contexts in Oceania, Asia, and the Middle East they challenge some current conceptions of hierarchical formations and reassess former debates - of post-colonial and neo-colonial agendas, ideas of "democratization" and "globalization," and expanding market economies - both with regard to new theoretical issues and the new world situation.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-883-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
    Knut M. Rio and Olaf H. Smedal
  4. Chapter 1 Hierarchy and Its Alternatives: An Introduction to Movements of Totalization and Detotalization
    (pp. 1-64)
    Knut M. Rio and Olaf H. Smedal

    The aim of this volume is to convey in ethnographical terms what is characteristic of what we will call hierarchical societies. The contributors to the collection have taken on the task of describing unique hierarchical social formations in their respective areas, in order for anthropology to rethink not only variation in social forms, but also what it is that unites different social movements and how they can be compared. This task has been carried out without an initial coherent theoretical framework, but, unavoidably, most contributions engage with Dumont’s concept of hierarchy, critically or otherwise. Regionally, we have chosen to avoid...

  5. Chapter 2 Conversion, Hierarchy, and Cultural Change: Value and Syncretism in the Globalization of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity
    (pp. 65-88)
    Joel Robbins

    The study of cultural change, particularly radical change, has always been something of a secondary topic in cultural anthropology.¹ If sociology and history have been disciplines in large measure defined by their attention to issues of discontinuity and change (Patterson 2004), anthropology has staked its claim on elucidating such presumably enduring objects as traditions, cultures, and systems of belief. This is not to say, of course, that anthropologists have never discussed or described cultural change. Rather, the point is that cultural change has rarely been theorized in its own terms. Even today—after a decade and a half of attention...

  6. Chapter 3 Gender and Value: Conceptualizing Social Forms on Ambrym, Vanuatu
    (pp. 89-112)
    Annelin Eriksen

    In this chapter I give “gender” as an analytic category a status beyond that of gendered identities and gendered bodies.¹ My focus will be on gender as a social and structural category. I claim that social “forms,” or social “structures,” can be gendered. By this I mean that in some societies, gender is a primary category for conceptualizing the dynamics of society. I will show that on Ambrym, an island in the young nation state of Vanuatu in the Southwest Pacific, there are two opposing social forms working to counteract each other, and operating in different contexts historically. When analyzing...

  7. Chapter 4 Can a Hierarchical Religion Survive without Its Center? Caodaism, Colonialism, and Exile
    (pp. 113-142)
    Janet Hoskins

    The new religion of Caodaism has been described both as a form of “Vietnamese traditionalism” (Blagov 2001) and “hybrid modernity” (Thompson 1937). It has been seen both as conservative and outrageous, nostalgic and futuristic. This paper explores that meddling of different oppositions in a religion which Clifford Geertz has called “un syncrétism à l’outrance”—an excessive, even transgressive blending of piety and blasphemy, respectful obeisance and rebellious expressionism, the old and the new. These apparently contradictory descriptions of Caodaism revolve around its relation to hierarchy, and in particular the ways in which its new teachings have played havoc with the...

  8. Chapter 5 The Headless State in Inner Asia: Reconsidering Kinship Society and the Discourse of Tribalism
    (pp. 143-182)
    David Sneath

    Although the concept of “tribal society” as an evolutionary stage preceding state-organized society continues to have wide currency (Earle 1994: 944–5), the pejorative, colonial baggage of the term “tribe” and its entanglement with nineteenth century evolutionist theory caused most anthropologists to avoid it by the late twentieth century.¹ Critiques such as Fried’s (1975)The Notion of Tribeand revisionist works such as Vail’s (1989)The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africahelped establish the view that “tribalism” was a product of colonial classification and administration. A now common view, as Fried put it, is to see the

    tribe as...

  9. Chapter 6 The Perfect Sovereign: The Sacralized Power of the Ottoman Sultan
    (pp. 183-210)
    Kjetil Fosshagen

    The question I discuss in this essay is what we can learn about hierarchy from the comparative study of the structure of power of the Ottoman Empire. The essay is thus in continuity with Dumont’s program of analyzing hierarchy comparatively in terms of differing relations between political power and religious status. Against the portrayals of Dumont as an intellectualist by empiricists (see Berreman 1971), an orientalist (Dirks 1987) or an ahistorical structuralist (Appadurai 1986), he should be considered an important political anthropologist. At the core of his discussion of hierarchy is the question of the historical and cultural constitution of...

  10. Chapter 7 Marriage, Rank, and Politics in Hawaii
    (pp. 211-244)
    Valerio Valeri

    Recent discussion of Oceanic systems, and particularly Polynesian ones, has shown the theoretical poverty of ethnological thinking concerning the societies that anthropologists call “complex,” which are generally approached with the categories elaborated for societies called “simple.” Their structure and function are forced to fit the constraints of categories such as “descent,” “residence,” and “private property” in land (Goodenough 1955; Frake 1956). The old warhorses of ethnological theory, “alliance” and “descent” are imposed on these rebellious phenomena. It hardly matters that these theories can only be used to define the systems in regard to, rather than in accord with, the categories...

  11. Chapter 8 Polynesian Conceptions of Sociality: A Dynamic Field of Hierarchical Encompassment
    (pp. 245-268)
    Ingjerd Hoëm

    In the following I shall explore a sociocultural dynamic that many have argued is central to Austronesian-speaking societies, past and present (Fox 1995; Hoëm 2004; Hoëm and Roalkvam 2003; Smedal in press).¹ I present my argument in order to illustrate how, in certain respects, our classical understanding of social organization and patterns of sociality in Polynesian societies phrased in terms of analytical concepts such as social stratification, hierarchy, and egalitarianism, is at best insufficient, and at worst misleading. This strand of analysis is perhaps most commonly known to the larger anthropological audience from the works of Marshall Sahlins, in particular...

  12. Chapter 9 On the Value of the Beast or the Limit of Money: Notes on the Meaning of Marriage Prestations among the Ngadha, Central Flores (Indonesia)
    (pp. 269-298)
    Olaf H. Smedal

    How are we to conceive of “the persistence of social formations” to which this volume is devoted? As vestiges of previous configurations that have just happened to linger on? Or rather as consciously protected niches of social activity without which central values of self and collective would be critically diminished?

    Perhaps there is no general answer to this question: it begs further questions about (political, cultural, economic) self reflexivity and the nature of the historically highly variable relationship between any one society and other societies, and especially other (greater) powers, secular or celestial: it becomes immediately apparent that vexing problems...

  13. Chapter 10 Hierarchy Is not Inequality—in Polynesia, for Instance
    (pp. 299-330)
    Serge Tcherkézoff

    Using a few brief examples of some Polynesian social facts, I would like to suggest that the study of social hierarchies requires a “comparative” decentering, on the part of the (Western) anthropologist, between the notion of inequality with which he is familiar—let us call itstratification—and certain forms of inequality that we will call “sacred,” for which the termhierarchy,in its etymological sense, is therefore appropriate.¹ Without this decentering, the anthropologist runs the risk of creating misunderstandings with his hosts.

    In a society like Samoa, the anthropologist will be received with great “respect” and placed in the...

  14. Chapter 11 Hierarchy and Power: A Comparative Attempt under Asymmetrical Lines
    (pp. 331-348)
    André Iteanu

    Most dominant contemporary social science currents define the concept of hierarchy as a chain of command.¹ This is to say that, in their view, hierarchy is always and everywhere the outcome of underlying power relations, in the sense of inter-individual constraining relations, whose prototype is political power.² Therefore, for them, hierarchy and power are always strictly mingled to the point that hierarchy is deprived of any other meaning except as the sign of underlying power relations. This conception of hierarchy as totally submitted to power is congenital to a formulation of society as constituted by a sum of individuals who...

  15. Afterword: On Dumont’s Relentless Comparativism
    (pp. 349-360)
    Frederick H. Damon

    Louis Dumont’s place in the history of anthropology is secure. The question this volume addresses is his legacy. Will he have bequeathed to the next generations the most productive synthesis about the social systems of South Asia and, based on that analysis, a developing view of the West since the beginning of Christianity? Combined together, and in the context of the largely Anglo-French ethnographic tradition, is this our discipline’s most ambitious comparative project, at once regional and historical? Is his work an analysis of places, and times, which establishes a model for the analysis of other crystallizations of sociality? The...

  16. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 361-364)
  17. Index
    (pp. 365-380)