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Envisioning Power

Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis

Eric R. Wolf
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 310
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  • Book Info
    Envisioning Power
    Book Description:

    With the originality and energy that have marked his earlier works, Eric Wolf now explores the historical relationship of ideas, power, and culture. Responding to anthropology's long reliance on a concept of culture that takes little account of power, Wolf argues that power is crucial in shaping the circumstances of cultural production. Responding to social-science notions of ideology that incorporate power but disregard the ways ideas respond to cultural promptings, he demonstrates how power and ideas connect through the medium of culture. Wolf advances his argument by examining three very different societies, each remarkable for its flamboyant ideological expressions: the Kwakiutl Indians of the Northwest Pacific Coast, the Aztecs of pre-Hispanic Mexico, and National Socialist Germany. Tracing the history of each case, he shows how these societies faced tensions posed by ecological, social, political, or psychological crises, prompting ideological responses that drew on distinctive, historically rooted cultural understandings. In each case study, Wolf analyzes how the regnant ideology intertwines with power around the pivotal relationships that govern social labor. Anyone interested in the history of anthropology or in how the social sciences make comparisons will want to join Wolf inEnvisioning Power.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92172-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    I want, in this book, to explore the connection between ideas and power. We stand at the end of a century marked by colonial expansion, world wars, revolutions, and conflicts over religion that have occasioned great social suffering and cost millions of lives. These upheavals have entailed massive plays and displays of power, but ideas have had a central role in all of them. Ideas have been used to glorify or criticize social arrangements within states, and they have helped warriors and diplomats to justify conflicts or accommodations between states. Ideas have furnished explanations and warrants for imperialist domination and...

  5. 2 Contested Concepts
    (pp. 21-68)

    Seeking to relate ideas to power, we enter an intellectual terrain that many others have already charted, albeit in response to purposes other than our own. These past endeavors have left us a stock of concepts, some of which we can appropriate and use, others of which may no longer be helpful. Legacies are always problematic, and they must be sorted out to answer to new undertakings. Anthropology, for example, has understood “cultures” as complexes of distinctive properties, including different visions of the world, but for long without attention to how these views formulated power and underwrote its effects. Other...

  6. 3 The Kwakiutl
    (pp. 69-132)

    If the connections between power and ideas can be unraveled by focusing on instances in which both dimensions are dramatically evident., one promising scenario is offered by the people long called Kwakiutl by anthropologists, as well as others. The Kwakiutl have furnished a type-case of a “chiefdom,” a term applied to societies that are neither simple nor lacking in social stratification but are without the complex architecture of states. They are headed by personages endowed with managerial authority, “chiefs,” who can overrule segmentary interests yet are not able to marshal their subjects with a fully fledged apparatus of coercion that...

  7. 4 The Aztecs
    (pp. 133-196)

    If the Kwakiutl are most often thought of in terms of the potlatch, our second case brings to mind human sacrifice. This is the case of the Aztecs, who came to dominate Central Mexico in the fifteenth century, until they were conquered by the Spaniards led by Hernán Cortés and their Mesoamerican allies in 1521. Human sacrifice was in many ways central to Aztec political and ritual life, and any discussion of that life must come to grips with this phenomenon. In engaging this issue, I intend neither to denigrate the Aztecs in order to justify their conquest by the...

  8. 5 National Socialist Germany
    (pp. 197-273)

    Our third case study looks at Germany in its incarnation as the Third, National Socialist (NS) Reich, which was supposed to last a thousand years and ended in destruction and defeat only twelve years after its birth in 1933. When that Reich began, the NS anthem, the “Horst-Wessel Lied,” proclaimed that “millions already look full of hope upon the swastika / the day has come for freedom and for bread.” When it ended, the German historian Friedrich Meinecke characterized its trajectory from promise to ruin as “The German Catastrophe” (1950).

    This inquiry focuses on the ideas that guided this paroxysm...

  9. 6 Coda
    (pp. 274-292)

    The three cases presented in this book revealed societies under increasing stress, facing a multiplicity of tensions posed by ecological, social, political, or psychological crises. In each case the response entailed the development of an ideology that Kroeber would have characterized as an “extreme expression.” These ideologies, carried forward by elites, were fashioned out of preexisting cultural materials, but they are not to be understood as disembodied cultural schemata. They addressed the very character of power in society, specifically the power that structured the differentiation, mobilization, and deployment of social labor, and they rooted that power in the nature of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 293-298)
  11. References
    (pp. 299-330)
  12. Index
    (pp. 331-344)