WHY THIS BLOG?
Sunday, 18 December 2011
Wednesday, 30 November 2011
Any pattern of behaviour which by repetition, traditional sanction and legal reinforcement acquires a degree of coercion could be described as a social institution: marriage would be a good example. The use of the term institution in sociology, meaning established aspects of society, is close to that in common English usage. However, there have been some changes over time in the exact conceptualization of the term, and there are differences in the analytical precision with which it is used. In some ways an institution can be seen as a sort of ‘super-custom’, a set of mores, folkways, and patterns of behaviour that deals with major social interests: law, church, and family for example. Thus, a social institution consists of all the structural components of a society through which the main concerns and activities are organized, and social needs (such as those for order, belief, and reproduction) are met. Social institutions are forever being modified because they rest on repetition
(and hence may change if large numbers of people stop acting in accordance with them or become selective in precisely how they will support them) but they have a degree of solidity that allows us to forget that they are human creations. In many traditional societies social institutions are bolstered by being given supramundane origins: marriage, for example, is often presented as a divine obligation. Modern societies are more likely to admit the human origins of social institutions and justify them by claims for efficiency: in the West marriage is now commonly defended with the claim that it provides the most effective way of meeting a wide variety of personal and social needs.
A very useful way of grouping social institutions is as follows:
(a) kinship institutions deal with marriage, the family and primary socialisation;
(b) political institutions regulate access to and the use of power;
(c) cultural institutions deal with religious, artistic and scientific activities;
(d) stratification institutions deal with the distribution of social positions and resources; and
(e) economic institutions produce and distribute goods and services.
A term used to describe the adverse psychological effects on individuals of residence in institutions, especially of long stays in large-scale institutions, such as mental hospitals and prisons. Most frequently mentioned effects, whose precise causes are debated, are dependency, passivity, and lethargy. These effects are sometimes termed institutionalism. Therefore, institutionalisation is the process whereby social practices become sufficiently regular and continuous to be described as institutions. The notion is a useful corrective to the view that institutions are given and unchanging entities, indicating that changes in social practice both modify existing institutions and created novel forms. This is the correlate of the idea in role theory that people have some freedom to role make in their interactions with others and do not simply act our prescribed patterns of behaviour.
The concept of institution is widely used in sociology, though often without precise specification. Different schools of sociology treat it in different ways. For example, funcionalists can see institutions as fulfilling the needs of individuals or societies. This is the sense in which Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore (1945) used the term. For both of whom it was central to the notion of society as an organism or functioning system. However, as the functionalist perspective gave way to ideas based on society as being in a state of flux, with fewer consensuses over values, so the functionalist association between institution and function also withered away. The phenomenologists may concentrate on the way in which people create or adapt institutions rather than merely respond to them.
The new institutional theory, developed in the 1970s and 1980s. The basic proposition is that the actions of organisations are not determined solely by the logic of economic and technological factors, but also by the institutions which comprise their social environments. These include, for example, the state, professions, and other organisations, together with the values of culture of the broader society in which an organisation is embedded. Institutional pressures influence both organisational goals and means.
It follows from the basic proposition that organisations within a particular institutional environment should tend to be similar. For example, it is a leager rewuirement of the Germand system of Industrial democracy in large firms that employees’ representatives occupy a certain proportion of seats on company’s top board of directors and that managers also consult regularly with employees about workplace issues vial works councils. This legal framework, enacted by the state, reflects, and is reinforced by, a wider culture that values participative management. Thu business organisations in Germany are likely o share similarities in their stricture and how they are managed and to doffer from organisations in, say, the UK or USA. Institutionalists contend that organisations select institutionalised practices which are appropriate within a particular environment.
Institutional theory is a useful corrective to the notion that there is a simple link between economic and technological variables and how organisations act. This link is made in the contingency approach to organisational theory and also in the rational profit-maximising assumptions of neo-classical economics.
The current concept of institution is more fluid, seeing the family or church, for instance, as comprising changing patterns of behaviour based on relatively more stable value systems. This allows sociologists to consider the moral ambivalence of human behaviour as well as its creative effects on social change. In addition to these more global and theoretical concerns, there is also a tradition of the ethnographic study of institutions that constrain, or from some points of view determine, the behaviour of specific social groups. Chief among these are Erving Goffman's studies of total institutions—for example the mental hospital (Goffman, 1961).
In a more recent synthesis, Richard Scott (2008) argues:
Institutions are comprised of regulative, normative and cultural-cognitive elements, that, together with associated activities and resources, provide stability and meaning to social life.
Scott, W.R. (2008). Institutions and Organisations. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage
Saturday, 5 November 2011
Table of Contents
Michel Foucault, born Paul-Michel Foucault (15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984), was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas. He held a chair at the prestigious Collège de France with the title "History of Systems of Thought," and also taught at the University at
In his methodological work Archaeology of knowledge, Foucault begins by questioning the various categories that are commonly used to organise written material, namely the author, the ‘work’ and the book. These categories might appear to be obvious, but on closer examination, this is far from being the case. For instance, are novels, a mathematical text book, or a road map all the same kind of object? Can we simply lump together texts which have been published by an author under his own name, under a pseudonym, or his collected works published after his death, his laundry lists or his insane jottings after he has gone completely mad? By drawing attention to these kinds of uncertainties and the fluidity of categorisation, Foucault aims to demonstrate that the categories we take for granted could quite well be replaced by others based on different organisational principles and assumptions.
In this book, Foucault examines how it is that madness comes to be defined as an illness. He argues that organic pathology and mental pathology form two separate orders and the attempt to reduce them to the same thing poses a number of significant problems. He briefly examines the social functioning of madness in non-Western societies, and offers a historical account from the Middle Ages to the present of the Western view of madness. He also addresses the relation between madness and truth in Western history. The characterisation of madness as ‘mental illness’ is a phenomenon, he says, that dates only from the nineteenth century. In many ways Mental Illness and Psychology provides a very useful potted summary of Foucault’s much longer and more elaborate work on madness published in 1961.
Madness and civilisation:
Foucault examines the ways in which a certain experience of the limits of human experience – namely madness – has been given cultural form from the thirteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century in European history.
He deals with the economic, institutional, medical, philosophical, ethical, political, literary and artistic practices which have helped define madness as a cultural and social category and also as an object of knowledge and science.
Foucault argues that during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, madness formed a kind of general conduit for what he terms the ‘tragic experience’ (MC: 31) – namely an awareness of death, truth, other realms and the general fragility of ordinary everyday life. People who were mad were as a consequence granted a kind of grudging respect.
However, this was to change in the seventeenth century with what Foucault terms the ‘Great Confinement’, a movement across
Foucault nominates 1656, the date of the decree which founded the Hôpital Général in
Like many of Foucault’s other writings on literature in the 1960s, it is more notable for its poetic rather than its explanatory value. The same themes emerge in The Birth of the Clinic (BC) and if this book on the whole lacks the gothic attractions of Madness and Civilisation, opting for a more restrained approach (notwithstanding a few notable literary outbursts), it has also become a standard text in the history of medicine.
The Birth of the Clinic traces the origins of modern clinical medicine in
If, in Madness and Civilization, Foucault focuses primarily on the changes in the way a particular object (madness) is historically constructed, in The Birth of the Clinic, he also focuses in addition on the way knowers (that is doctors) are constructed. He traces this transformation by examining medical theories and practices as well as political, institutional and social changes in Revolutionary France.
In parallel to his examination of the formation of medical knowledge, Foucault also looks at the political, social and institutional changes which occurred at the same time. It is important to emphasise that in Foucault’s analysis it is not a question of one set of changes ‘influencing’ or ‘causing’ others, but of a complex series of interactions which allow the production of possible objects of knowledge. For example, although institutional and funding structures might favour the development of a particular type of research, these structures in themselves do not determine the eventual research findings. The political and economic situation in
Illness is a disorder, a dangerous limit to everyday orderly existence. Science attempts to deal with this disorder by making illness and those who are ill the object of orderly categories of knowledge. Foucault had earlier described an identical process in relation to madness which became the foundation of a new science of psychiatry which also sought to reduce the dangers such limit-experiences represented.
The key term that commentators and researchers have retained from The Birth of the Clinic is ‘the gaze’, a notion that resonates with Foucault’s later popular idea of a society centred around surveillance. In clinical medicine, knowledge was ordered around visible structures. Illnesses displayed themselves in concrete physical symptoms that could be observed and read by doctors who had been taught how to read them. ‘The gaze’ at the end of the eighteenth century was aimed at revealing what had hitherto remained hidden and unseen not only in the physical body but also in the social and political body. Visibility could dissipate both disease and political and social tyranny.
It emerges in a time when French structuralism is full fledged developed theoretical paradigm and this work is hailed by the media as a major contribution to that theory. Being one of the most difficult books by him, it deals with the history and pre-history of the modern disciplines of linguistics, biology and economics from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, with a concluding chapter on the human sciences which include history, sociology, psychoanalysis and ethnology. Foucault was to say later that the book was aimed at a specialist audience of historians of science and scientists (1974e: 524. Cf. 1980e: 267, 270) and there is no doubt that it is hard going for non-specialists – but it was not his specialist findings that made the book famous.
Using historical analysis, he launched a full-scale attack on established post-war philosophies namely humanism, Marxism, phenomenology, existentialism and scientific rationalism. He caused a media storm by declaring that ‘man was dead’ and that Marxism was a mere storm in a children’s paddling pool (OT: 262). As a further aggravation, in the later foreword to the English edition, Foucault heaped scorn on those ‘half-witted “commentators”’ in France who had tried to explain his outrageous critiques of so many ideological icons as one of the hallmarks of ‘structuralism’ (OT: xiv).
In more specific terms, Foucault focuses on the historical transformations affecting three areas of knowledge which up until the end of the eighteenth century were described as general grammar, the analysis of wealth and natural history. He argues that in 19th century these areas were crystallised in philology, political economy and biology. These very diverse areas were organised in very similar ways at the same points in history, and also underwent major reorganisations at roughly the same points in history. Foucault argues that until the end of the sixteenth century in
If the Renaissance had seen the whole world as a kind of primary language which needed to be made to speak through the secondary languages of commentary and exegesis, the Classical Age which followed it, did away with this ‘massive and intriguing existence of language’ (OT: 79). Hence, argues Foucault, language is no longer a secondary commentary on a primary text, instead it becomes discourse, a way of speaking, arranging and presenting representations of the world in a logical order.
Another shift occurred at the beginning of the nineteenth century and history became the new principle of ordering knowledge, and ‘science’ started to come into its own. Foucault’s discussion of this new configuration is difficult and complex. Knowledge was organised on the principle of stripping away the history that hid its true origins. At the centre of this knowledge was the essence or nature of ‘man’ which could gradually be uncovered by science. The problem with this, Foucault says, is that the idea of a human nature or essence is a metaphysical one – a belief – yet at the same time it has been set up as the object of empirical knowledge – a fact. Foucault argues that because the human sciences rest on this shaky foundation, they are fundamentally flawed in their approach to knowledge. He maintains that another break in knowledge is occurring in the contemporary era and the essence of man as the centre and foundation of all knowledge is dissolving.
After Order of things Foucault produces his archaeology which is a must read for people interested in historiography and method. Foucault describes traditional ways of organising ‘discourse’ such as the work, the author, the great man, the unifying universal subject, cause and effect, and influence, and then systematically takes these categories apart and proposes alternative methods of organisation. He also advocates a principle of discontinuity, by which he means that difference at every level in history should always be drawn attention to, not explained away.
In 1970, upon appointed as a Chair to College de France, Foucault delivered his inaugural lecture, known as Order of Discourse, published in 1971. This short work is usually recognised as the text that marks the transition between Foucault’s works on ‘discourse’ and those on ‘power’. Once again, it is a methodological work and continues Foucault’s attack on traditional ways of writing history. It deals with the way discourse is controlled, limited and defined by exercises of power and draws attention to the way boundaries between the true and the false are erected within this context. The idea of a link between knowledge and power (or various political, economic and institutional arrangements) had always been a theme in Foucault’s work even if it is not overtly stated, but this text marks his first extended use of the word power.
His next major work Discipline and Punish (DP) draws indirectly on his experience in this domain and famously opens with a lurid account of the torture and execution of the regicide Damiens in 1757.
This is followed by a far more sedate description of a prison timetable in 1838. Foucault’s point is that in the intervening period, spectacular corporal punishment disappeared to be replaced by new forms of punishment in the shape of imprisonment and the deprivation of liberty. Traditionally, historians have argued that this change occurred because people and society had become more humane and ‘civilized’. Foucault rejects this kind of explanation and suggests instead that the old methods of punishment had simply become inefficient. Too many wrongdoer were escaping the arm of the law and public executions were no longer acting as a salutary warning to the rest of the populace. Instead public executions were actually inciting people to crime and public disorder, providing the occasion for riots, and all sorts of other minor crimes such as pick-pocketing.
Foucault argues that prison was chosen as the preferred method of punishment in Western Europe, not because it was the most effective means of punishment, but rather because it fitted in best with the emergence of what he describes as a ‘disciplinary society’. By this, he means a certain way of acting upon and training the body and behaviour so that the individuals who make up populations could be easily controlled. This training was enforced and practised through a number of institutions, many of which appeared at the same time as the prison – namely schools, military training institutions, factories, hospitals and so on. The smooth functioning and enforcement of this ‘disciplinary society’ was guaranteed by a system of social surveillance. Foucault uses Jeremy Bentham’s model prison, the Panopticon, to serve as a metaphor for the way this system of surveillance operated and continues to operate within the social body.
Foucault’s book appeared on the scene in the context of severe unrest in prisons in a number of countries, and also amidst intense theoretical discussion focussing on both power and the body – it made a key contribution to these debates. If the book concludes its history in 1840 with the official opening of the model prison camp of Mettray in
Thursday, 13 October 2011
Political economy is characterised by an analytical approach which treats the economy from the point of view of production rather than from that of distribution, exchange, consumption or the market. It does not ignore distribution and exchange but analyses these in relation to the role they play in the production of the material needs of a society, including the need to reproduce and expand the means of production themselves (Dupré and Rey 1978). The field is a vast one and contains many disputes.
Before gaining an insight into the dynamics of political economy approach in Anthropology, it is important to recognise that political economy presents itself as a general theory of society, inequality, politics and culture. Some of the most significant work in political economy has been done in relationship to politics, for example the very important work of the late Eric Wolf (1999). Likewise, it is difficult to understand many of the current approaches to gender inequality in anthropology unless one understands the basis of this in theories of political economy. Here debates
around the earlier work of Lisette Josephides, which explains the inequality of women in Melanesia as deriving from the exploitation of women in the production process, have played critical roles (Josephides 1985; Strathern 1988).
The emphasis on production:
From the point of view of economics, the central concept in political economy is that of the ‘mode of production’. This focus on production is in sharp contrast to various forms of exchange theory, which characterised the work of both the formalist and substantivist schools of economic anthropology and which continues unabated in recent work on anthropological theories of value (Graeber 2001). The political economy approach is also part of a broad Enlightenment metanarrative of progress. At its core this is the question of the nature and significance of history in general and economic history in particular. Analyses of particular societies are placed within a broader schema of social evolution that strongly affects the specific study (Godelier 1978: 216–17). Critical issues which continue to preoccupy anthropologists are the significance of the non-Western economic experience in its own right and from the point of view of Western and world economic history, the related issues of Third-World development and of economic alternatives to globalisation. These issues are addressed in political economy from a distinctive point of view.
The articulation school: Structural Marxism and economic anthropology
The tradition of economic anthropology which falls within the purview of political economy has a Marxist inclination. This tradition of economic anthropology derives from the works of Georg Hegel, and from the critique of British political economy in the work of Karl Marx and of Friedrich Engels. However, there is a vibrant version of political economy which is the application of rational choice theory to political decision making at the collective level in both developed and underdeveloped economies. Practitioners of such brands of political economy, ultimately deriving from the work of Adam Smith, exist in anthropology (Bates 1987).The discussion begins with the themes raised in the work of the most influential group of political economists in the field of anthropology to date; the French structural Marxists, also known as the ‘articulation’ school. This trend arose in the late 1960s and exerted a major influence on economic anthropology and anthropology in general through the entire decade of the 1970s. Here the critical representatives were Claude Meillassoux, Maurice Godelier, Emmanuel Terray, Pierre-Phillipe Rey, Georges Dupré, Marc Auge as well as historians of Africa – Jean Suret-Canale and Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch – with whom they worked closely (Seddon 1978). Today all of these anthropologists have abandoned or substantially modified their theoretical outlook with the consequence that this once highly influential school of economic anthropologists is now largely defunct. Where their influence is still strongly felt is in South African anthropology and social science, where structural Marxism was one of the inspirations leading to the efflorescence of neo-Marxist political economy (Asad and Wolpe 1976). Structural Marxism was primarily an Africanist school, except for Godelier whose speciality is Melanesia. Their work was characterised in particular by a detailed empirical knowledge of the societies of West and Central Africa and Madagascar, which had been a part of the French African colonial empire. This was by no means the first application of a Marxist-influenced political economy in anthropology. The work of Godfrey Wilson and of Ronald Frankenberg, strongly influenced by the more processual functionalism of Max Gluckman, preceded that of the French by decades (Frankenberg 1978; Wilson 1939). This group of early British political economists was not theoretically oriented. They were primarily interested in analysing and documenting empirically the impact of British colonialism: the transformation of land tenure relations; the effects of copper mining in Zambia and of diamond and gold mining in South Africa; the breakdown of ‘tribal cohesion’ in the economies and societies of Central and Southern Africa; the rise of large-scale labour migration, forced or otherwise, leading to urbanisation and ‘detribalisation’. Their work in the application of political economy in anthropology, economics and history was pioneering. It provided an invaluable account of the dire economic and social impact of colonialism in the inter-war and early post-war years.
What was distinctive of the French school, however, was the combination of traditional ethnographic empiricism with a self-consciously theoretical orientation. Strongly influenced by the structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss and the highly abstract structural Marxism of Althusser and Balibar, their intervention was aimed at having a far-reaching impact on anthropological theory in general (Althusser and Balibar 1998). Whereas previous Marxist theoretical interventions tended to distort anthropological knowledge in order to force it into a preconceived schema, their approach was different. Their aim was to use fieldwork as a necessary point of departure for theory. They insisted on a detailed, fine-grained analysis of the economic, political and kinship relationships revealed in their data. On this basis, they approached theory as a construct that should respect and be supported by the data. Part of their influence on economic anthropology was due to this derivation of theory from the familiar fieldwork ethnography long characteristic of anthropology.
As a result of this approach, the French school raised fundamental challenges pertaining to the entire endeavour of economic anthropology. What were the relations of production characteristic of kinship societies? Did exploitation exist within them? What was the connection among production, exchange and the development of markets? How were the main concepts, in particular the central one of ‘mode of production’, to be understood and applied? What was the source of value in such economies and what was the relevance to other concepts of value in economic theory? How were such economies to be understood in the broad sweep of human history? Could the orthodox metanarrative of progress that had always characterised Marxist political economy satisfactorily resolve such issues?
Anthropological political economy in mainstream academia:
As the Structural Marxist approach dominated the economic anthropology in 1970s, anthropological political economy entered the academic mainstream at the same time. At that time two paradigms prevailed in the social sciences: the development and underdevelopment paradigm that emerged to challenge modernization theory, particularly in its focus on newly independent Third World nations; and the modern world-system model of sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein. Anthropological political economy defined itself in contradistinction to both. It would be unrealistic not to relate the emergence of these paradigms to the historical events of these years. Politically, in the Third World, this was an age of advocacy of armed revolution: Mao Tse-tung, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, Regis Debray, Che Guevara, Fanon. Peasant revolutions were clearly the order of the day rather than social science analyses of nation states. The work that most influenced anthropology was that of Samir Amin, Arrighi and Rodney in Africa; and Andre Gunder Frank and Cardoso in Latin America. Eric Wolfs Peasant Wars appeared in 1969.
The term ‘political economy’ became widely used in anthropology during the Vietnam War (1965–73). Teach-in movements in the universities, radical political economic and history journals and a campus movement, Students for a Democratic Society, spearheaded the emergence in the United States of a New Left. The critical thrust of these radical movements was applied to society at home, to the university system, and to anthropology itself in the United States, Britain and France. Critiques of structural anthropology’s representation of African societies, with its emphasis on kinship and its neglect of political economy, appeared in re-evaluations by Kathleen Gough, Peter Worsley and Talal Asad of classic ethnographies. These seminal studies stimulated more explicit discussion of the theories of political economy and their application in Third World countries, by Joel Migdon in Indonesia, for example, and Keith Hart in Africa. An entire cadre of French Marxist anthropologists and Africanists—among them Godelier, Meillassoux, Terray and Coquery-Vidrovitch—became prominent exponents of economic anthropology worldwide. With the emergence of a new group of radical Left scholars within the American academy, Marxism became academically respectable. Propagation by American publishers of the work of European Marxists led to the sequential introduction to anthropology of Lenin, Gramsci, and Althusser. Africanists, for example, drew on Lenin’s thesis of the uneven development of the capitalist economy in agrarian societies and emergent rural differentiation, documenting the increasing pauperization of the mass of the people in Africa’s so-called ‘development decade’. Marxist theories of petty commodity production were criticized by anthropologists, stimulating valuable historical ethnographies of petty commodity production in, for example, Minangkabau in Southeast Asia (Kahn 1980) and the Peruvian Andes in Highland South America (Smith 1989). An intellectual connection with Marxism has, at different times and in different places, both strengthened and undermined anthropological political economy. Yet, when political economy came of age in academic anthropology in 1978 in a special issue of American Ethnologist, it was apparent that there was no one unifying vision or discourse among its self-proclaimed practitioners. Thus when Wolf published a subaltern alternative to prevailing paradigms of expanding western capitalism, Europe and the People without History (1982), his book was subjected to keen debate among anthropological political economists, historians and social scientists. Criticisms of the paradigm it offered both consolidated anthropological political economy and moved it forward.
Studies at periphery:
The end of modernism in anthropology brought no resolution to the problem of employing universalistic analytic categories. What it did bring was a more explicit application of Marxism. The question in anthropological political economy remained one of the relationships between capitalism and those societies conceptually located on its periphery. Was capitalism to be understood as a single world-system or as a heterogeneous assemblage of subsystems which Western capitalism had penetrated to varying degrees? For such peripheral situations, Michael Taussig’s The Devil and Commodity Fetishism (1980) and Jacques Chevalier’s Civilization and the Stolen Gift (1982) provided key texts for a clear formulation of the issues involved. Both provided ethnographies of communities in highland South America. Chevalier found non-capitalist modes of production to be subsumed within the dominant framework of capitalism. Taussig described a cultural system that had internalized the contradictions of capitalism in several different ways but most notably through beliefs in ‘the devil’ as an indigenous critique of commodity forms of exchange and wage relations. In a critical review of the two books Terence Turner urged appreciation not simply of the possible integration of two systems of economic production but of the qualitative differences that might be attached to defining and articulating production itself. With absorption into capitalism, †indigenous peoples lost the ability to define themselves in their own way. Turner thus argued for moving beyond the analysis of economic production to social reproduction. This raised the question of whether on the periphery subsistence might not simply be an alternative mode of production to capitalism but a form of resistance to it. Analyses of such relations in the historically earlier peripheries of Northeast Scotland and colonial Africa had suggested that developing industrial capitalism required a peasant subsistence sector so that the costs of reproduction might be borne by the agrarian sector as both food resources and labour power. The South American peripheral situations suggested the very real need in anthropology to distinguish more precisely between mercantile, industrial and finance capitalism. Discussion of the peripheral situation opened up space beyond the debate between those who saw capitalism as largely determinate of local social systems and those asserting the relative autonomy of local peoples and their cultures. Appreciating that the periphery of capitalism is but the furthest extension of the core (Nugent 1988) is not unrelated to the growing corpus of political economic research carried out in modern Western cities and within the apparatus of the modern state. Thus anthropological political economy provides ethnographies of race in the inner cities, educational discrimination, poverty and the underclass. It has sometimes questioned the validity of sociological paradigms and, indeed, the very way in which phenomena have been defined as problems within complex societies. The current challenge of anthropological political economy is to interrogate its own intellectual equipment.
Wednesday, 14 September 2011