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Chapter 10: Decolonization and Anti-Structure © 2014 Mark Moberg.

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1 Chapter 10: Decolonization and Anti-Structure © 2014 Mark Moberg

2 By 1955, functionalism had been the dominant perspective in British anthropology for three decades, but within a few years it was abandoned for approaches that better accounted for a rapidly changing research context. Functionalism had been closely associated with British colonialism in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. During the 1950s, these regions won their independence, occasionally through armed struggle. With its assumption that societies were unchanging and isolated from the outside world, functionalism was ill-suited to account for these changing circumstances. One of Malinowski’s students, Max Gluckman, was the first to approach this changed social context while remaining within a functionalist framework. Gluckman analyzed “rituals of rebellion” found in many stratified African societies, in which the social order is, for a brief time, symbolically inverted. The king is dressed like a pauper or fool, and subjected to the jeers and insults of his erstwhile subjects. Gluckman emphasized that these were ritual rebellions and not actual revolutions, in that they did not alter the social structure in any lasting way. In addition to providing a cathartic release for commoners, these rituals restrain the actions of leaders by serving as a warning against an abuse of power. © 2014 Mark Moberg

3 In seeking to understand change, Raymond Firth distinguished between social structure (defined as a “framework for action”) and social organization, the “action” or behavior itself, which he called “role playing.” Firth dissented from the functionalist view that people follow rules with little variation. Instead, they manipulate rules, asking not what they should do, but what they are able to do in their self-interest. Among the behavioral approaches that arose after the demise of functionalism was the transactionalism of Fredrik Barth. Transactionalism considers social behavior as a series of exchanges between self-interested individuals. This provides insight into social processes that functionalism could not explain: (a) behavioral variability as individuals bend and redefine social rules to their individual advantage; and (b) some insight into change, which results from the creative manipulation of rules. Drawing on the classical economist Adam Smith, Barth assumed that all social exchanges are reciprocal, and that people do not enter into a relationship unless they feel they are receiving as much from it as they give. In a classic work of political anthropology, Political Leadership Among Swat Pathans, Barth attempts to show how relationships between powerful landlords and the tenants who rent land from them ultimately provide both parties with equivalent benefits. © 2014 Mark Moberg


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