Holly Swyers (swyersh@INTERPORT.NET)
Tue, 2 Jul 1996 19:39:45 -0400
I've only had a chance to turn half an eye to this list at all lately, but
this conversation has me interested. At first I was sort of surprised by
William Loker's query ("Does anyone ... still use the B-T-Ch-S typology
..."), since I had sort of assumed (yeah, yeah, I know, hoist by my own
petard and all that jazz) that Bands-Tribes-Chiefdoms-States was one of
those intro-Anthro standards that everyone got through some filter or
another, usually with the admonition (is this a word?) that it was a very
simplified way of looking at social organization. I remember dutifully
learning it and then having it used as a challenge to our freshman critical
thinking skills (see Paul, I was paying attention!).
As I read some of the responses to Dr. Loker's question, I remembered why I
had so many problems with the B-T-C-S model:
On July 2, 1996, Bob Graber wrote:
>Many of us have
>thrown out the tribe as a political-evolutionary type; and some reject
>the band type because it is essentially different from, say, autonomous
>horticultural villages not politically but ecologically only.
The issue I have is with the term "political-evolutionary" attached to this
categorization of cultures. My memory is a little fuzzy, but it seems to
me that B-T-C-S suggests that population pressures encourage the
development of different "levels" of cultural organization in a progressive
fashion (i.e. State level societies represent "progress" from Tribes).
I've learned skepticism of the word "progress," since I understand progress
as "good change in a forward direction." (For "Jesse S. Cook III:" please
see end of this post for dictionary definition of "progress"). Since
change is neither inherently good or inherently bad, and since in this case
"forward" carries a imperialist sounding implication of "more like what
works for us here in Europe/the U.S." (at least to my ears), "progress"
seems like a loaded word that has the potential to cloud our perception of
what might really be happening.
I know that "evolution" does not necessarily equal "progress" as I describe
it, although it certainly seems to carry that weight in popular coinage. I
was never satisfied with the idea that state-level societies were the
necessary end point of organizational development and that all societies,
given sufficient population, would gravitate toward a state model of
organization, and comments from Thomas Kavanagh among others demonstrate
the "leakiness" of the B-T-C-S model.
What I'm getting at in a round about way is that maybe the issues
surrounding the B-T-C-S typology are very much the ones which confront
anthropology as a whole. The model is useful (don't science students still
learn the Bohr model of an atom as a stepping stone to understanding the
idea of "probability"?), but it carries with it the history of
anthropology, which is very much a child of colonialism and imperialism. It
seems we (as an anthropological community) are struggling to validate our
field and struggle out from the shadow of "figuring out better ways to keep
the natives happy." Rather than assert the "Conqueror is right" mentality
- reasoning that the virtue of conquest makes a culture "best" -
anthropology has tried to embrace "scientific objectivity" (or at least
just plain "objectivity") as it struggles to understand the most devilishly
idiosyncratic topic - human culture. Post-modernism, as I understand it,
reflects the problems of trying to understand something while firmly
immersed in it - the anthropologist's dilemma.
Let me step off my soap box...
I have a question: What do you keep, what remains useful, from an
imperialistic tradition when you attempt to revile that tradition? The
ethical battle may not be as intense as the one surrounding Nazi medical
experiments, but it an ethical battle of the same nature. When a culture
decides something is "wrong," does it reject it completely, or does it keep
"the good parts"? These questions are nipping on the heels of a larger
question I don't know how to articulate yet (please read them as genuinely
inquisitive type questions and not rhetorical or political ones - I am just
really having trouble finding the right way to ask them.)
As promised for "Jesse S. Cook III"
progress as defined in Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition...
"1. a moving forward or onward. 2. forward course; development. 3.
advance toward perfection or to a higher or better state; improvement."
Hmmm, maybe I should have used definition number 3 in my post to explain my
problem with the word. Oh, well...
Looking forward to your comments and ideas-
"...for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
- William Shakespeare, _Hamlet_ (II, ii, 247-48)