Re: power thread

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Fri, 22 Mar 1996 21:10:02 -0500

On Fri, 22 Mar 1996, Holly Swyers asked "What Happened to the Power Thread?"

> aside from the personality conflicts that started taking over the
> conversation, what caused people to abandon the thread?
> Was it a natural loss of interest?
> Or did someone want the thread to end?
> Did someone use some subtle form of power to end the debate?

I haven't abandoned the interest (see new book, Comanche Political
History, 1706-1875, U Neb press). I may have put the thread on hold (we
did have 15 inches of wet snow here on the first day of spring, and I was
without POWER for 24 hours), and I did go off on a tangent about how to
define "foraging societies". That latter was in the (covert) interests of
investigating the role of power on the continuum of non-food-producing
societies (foraging/collecting/fishing/hunting).

I will say however, that I did give a a pass to the discussion of
Machiavelli; or rather, I would have prefered some more concrete examples
along the lines of "The actions of President SoandSo of EastWest
NorthSouthland provide an interesting parallel/commentary/dissent to the
ideal role as described in Machiavelli's Discourses." In the discussion
that was here, all we were given was the proposal that the modern
situatiuon in Africa was comparable to Machivelli. If one had no knowledge
of either Machiavelli or of modern Africa, all one could fall back on
would be the stereotypes of both.

> How would an anthropologist characterize the
> nature of Internet communique, since everyone is struggling with "etiquette"
> of this new mode of conversation? There is a tone of oral conversation in
> this list, but it is still a written mode of communication.

Having just come from the annual departmental spring (spring, hah!, 12
inches of snow still on the ground!) reception, I would have to say that
Internet conversation is sometimes a lot like a cocktail party. There are
a lot of people hanging around, some of them you know, others you don't.
Most of the time you are just shmoozing with folks you know (you seldom
see ethnos talking to archies, physies, or bios). Sometimes you are brave
and go up to someone you don't know and say, "so, how about them Cubs," or
something even more provocative like, "so, what is power." If it happens
to you, you can either ignore the question, continuing with your
shmoozing, or because you have no time to prepare a specific reply, you
launch into one of your stock monologues, sometimes redirecting the
question to one of your favorite topics ("Oh, I don't know about power,
but I do know what happened to me at the triple-A meetings in New
Orleans--or was that New York--when that historian questioned Lew Binford
about clay pipe bore diameter regression tables..." Once that starts, you
are on auto-pilot, and you will get to your point even if no one is left
to hear you. [Delete buttons happen in real life too.]

> As I see it, the
> thread on power started really going downhill when people started whipping
> out their dictionaries. At that point, the list demonstrated that it is
> important to make sure that we are using language as carefully as we would in
> a formal paper (at least, that's how I read it). If this is the case, should
> we only post formal paper quality communique?

No. But we should be aware of language on both sides: using it carefully,
particularly the technical terms in anthropology, and being willing to
explain one's usages in ambiguous cases. In the power thread, someone
invoked what's-his-name's distinction between government and authority; I
invoked R.N. Adam's difference between "skill authority" and "power
authority"; we could all probably use a rereading of Firth's
differentiation between "structure" and "organization." But there are also
politically loaded vocabularies. In an earlier thread, I questioned a
particular use of the term "egalitarian." In the power thread, the term
"patriarchy" came under fire/discussion. In the latter case, the
discussion did turn to nit-picking rather than to any substantive
discussion about the usefulness of the term.

But in re the point--"should we only post formal paper quality
communique?"--it is difficult to post formal (or semi-formal) papers via
e-mail. One possibility is the Web: I have some papers and works in
progress on my Web page:
( [a shameless plug]

Does anyone else?