Intro/'Primitive War'

Warren Sproule (Warren.Sproule@SOCIOL.UTAS.EDU.AU)
Tue, 4 Oct 1994 14:12:14 +0200

As a new member of this list I thought I'd forego my usual practice of
lurking and jump straight in - if the following has been broached before,
put it down to my virginal status! I'm a sociologist currently employed at
the University of Tasmania at Hobart, and am working on a large research
project linking textuality and war. This relates to anthropology in a
variety of ways: In terms of the first part of this equation,I'm especially
interested in [i] the literacy/orality divide and notions of writing as a
"technology of the intellect" in the work of, eg, Goody or Finnegan;[ii]
writing as exploitative, as in the 25th chapter of 'Tristes Tropiques'; and
[iii] the politics of cartography and ethnography, as expounded by, eg,
Margaret Hodgen, James Boon, or Clifford & Marcus.

As to the second element of this interest, I'm trying to sort my way
through the vexed question of "primitive war" - ie, does such a category
*exist*? - via an assortment of pro and con sources (Malinowski, Harrison,
Mead, Schneider, Harris, Pasquinelli, Clastres, Otterbein, etc.). My
initial take on these issues would claim that
(a) the prescence or absence of writing *is* a valid demarcation b/w
'types' of societies;
(b) there is no such thing as "primitive warfare"; and
(c) a prime reason for (b) is (a).

I'm expressing this crudely because it seems to me that both these aspects
are pretty hoary old anthropological chestnuts, but that neither have been
cracked and they're as contentious as ever. I'm more than willing to be
disabused of either or all of the above notions: Anyone out there care to
pick up and run with this thread?

Warren Sproule.