Political and Legal Systems
(Miller Chapter 8)
Copyright © Allyn & Bacon 2008
The BIG Questions
 What does political anthropology cover?
 What is the scope of legal
anthropology?
 How are political and legal systems
changing?
Copyright © Allyn & Bacon 2008
Political Anthropology
 Political anthropology addresses the
area of human behavior and thought
related to power
 Takes a broader view of politics than
political scientists
 Political anthropologists study…
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Power and related concepts
Political organization cross-culturally
Interactions among political units
Change in political systems
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Power and Related Concepts
Who has it;
who does not
Political organization
and government
Political anthropologists
address the area of
human behavior and
thought related to power
Social control
Social Conflict
and Violence
Power,
Authority,
and
Influence
Bases of power
Democratization
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Legal Anthropology
 Legal anthropology addresses issues
of social order and conflict resolution
cross-culturally
 Legal anthropologists study…
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Laws cross-culturally
Morality and laws
Social conflict
Social control
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Politics and Political
Organization
 Politics refers to the organized use of
public power
 Is opposed to the more private
micropolitics of family and domestic groups
 Political organization is the existence
of groups for purposes such as public
decision making and leadership,
maintaining social cohesion and order,
protecting group rights, and ensuring
safety from external threats.
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Political Organizations and
Social Groups
 Political organizations and social groups
share several features
 Criteria/rules for membership
 Identity markers (clothing, card, title)
 Internal organization (leadership hierarchy)
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Major Types of Political
Organizations
 Bands
 Tribes
 Big-man / big-woman system
 Chiefdoms
 States
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Power, Authority, and Influence
 Influence is the ability to achieve a desired
end by exerting social or moral pressure on
someone or some group
 Authority is the right to take certain forms of
action
 Power is the ability to bring about results,
often through the possession or use of
forceful means
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Band
 A band is the form of political
organization associated with foraging
groups
 The most long-standing form of political
organization
 Because for most of human history we
lived in bands
 Comprises between 20 people and a
few hundred people at most, all related
through kinship
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Band
 Is characterized by…
 Flexible membership
 A lack of permanent, formal leaders
 May have individuals with authority or
influence, but no individuals have power
over others
 Leader is “first among equals”
 Low conflict between groups
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Tribe
 A tribe is a more formal type of political
organization than the band
 Is typically associated with horticulturalists
and pastoralists
 Developed about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago with
the emergence of these modes of production
 A tribe comprises several bands or lineage
groups, each with similar language and
lifestyle and each occupying a distinct
territory
 Members may belong to the same clan – a group
of people who claim descent from a common
ancestor, although they may be unable to trace
the exact relationship
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Tribe
 Tribal groups contain from 100 to several
thousand people
 Tribes are found in various areas of the
world
 A tribal headman or headwoman is a
more formal leader than a band leader
 Political leader on a part-time basis only
 Relies mainly on authority and influence
rather than on power
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Big-Man/Big-Woman System
 Is a form of political organization in which
individuals build a political base and gain
prestige, influence, and authority through a
system of redistribution based on personal
ties and grand feasts
 Often considered within a tribal system
 Most common in the South Pacific
 Often involves a moka, which is a strategy for
developing political leadership that involves
exchanging favors and gifts, such as pigs, and
sponsoring large feasts where further gift giving
occurs
 Sphere of big-man/big-woman’s influence
includes people in several villages
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Chiefdoms
 A chiefdom is a form of political organization
that includes permanently allied tribes and
villages under one leader, a chief who
possesses power
 Chiefdoms have large populations, often
numbering in the thousands
 They are more centralized and socially
complex than tribes and bands
 Ascribed/hereditary systems of social rank
and economic stratification
 Chiefs and their lineages have higher status than
commoners
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Chiefdoms
 The position of chief is an “office” that
must be filled at all times
 Greater complexity of managing a larger
population than with band and tribes
requires greater responsibilities
 Chiefdoms have existed throughout the
world
 Sometimes confederacies are formed
when chiefdoms are joined
 Headed by a “big chief” – a chief of chiefs
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States
 A state is a centralized political unit
encompassing many communities,
which includes a bureaucratic structure
and leaders who possess coercive
power
 Is now the form of political organization
in which all people live
 Bands, tribes, and chiefdoms exist, but
they are incorporated within state
structures
 Many thousands or millions of people
may be encompassed by a state
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States
 States have much more power than
bands, tribes, and chiefdoms
 Reflected in architecture, urban planning,
other symbols
 Controls population with full-time police and
uses standing armies to defend borders
 Have the power to tax
 Have the power to manipulate information
 Are hierarchical and usually patriarchal
 There are fewer women in direct political
positions than men, but women may play
large indirect roles in politics
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Types of Political Organizations
and Leadership
Band Leader
Bands
Headman/Headwoman
Tribes
Chiefdoms
States
Chief
King/Queen/
President
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Social Control
 Social control is the process by which
people maintain orderly life in groups
 All cultures have rules that allow that
culture to establish orderly conduct
 Even pirates have rules!
 http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/pirate-codeconduct.htm
 Rules vary cross-culturally
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Social Control
 Social control is the process by which
people maintain orderly life in groups
 Occurs through norms and laws
 Norms are accepted standards for how people
should behave that are usually unwritten and
learned unconsciously through socialization
 Violation of norms may simply be considered rude
and the violator may be shunned, or some sort of
direct action may be taken against the violator
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Social Control
 In contrast to norms, laws are binding rules
created through custom or official enactment
that defines correct behavior and the
punishment for misbehavior
 Are more common and more elaborate in state-level
societies
 Religion often provides legitimacy for law
 Especially prevalent in contemporary Islamic
status, but is also found in some laws in Western
states as well
 Violation of laws have associated punishments, such
as getting fined, going to jail, etc.
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Social Control
 Social control in small-scale societies is
characterized more through the use of
norms
 Social control in large-scale societies is
characterized more through the use of
laws
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Social Control in Small-Scale
Societies
 Bands are small, close-knit groups, which are
kinship based and disputes tend to be
handled at the interpersonal level
 Punishment is often through ridicule,
shaming, or leaving the group
 Emphasis is on maintaining social order and
restoring social equilibrium, not hurtfully
punishing an offender
 Capital punishment (execution) is very rare
 Punishment is often legitimized through belief
in supernatural forces
 If do something socially unacceptable, something
supernatural may occur to punish that behavior
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Social Control in States
 In states we have a large and often
diverse population – not everyone
knows everyone else
 Increased social stress due to inequities
in wealth distribution, rights to land, etc.
 These conditions necessitate…
 Increased specialization of roles involved in
social control
 Formal trials and courts
 Power-enforced forms of punishment, such
as prisons and the death penalty
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Social Control in States
 Increased specialization of roles
involved in social control
 A variety of full-time professions devoted to
maintaining law and order
 Judges, lawyers
 Police – exist mainly in state level societies
 Policing is a form of social control that
includes processes of surveillance and the
threat of punishment related to maintaining
social order
 Varies in effectiveness from state to state
 U.S. – high crime rates
 Japan – much lower crime rates
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Social Control in States
 Formal trials and courts
 Court system with lawyers, judge, and jury
 Used in many societies
 Goal is to ensure justice and fairness, but the
analysis of legal systems in the U.S. and
elsewhere have shown some serious problems
 Trial by ordeal
 A way of judging guilt or innocence in which the
accused person is put through a test that is
often painful
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Social Control in States
 Prisons and the death penalty
 Prisons (places where people are forcibly
detained as a form of punishment) emerged
with state-level societies
 Death penalty
 Rare in non-state societies
 Requires a great deal of power to condemn
someone to death – reflects state power and is a
powerful tool to influence people to act in a manner
acceptable to the state
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A British colonial
prison in the
Andaman Islands,
India, where many
Indian freedom
fighters were
imprisoned during
the 18th and 19th
centuries; now a
tourist site
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Social Inequality and the Law
Critical legal anthropologists examine
the role of law in maintaining power
relationships through discrimination
against such social categories as
indigenous people, women, and
minorities.
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Social Inequality and the Law - Australian
Aboriginal Youth and Justice
• More likely to receive the most severe
outcomes from criminal justice decisionmakers than white youth
• More likely to live in a poor neighborhood,
be unemployed, and thus be classified as
“undependable” and formally arrested
• More likely to appear in court rather than
Children’s Aid Panels
– Gale et al. 1990
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Social Inequality and the Law
Critical legal anthropologists examine
the role of law in maintaining power
relationships through discrimination
against such social categories as
indigenous people, women, and
minorities.
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Social Inequality and the Law
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Social Conflict and Violence
 All systems of social control have to
deal with the fact that conflict and
violence may occur
 Conflict occurs on many scales
 Private conflicts
 Interpersonal conflict
 Conflict at the household level
 Public conflicts
 Ethnic conflicts
 Warfare
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Ethnic Conflict
 Ethnic pluralism is a characteristic of
most states in the world today.
 Ethnic conflict may result from an ethnic
group’s attempt to gain more autonomy
or more equitable treatment.
 May also be caused by a dominant
group’s actions to subordinate, oppress,
or eliminate an ethnic group by genocide
or ethnocide
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Ethnic Conflict
 Political analysts and journalists often cite
language, ethnicity, and religion as the
biggest causes of conflict worldwide
 Ethnic identities commit people to a cause
 Deeper issues often exist such as claims to
material resources (land, water, etc.) which
may exacerbate ethnic conflicts
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Example of an
ethnic group
seeking territorial
recognition:
The Kurds of the
Middle East
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Ethnic Conflict
 In the past few decades, political
violence has increasingly been enacted
within states rather than between
states
 Intra-state (within state) violence
constitutes the majority of the many
“shooting wars” in the world today
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Warfare
 Warfare is organized conflict involving group
action directed against another group and
involving lethal force.
 Cultural variation exists in the frequency and
seriousness of wars
 Intergroup conflicts among free-ranging
foragers that would fit the definition of war do
not exist in the ethnographic record
 Informal, non-hierarchical political
organization among bands is not conducive
to waging armed conflict
 Bands do not have special military forces or
leaders
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Warfare
 Warfare likely originated with domestication of
plants and animals
 Led to increased population density, different
groups close to each other and often
competing with each other for resources
 Warfare more common in tribes, chiefdoms,
and states than in bands
 More influential leaders
 How often and what types of warfare are
engaged in vary depending on the society and
many factors
 Costa Rica – no army
 U.S. – army
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Warfare
 Causes of war
 Defending values
 Defending freedom
 “Operation Enduring Freedom”
 Defending democracy
 Defending human rights
 Supporting allies
 Extending boundaries
 Securing more resources
 Reacting to aggression
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Warfare
 One theory of effective warfare…
 For war to be an effective tool of
domination and for domination to be
maintained after a conquest, there must
be the introduction of a new economic
and political system and an ideology
that wins over the population
 Physical domination combined with
ideological dominance
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Changes in Political and Legal
Systems
 Contemporary political anthropologists
are most interested in political dynamics
and change, especially in how the state
affects local people’s lives.
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Changes in Political and Legal
Systems
Emerging and
transnational
nations
Democratization
Women in politics
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Emerging Nations and
Transnational Nations
 A nation is a group of people who share
a language, culture, territorial base,
political organization, and history
 Not to be confused with a state
 Example Puerto Rico
 Half of the “nation” lives outside of the
home territory
 Are forming a transnational identity
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Example of a
transnational
nation:
Puerto Rico
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Democratization
 Democratization is the process of
transformation from an authoritarian
regime to a democratic regime.
 Has varying levels of success
 Transition appears to be most difficult
when the change is from highly
authoritarian socialist regimes
 Often difficult because an economic
transition in addition to a political one
 Transition from state controlled government
planned economy to a free market, capitalist
economy
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The BIG Questions Revisited
 What does political anthropology cover?
 What is the scope of legal
anthropology?
 How are political and legal systems
changing?
Copyright © Allyn & Bacon 2008
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The BIG Questions?