The theories of political anthropology

De Baripedia

Intellectual legacy of Émile Durkheim and Pierre Bourdieu in social theoryThe origins of the fall of the Weimar RepublicIntellectual legacy of Max Weber and Vilfredo Pareto in social theoryThe notion of "concept" in social sciencesHistory of the discipline of political science: theories and conceptsMarxism and StructuralismFunctionalism and SystemismInteractionism and ConstructivismThe theories of political anthropologyThe three I's debate: interests, institutions and ideasRational choice theory and the analysis of interests in political scienceAn analytical approach to institutions in political scienceThe study of ideas and ideologies in political scienceTheories of war in political scienceThe War: Concepts and EvolutionsThe reason of StateState, sovereignty, globalization and multi-level governanceTheories of violence in political science‎‎Welfare State and BiopowerAnalysis of democratic regimes and democratisation processesElectoral Systems: Mechanisms, Issues and ConsequencesThe system of government in democraciesMorphology of contestationsAction in Political TheoryIntroduction to Swiss politicsIntroduction to political behaviourPublic Policy Analysis: Definition and cycle of public policyPublic Policy Analysis: agenda setting and formulationPublic Policy Analysis: Implementation and EvaluationIntroduction to the sub-discipline of international relationsIntroduction to Political Theory

Political science and anthropology have long been closely linked, sharing a common interest in the study of human societies and their organisations. It is particularly interesting to study the influence of Africanist anthropology on political science, as it offers unique perspectives on political dynamics.

Africanist anthropology refers to the study of African cultures and African societies. It has played an important role in the evolution of political science by offering a new perspective on political processes. Africanist anthropologists have often emphasised the importance of social structures and belief systems in forming political systems. For example, they have studied forms of leadership, the role of elders and chiefs, ritual practices, norms of reciprocity and cooperation, and local governance systems. These studies have provided a basis for analysing and reflecting on African politics. Anthropologists have also helped to refute certain Western preconceptions about Africa, by showing, for example, that African societies had their own sophisticated forms of governance and politics, which were often very different from those of Western societies.

The lessons learned from Africanist anthropology can be applied to the analysis of our societies today. They remind us of the importance of taking account of social structures, belief systems and cultural practices in political analysis. They also highlight the importance of cultural and political diversity. Like all societies, African societies are diverse and dynamic, and their political systems reflect this diversity. Thus, an approach that considers this diversity can enrich our understanding of politics. Furthermore, Africanist anthropology reminds us that politics is not limited to formal institutions, but also includes informal processes, power relations and everyday practices. Finally, Africanist anthropology emphasises the importance of local context and local knowledge in political analysis. Effective political solutions cannot be imposed from above or imported from elsewhere without taking account of the local context. Africanist anthropology has much to offer political science, not only in terms of understanding African societies, but also in terms of approaches and perspectives that can be applied to the analysis of all societies.

Anthropology was first conceptualised as a discipline focusing on the study of 'primitive' societies, often located outside the West. These societies, perceived as less complex or less developed, were studied in order to understand essential aspects of human nature and society. However, anthropology gradually broadened its scope to include the study of modern, industrialised societies. This development is often described as a movement towards an 'anthropology of modernity'. In this process, the tools, knowledge and analyses that were developed for the study of early societies have proved invaluable for the analysis of modern societies. For example, the anthropological concepts of culture, social structure, ritual and symbolism are just as relevant to the analysis of modern societies as they were to early societies. Similarly, the methods of participant observation and ethnographic study are now commonly used in the study of modern societies. In addition, the anthropological view of politics, which focuses on social processes, power relations and everyday practices, offers a valuable perspective on modern societies. For example, it can help us to understand how power structures are maintained and contested, how collective identities are constructed and negotiated, and how norms and values influence politics. Finally, anthropology reminds us of the importance of cultural diversity and social complexity, even within modern societies. Modern societies are not monolithic, but are made up of multiple groups and subcultures, each with its own belief systems, values and practices. Understanding this diversity is essential to understanding politics in modern societies.

Structuralism is a major concept in anthropology, including political anthropology. It was popularised by thinkers such as Claude Lévi-Strauss and postulates that underlying structures organise social, cultural and political life. These structures are generally invisible to the naked eye but can be detected by carefully analysing myths, rituals, customs and other cultural practices. Africanist anthropology has largely adopted the structuralist approach to analysing African societies. For example, it has examined kinship structures, religious belief systems, rituals and forms of governance to understand how they organise political life. This approach has highlighted the importance of social and cultural structures in shaping African political systems. When structuralism is applied to the analysis of our own modern societies, it is assumed that there is a 'structure effect'. This means that, despite apparent changes, certain underlying structures remain constant and continue to influence politics. For example, family structure, gender norms, social class, ethnicity and other social structures can play a major role in politics. These structures can influence who has power, how power is exercised, and what political issues are considered important. In addition, ideological structures, such as belief systems and values, can also influence politics. For example, ideas about democracy, freedom, equality and other values can influence how people think about politics and how they act politically.

Although our modern societies differ from those studied by Africanist anthropologists, the structuralist approach still offers valuable tools for understanding politics. By focusing on underlying structures, it allows us to understand continuities as well as changes in political life.

The origins of anthropological thought[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The transition to a political anthropology - or to any form of anthropology, for that matter - implies a recognition of the Other as subject. It means recognising that the individuals and social groups we study are agents in their own right, with their own perspectives, their own lived experience and their own capacity to act and influence the world around them.

This recognition is rooted in the ethics of anthropology, which emphasises the importance of respecting the dignity and autonomy of the people we study. It is also essential to anthropological methodology, which often involves long-term immersion in the society studied, participant observation and in-depth interviews. Recognising the Other as a subject also means acknowledging the validity of their perspectives, beliefs and practices, even if they differ from those of the anthropologist. It means avoiding ethnocentrism, which is the tendency to judge other cultures by the yardstick of one's own culture.

Recognition of the Other as a subject is a long process. It is not only an intellectual process, but also an emotional, and ethical process. It can involve questioning one's own prejudices, confronting sometimes disconcerting cultural differences, and learning to listen to and understand the perspectives of others.

Once this recognition is established, it becomes the basis for a political anthropology that takes people's perspectives, experiences and actions in the political arena seriously. It allows politics to be analysed not just in terms of structures and processes, but also in terms of lived experiences, meanings and power relations. Ultimately, this recognition of the Other as subject enriches our understanding of politics and helps us to develop a more nuanced and comprehensive analysis.

The birth of otherness[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Otherness is a key concept in anthropology and the social sciences in general. It refers to the recognition and acceptance of the Other as different. This recognition implies not only tolerating difference, but also valuing and respecting it.

Otherness is at the heart of our democracies. It is fundamental to pluralism, which is the idea that the diversity of opinions, beliefs, cultures and lifestyles is tolerated and valued. It is also essential to equality, which is the principle that all individuals should be treated fairly and have the same rights, whatever their differences.

Otherness is also an essential value of secularism. Secularism is the principle of the separation of State and religion, allowing all religions to coexist peacefully and guaranteeing freedom of conscience for all citizens. Secularism favours the blending of cultures as a source of enrichment and peace, which requires recognition and acceptance of otherness.

Finally, otherness is an ethically fundamental value. It reminds us of our responsibility towards the Other and encourages us to respect and value difference. It also reminds us of the importance of openness, empathy and mutual understanding in our relationships with others.

In short, otherness is a key concept in anthropology and the social sciences and a fundamental value of our democratic and secular societies. It reminds us of the importance of difference and diversity and encourages us to value and respect the Other in his or her difference.

The concept of otherness plays an essential role in promoting equality and cultural diversity in our contemporary societies. It invites us to recognise, respect and celebrate differences between cultures and between men and women and see them as a source of richness rather than an obstacle.

Otherness encourages us to see all cultures as equal, each with its own value and dignity. Rather than ranking cultures according to ethnocentric criteria, otherness invites us to appreciate cultural diversity and to see it as a source of mutual enrichment. It also invites us to be open and to learn from other cultures while respecting their autonomy and integrity. Otherness also applies to gender differences. It invites us to recognise and respect the difference between men and women, while promoting gender equality. It invites us to value the diversity of gender experiences and to fight against gender-based stereotypes and discrimination.

From this perspective, difference is not seen as a source of conflict or division, but as a source of enrichment and creativity. It is seen as an opportunity to learn, grow and develop. This positive approach to difference, based on respect for otherness, is essential to building more inclusive, egalitarian and peaceful societies.

The concept of otherness did not emerge overnight, but is the fruit of a long historical and socio-cultural process. In early societies, identity might have been defined more by resemblance than by difference. Over time, as societies diversified and interactions between groups multiplied, the concept of otherness emerged. People began to define themselves not only in relation to those who were like them, but also in relation to those who were different from them.

In Western societies, accepting otherness has required the deconstruction of many preconceived ideas, notably ethnocentrism, which is the tendency to see the world solely from the point of view of one's own culture and to judge other cultures by one's own standards. This deconstruction has been a long and complex process, involving intellectual debate, political struggle and social change. Recognition of otherness ultimately involves recognising the Other as an individual, with his or her own identity, experiences and perspective. It means seeing them not simply as representatives of a culture or group, but as unique and irreplaceable individuals. It's a process that requires both an open mind and the ability to put oneself in the other person's shoes. In short, the construction of otherness is a complex process that requires both a deconstruction of ethnocentric prejudices and a recognition of the Other as an individual. It is a process that is still ongoing and continues to evolve in our contemporary societies.

Scholarly travel and evolutionary anthropology[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Scholarly travel in the 18th century[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Scholarly travel in the 18th century was crucial in shaping European thinking about otherness. During this period, many explorers, naturalists and philosophers travelled the world, discovering new lands, new cultures and new ways of life. These voyages opened up new perspectives and challenged the preconceptions of the time.

The discovery of the New World and its indigenous peoples was key to this evolution. Europeans were confronted with radically different cultures, with their own belief systems, social structures and ways of life. These encounters challenged the ethnocentric idea that European culture was superior or 'normal'. However, these encounters were not symmetrical. Europeans often imposed their culture and value system on the peoples they encountered, sometimes by force. For example, the indigenous peoples of America suffered massive violence, forced displacement and diseases brought by Europeans, resulting in a tragic loss of life and culture. It is therefore important to note that the encounter with otherness during the scholarly voyages of the eighteenth century took place in the context of European colonialism. Although these voyages helped challenge ethnocentrism and paved the way for a recognition of otherness, they were also associated with colonial violence and oppression.

The scholarly voyages of the eighteenth century played a complex role in shaping European thinking on otherness. They opened up new perspectives and challenged preconceptions but were also associated with colonial violence and oppression.

Evolutionary anthropology[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The voyages of discovery and exploration of the 18th century raised fundamental questions about humanity and otherness. Confronted with radically different cultures and peoples, Europeans wondered about the nature of these "Others" and their place in the world.

A central question was whether the indigenous peoples they encountered were truly human in the sense that Europeans understood the term. The Europeans wondered whether these individuals possessed a soul, were capable of reasoning, had a moral code, etc. Some even argued that the 'Others' were human beings. Some even proposed that their 'primitive' state could be divine punishment. The answer to these questions has often been negative. Many Europeans considered these peoples inferior, incapable of civilisation or morality, and therefore could not be considered fully human. This denial of otherness was used to justify colonial domination and exploitation.

These ideas had a profound impact on the way Europeans perceived the Other and the way they perceived themselves. They reinforced the idea of a racial and cultural hierarchy, with Europeans at the top and 'savages' at the bottom. They also contributed to a fundamentally ethnocentric view of the world, in which difference was seen as a threat or an aberration rather than a source of diversity and richness. It is therefore crucial to recognise that, although voyages of discovery have opened up new perspectives and challenged certain preconceptions, they have also helped to reinforce damaging ideas about otherness and humanity.

An ethnocentric view of the world strongly influenced the perception of otherness during the era of discovery and colonisation. Europeans often categorised non-European cultures as 'savage' or 'primitive', bringing them closer to animality than to what they considered to be civilised humanity. This dehumanisation was used to justify the domination and colonisation of indigenous peoples. By considering them inferior, less evolved or less human, Europeans gave themselves the right to govern them, convert them to their own religious and cultural beliefs, exploit them for their labour and appropriate their land. This perception of otherness as animality has had lasting and harmful consequences, contributing to centuries of discrimination, exploitation and violence against indigenous peoples. It has also reinforced a European-centred view of the world, in which other cultures are judged according to European criteria and often considered inferior or deviant.

The Valladolid controversy of 1550-1551, in which Bartolomé de Las Casas and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda debated the status of the indigenous people of the New World, is a perfect illustration of the clash of perspectives on otherness at the time. Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Dominican priest, argued in favour of recognising the humanity and rights of the indigenous peoples. For him, these peoples, although living in a state of nature, had a soul and were capable of morality and rationality. They are 'good' in the sense that they live in harmony with nature and have remained faithful to their original state of purity. Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, on the other hand, argued that the indigenous people were inferior, closer to animals than to human beings. In his view, they were "bad" because they could not rise above their primitive condition and needed to be civilised by Europeans. This debate reflects a fundamental tension in European philosophy at the time, between a vision of the state of nature as a state of purity and wisdom and a vision of it as a state of barbarism and ignorance. This tension shaped European perceptions of otherness and significantly impacted European colonial policies. It is important to note that, although Las Casas argued for recognising indigenous rights, his vision was still very paternalistic. He saw the natives as innocent children who needed the protection and education of Europeans. So, even in this more 'benevolent' perspective, otherness was still perceived as a form of inferiority that justified a certain form of domination.

The question of the state of nature, and in particular the interpretation of that state, has been a central issue in classical Western political philosophy. This interpretation has often been characterised by a dualist vision, opposing two conceptions of the state of nature: wisdom on the one hand and barbarism on the other. On the one hand, some thinkers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, argued that the state of nature was a state of purity and innocence, where man lived in harmony with his environment. According to this view, civilisation, with its social and political institutions, corrupts man and distances him from his natural state of freedom and equality. On the other hand, other philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes, have argued that the state of nature was a state of "war of all against all", where life was "solitary, poor, unpleasant, brutish and short". For Hobbes, civilisation, through the social contract and the establishment of a sovereign, was a necessary response to this brutal and chaotic condition. These two visions have had a major influence on the way in which society and politics have been conceptualised. They reflect deep-rooted ideas about human nature and the optimal conditions for social and political organisation. These ideas continue to influence our contemporary thinking on politics, society and individuality.

In their respective works, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes offer two very different visions of man in the state of nature, which have profoundly influenced political thought. In his work "Leviathan", Thomas Hobbes describes man in the state of nature as living in a state of constant fear and violence, "the war of all against all". For Hobbes, man is fundamentally selfish and motivated by his own interests. This view led him to propose the idea of a social contract, in which individuals agree to give up some of their freedom in exchange for the protection and security offered by an absolute sovereign. On the other hand, Jean-Jacques Rousseau offers a more optimistic vision of man in his state of nature. In his view, man is fundamentally good and lives in harmony with his environment. Society, with its inequalities and corrupt institutions, corrupts man. For Rousseau, the social contract should serve to preserve man's natural freedom and equality as far as possible while enabling peaceful coexistence.

These contrasting views of man in the state of nature have also influenced the way philosophers and political thinkers have perceived and interpreted otherness. For example, in the Hobbesian view, 'savage' or 'primitive' peoples could be seen as living in a violent and chaotic state of nature, thus justifying their domination and 'civilisation' by more 'advanced' societies. On the other hand, from a Rousseauist perspective, these same peoples could be seen as living in harmony with their environment, corrupted by the influence of civilisation. These opposing views have had an important influence on the way Western societies have interacted with other cultures, and have helped to shape enduring attitudes towards otherness.

The distinction between man and animal has been a central philosophical issue since antiquity. Aristotle, for example, defined man as a "rational animal", suggesting that the ability to think, reason and use language is what fundamentally distinguishes humans from other animals. In the context of colonisation and exploration of the 'New World', this definition was used to justify the treatment of indigenous peoples as 'inferior'. By categorising them as closer to animality than humanity, the colonisers could justify their domination and exploitation. If these 'savage' peoples were seen as incapable of thinking or reasoning in the same way as Europeans, then it was 'necessary', according to this logic, for Europeans to think and act for them. This is an example of how philosophical ideas can be used to justify political and social actions, even based on prejudice or misunderstanding. It is also a reminder of the importance of challenging these ideas and recognising the richness and complexity of different human cultures and societies.

The 18th century: the invention of the concept of man[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The arrival of Christopher Columbus in America with two white banners emblazoned with a green cross and a yellow banner bearing the initials F and Y of the sovereigns Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile.

The 18th century, often referred to as the Age of Enlightenment, was a period of profound questioning of the traditional view of the world and man's place in it. During this period, many philosophers and thinkers began to develop more enlightened and humanist conceptions of man and society.

However, even during the Age of Enlightenment, the view of non-European peoples was often biased and prejudiced. These prejudices were partly based on ideas about civilisation and barbarism, rationality and irrationality, which were commonplace at the time.

Christopher Columbus reported: "Because I see and know that these people are not of any sect, nor idolatrous, but very gentle and ignorant of what is evil, that they do not know how to kill one another, nor imprison themselves, that they are unarmed and so fearful that one of ours is enough to make a hundred of them flee, even by playing with them [...] I do not believe that there is a better man in the world than there is a better land". This quote from Christopher Columbus illustrates the point. In this quote, Columbus describes the indigenous peoples he encountered as "gentle and ignorant of evil".[1] This description, while potentially well-intentioned, is nevertheless patronising and paternalistic. It suggests that indigenous peoples are naïve and incapable of defending themselves, and therefore need the 'protection' of Europeans. This biased view of non-European peoples has been used to justify many injustices, including colonisation and exploitation. This is why it is important to challenge these preconceptions and recognise the richness and complexity of different human cultures and societies.

The eighteenth century was a crucial period for the emergence of what we now consider to be self-awareness and the notion of individuality. During this period, often referred to as the Age of Enlightenment, philosophers such as René Descartes began to question the nature of identity and consciousness. Descartes, for example, formulated his famous phrase "Cogito, ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am), which has become a fundamental pillar of Western philosophy. This phrase expresses the idea that the very fact of thinking proves the individual's existence. The Age of Enlightenment also saw the emergence of new ideas about individual rights and freedom. Philosophers such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau developed theories on the social contract and the natural rights of man, which have had a major influence on the formation of modern democratic societies. However, it is important to note that these new ideas about individuality and human rights were often not extended to non-European peoples. The concept of otherness was often misunderstood or ignored, leading to the marginalisation and exploitation of these populations. This is an aspect of the history of Western thought that needs to be recognised and criticised.

This new awareness challenges the divine influence on man, and the individual emerges as an entity in his own right. The individual's existence was defined by his ability to think and by his consciousness - consequently, the individual was a thinking being.

From the 18th century onwards, this new conception of man began to liberate people's intelligence and enable them to see otherness in a new light. The other is no longer necessarily perceived as a "savage", but rather as a being embedded in a specific historical situation. However, negative connotations persist, in particular the idea that this other has not been able to develop on his own. These questions reflect a change in our way of thinking: human beings exist not only through their ability to think, but also through their learning and cognitive knowledge of the world. Experience is accumulated and passed on, helping to shape our understanding of ourselves and others. We are beginning to move away from the image of the "savage". The other is seen as different, and the notion of the 'savage' begins to be externalised. As a result, the question of difference began to be asked, but it was a value judgement that was not necessarily moral.

In the eighteenth century, society's main objective was to build up a positive knowledge of man. Man was studied in his own right, potentially as a thinking being, and as an integral part of the history of humanity. This analysis is carried out in particular through travel, which offers new perspectives and opportunities for observing and understanding humanity in all its diversity.

Evolutionary anthropology in the 19th century[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The 19th century saw a new phase in the desire to understand others better, with a more positive approach. This was achieved through various journeys and study missions, which gave rise to the first form of modern anthropology, focusing on primitive societies with their own social structures. However, certain strongly reactionary elements persisted, taking us back to a positivist science. This approach takes the view that we live in evolving societies, which must be creative if they are to remain competitive. It suggests a linear view of social and cultural development, where some societies are considered to be 'behind' others, based on Western criteria.

In the 19th century, although we are beginning to move away from certain caricatural representations, dangerous ideas persist, including racist and racialist principles. For example, it is impossible to fully understand the existence of the Nazi extermination camps without considering that this period was strongly influenced by a supremacist ideology of the "white race", to the detriment of other ethnic groups. These ideas, rooted in the thinking of the time, contributed to acts of extreme violence and inhumanity.

The evolutionary anthropology that prevailed in the nineteenth century retained traces of these prejudices. According to this perspective, the evolution of societies is viewed in a hierarchical manner, with an implicit superiority accorded to white Western societies. This vision helped to justify the colonisation and exploitation of other peoples and cultures, considered 'inferior' or 'less advanced'. Understanding these ancient perspectives is essential to understanding the contemporary challenges of discrimination, racism and inequality.

Although hierarchical and ethnocentric conceptions still marked nineteenth-century evolutionary anthropology, it nevertheless represented an important step towards the recognition of otherness. For the first time, interest was shown in other societies not only as objects of observation but also as subjects worthy of study and understanding. During this period, anthropologists began to collect information about different cultures around the world systematically, and to analyse this data to understand different ways of life, belief systems, social structures and cultural practices. Although this approach was still far from free of prejudice, it paved the way for more in-depth and respectful studies of non-Western cultures in the twentieth century. It laid the foundations for a genuine recognition of otherness, where difference is seen not as inferiority, but as a richness and a source of mutual learning.

The Berlin Conference in 1885, also known as the "Partition of Africa", marked a significant turning point in the colonisation movement. By delimiting their zones of influence on the African continent, the great European powers established colonial regimes that had profound and lasting consequences for African societies. It was against this backdrop that numerous scientific and archaeological missions were launched, with the aim of studying the cultures, languages, social systems and traditions of the colonised peoples. It is important to note that these efforts were often motivated by a desire to justify and consolidate colonial power. Still, they also resulted in the collection of valuable information about African societies. Despite their colonial context, these missions played an essential role in bringing to light the complexity and richness of African cultures. They made it possible to study these societies in depth, to understand their social and political structures, and to appreciate the diversity of lifestyles and cultural practices on the African continent. This has contributed to a greater recognition of otherness and paved the way for a more respectful and balanced anthropology, which seeks to understand other cultures on their own terms, rather than judging them by Western standards and values.

Although the anthropology of this period was still heavily influenced by hierarchies of development between societies - an idea often used to justify colonial domination - it began to pave the way for a more authentic and respectful recognition of otherness. This means that researchers have begun to accept and value other cultures not on the basis of their resemblance or conformity to Western norms, but for what they are in themselves. This approach has highlighted the diversity and richness of human cultures, and shown that each society has its own logic, its own values and its own ways of structuring social and political life. Thus, despite its limitations and biases, nineteenth-century anthropology laid the foundations for a more balanced and respectful approach to otherness, which has become a central principle of contemporary anthropology. However, it is important to note that this was a long and difficult process, and that the fight against prejudice and stereotypes is still relevant today in anthropological research and in intercultural relations more broadly.

The contributions of Amerindian and Africanist anthropology[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Africanist anthropology and the discovery of systems of political organisation[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

E. E. Evans-Pritchard.

The book "African Political Systems" published by Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes in 1940 was an important contribution to political anthropology. It was one of the first books to really emphasise the importance of understanding the political systems of non-Western societies on their own terms rather than judging them according to Western criteria. The book brought together eight case studies of different African societies, ranging from centralised chieftaincy systems to stateless societies organised around complex kinship and reciprocal relations systems. These studies have highlighted the diversity and complexity of forms of political organisation in Africa and have challenged conventional wisdom about the 'primitiveness' or 'simplicity' of these societies. Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes were both British anthropologists who worked mainly in Africa and were key figures in the development of social anthropology in the twentieth century. Their work helped establish anthropology as a discipline that values cultural diversity and seeks to understand non-Western societies on their own terms rather than judging them by Western criteria.

Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes' African Political Systems was a major breakthrough in understanding the political structures of African societies. They emphasised that even traditional African societies are founded on complex political systems that ensure their functioning and development. This approach challenged the prevailing assumptions of the time, which tended to view African societies as lacking sophisticated political structures. By focusing on the way in which these societies regulate themselves, Evans-Pritchard and Fortes demonstrated that politics is an intrinsic and necessary element of any society, regardless of its complexity or level of technology. Their work has helped to change the way anthropologists approach the study of non-Western societies, encouraging them to recognise and appreciate the complexity and diversity of these societies rather than evaluating them according to Western standards and criteria.

Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes set out to analyse the political systems of traditional societies while contextualising the concept of the 'primitive'. Their work highlighted the importance of understanding the role of politics in these societies, rather than judging them through the prism of our own cultural and historical norms. They argued that to understand these societies fully, we need to take account of their complexity and specificity. This means recognising the political systems they have put in place and how these systems influence and are influenced by other aspects of their culture and history. In short, their work has sought to rethink the concept of the 'primitive' and highlight the crucial role of politics in forming and maintaining traditional societies.

Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes stressed the importance of contextualising the concept of the 'primitive' when analysing the political systems of traditional societies. They put forward the idea that there are universalities in how politics shapes these societies beyond the specific features of each society. Their work highlighted the role of social structures in the construction of social order, and argued that these structures are a universal feature of human societies. By focusing on specific societies, such as African tribes, they have looked closely at the forms these structures can take. This involved studying families, siblings, tribal organisation and property systems, among other aspects of social life. By exploring these elements, they demonstrated that these societies were far from 'primitive', but were on the contrary organised according to complex social and political structures.

Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes have argued that traditional societies are far from being devoid of structures, rites and rules. On the contrary, they comprise complex political, social and economic systems essential to their functioning and development. They stressed that these systems are not inferior or superior to those of Western societies, but simply different. These differences are due to specific historical, cultural and geographical contexts. Thus, they attempted to demonstrate that all political systems, whether traditional or modern, must possess certain essential elements in order to function effectively. These elements may include a form of governance, conflict resolution mechanisms, social rituals, laws and rules, and means of ensuring the economic well-being of society.

Policy, whatever the company, encompasses a set of key functions essential to the company's successful organisation and operation. These functions may include :

  • Decision-making: In any society, decisions need to be made to establish laws, define policies, manage resources, etc. The way in which these decisions are made may vary from society to society. How these decisions are made may vary from one society to another, but the decision-making process is a fundamental element of politics.
  • Action: Policy also involves action, i.e. implementing the decisions taken. This can involve many processes, such as implementing policies, enforcing laws, delivering public services, etc.
  • Strengthening: Policy also has a reinforcing role, consolidating existing structures of power and authority, and ensuring the stability of society.
  • Creating value: Policy can also be seen as a means of creating value for society, whether through economic policies, social programmes, cultural initiatives, etc.

Thus, although societies differ in their specific forms of governance and political practices, it is possible to postulate that certain political structures and functions are universal, as they are essential to the survival and development of any society.

The 'rudiments' of Western political structures[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In their anthropological analysis of African societies, E.E. Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes identified four key structures within them. It is important to note that their work is situated in the context of Claude Lévi-Strauss's structural theory of kinship. According to Lévi-Strauss, kinship structures are fundamental to the constitution of society, as they provide a framework for social organisation and the distribution of roles and responsibilities.

  • Kinship: Kinship is one of the main structures of any society. It defines the relationships between members of a community and regulates their interactions. Kinship can include blood relationships, but also ties formed through marriage or adoption.
  • Power : Power is another essential structure of any society. It refers to the ability to control or influence the behaviour of others. Individuals, groups or institutions can hold power and can be exercised in different ways, ranging from persuasion to coercion.
  • Symbolism: Symbolism is a key element of power. It refers to the symbols, rituals and beliefs that give meaning and legitimacy to power. Symbolic systems help to maintain social order by providing a common framework for understanding and interpretation.
  • The real: The real refers to concrete action and decisions taken within the political system. It is the practical application of power and the implementation of political decisions.

These four structures interact and reinforce each other to maintain social order and facilitate the functioning of society.

Power and symbolism are closely linked and mutually reinforcing. Power is often expressed through symbols, rituals and discourses, contributing to its legitimacy and acceptance. In this sense, symbolism is an integral part of power, not a separate entity. Language, as a means of communication, plays a crucial role in the exercise of power. It is used to convey society's norms, rules, values and expectations. It enables people to share information, negotiate power relationships and challenge existing norms. Language is not only a means of communication, but also a tool of power and control. Rituals of social inversion, such as carnivals and New Year's Eve celebrations, are examples of how power and symbolism interact. These rituals temporarily invert social hierarchies and transgress norms, which can serve to underline and reinforce those same hierarchies and norms once the ritual is over. In conclusion, power and symbolism are inseparable in the analysis of social and political structures. They work together to create, maintain and transform social order.

What basic structures form the 'rudiments' of the more sophisticated structures of Western societies?

Kinship in politics[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In many African societies, kinship is crucial in social and political organisation. The family bond is not only a biological bond, but also a social relationship that entails obligations and responsibilities. By belonging to a family, you become part of a wider social structure that largely determines your status and societal role. In this context, family heritage - or dynasty - is of paramount importance. This means that birth into a certain family can predestine a person to certain responsibilities, privileges or social positions. In other words, the family into which one is born can largely determine the trajectory of one's life. The past also plays a significant role in these societies. Traditions, customs and family history are valued and can help guide current behaviour and decisions. Family history and lineage can be seen as a valuable resource that helps build individual and collective identity. In short, kinship and family heritage are fundamental social and political organisation elements in many African societies.

In many traditional societies, social status and political position are intrinsically linked to kinship. Systems of kinship (i.e. how kinship ties are traced) and residence (i.e. customs concerning where married couples live) have a direct impact on the distribution of power. For example, in a society where parentage is patrilineal (kinship ties are traced through men) and residence is patrilocal (married couples live with or near the husband's family), power is generally held by the older men in the family or clan. In this context, power may be hereditary and passed down from father to son. Beyond simply determining status, kinship also acts as an "active heritage" or "social capital". It shapes the networks of social relationships through which individuals navigate and negotiate their position in society. In other words, kinship is not simply a static condition of birth, but a dynamic set of relationships that influence social interactions and political decision-making.

In many traditional societies, kinship, organised around clans or extended families, plays a crucial role in the exercise of political power. Members of a clan are often united by kinship ties, whether real or assumed, and generally share a common sense of belonging and identity. These kinship ties can be used to consolidate and maintain power within a clan. For example, matrimonial alliances can be used to strengthen ties between different clans, stabilise social relations and facilitate the transfer and sharing of resources. In addition, in some societies, rules of hereditary succession can be used to ensure that power remains within a particular clan or family. Conversely, kinship systems can also provide a platform for contesting and acquiring power. Members of a clan may mobilise around a particular candidate or political cause, using their collective strength to influence political decisions. Moreover, individuals or sub-groups may exploit ambiguities or contradictions within kinship rules to challenge the existing political order in certain circumstances. This is why understanding kinship systems is often essential to understanding power dynamics in traditional societies.

Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes have highlighted the importance of kinship networks in structuring political power in traditional societies. Power, they argue, is not simply determined by direct kinship, but is shaped by a wider network of kinship relationships, which may include marriage alliances, adoption ties, patronage relationships and other forms of symbolic kinship. This kinship network can become a major source of political influence and support. For example, matrimonial alliances can be used to establish links between different families or clans, creating a network of potential allies. Similarly, patronage relationships can be used to reinforce loyalty and obedience to a political leader. In this context, politics is often a family affair in the broadest sense of the term. Political decisions are made and implemented within this kinship network, and individuals navigate the political landscape based on their kinship ties. So kinship is not just a matter of biology or direct descent, but a complex social construct that plays a key role in the organisation of political power.

Even in modern, complex societies, elements of clan dynamics can be identified. The Kennedy family in the United States is a striking example. The Kennedys' extensive influence in politics, business and philanthropy have often been compared to a kind of modern 'clan'. Over several generations, different members of the Kennedy family have held important political positions, including the presidency of the United States with John F. Kennedy. Matrimonial alliances, the transmission of economic and cultural capital, and a shared identification with the Kennedy 'brand' have all played a part in maintaining and extending their influence. Of course, important differences exist between a political family like the Kennedys and the clan structures seen in traditional societies. For example, in modern societies, ascension to positions of power is not generally strictly limited to a lineage or family network. However, the idea that kinship ties and extended family networks can play a significant role in politics is certainly applicable in many contexts, including modern, democratic societies.

The case of Jean Sarkozy illustrates how family dynamics can influence politics even in modern democratic societies. In this case, Jean Sarkozy, the son of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was offered a senior position at EPAD (Établissement Public d'Aménagement de la Défense), an important institution in France, at a very young age. This episode caused considerable controversy in France and has often been described as an example of nepotism, i.e. favouritism towards family members in the distribution of positions and responsibilities. It shows how kinship relationships can potentially influence politics, even in a society that theoretically values equality of opportunity and meritocracy. However, although such examples do exist, they are often the exception rather than the rule in modern democracies. Democratic institutions are designed to promote fairness and open competition for positions of power, and there are often mechanisms to control and limit the influence of kinship relationships.

Power as symbolism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Symbolism plays a crucial role in the functioning of power. Power is not limited to concrete actions, but also extends to the sphere of ideas, beliefs and symbols. These symbolic elements can serve to legitimise the power in place, mobilise support and define collective identity. Symbols can take many forms, from rituals and monuments to speeches and gestures. They can help to create a certain image of power and convey specific messages to citizens. For example, a political leader may use symbols to project an image of strength, wisdom or compassion. Rituals are also important in this context. They can be used to mark important transitions, such as the inauguration of a new leader, or to celebrate historic events. They contribute to the construction of social order and the definition of roles and status within society. Symbols, while supporting power, can also be a means of contestation. Symbols can be reinterpreted, misappropriated or rejected by those seeking to challenge or change the established order.

Cavaliers mossi (gravure de 1890).

Funeral rituals are vital in transmitting power in many cultures, including that of the Mossi kingdom in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) in the 15th and 16th centuries. These rituals are both a moment of mourning for the loss of the leader and a transition ceremony for the passing of power to the next generation.

Powerful symbols, such as the bursting of a drum and the extinguishing of the royal fire mark the king's death. These symbolic acts signify the end of one era and the need to move on to the next. It is a moment of collective mourning, but also a moment of important political transition.

The responsibility of supervising the funeral rituals is entrusted to the king's eldest child, whether son or daughter. This task is both an honour and an obligation, as it involves ensuring that the ritual is carried out correctly, according to the traditions and customs of the society. It is also an opportunity for the eldest child to show leadership and demonstrate his or her ability to assume the responsibilities of power.

The napoco is a crucial phase in this ritual. The eldest daughter of the deceased king dresses in her father's clothes, symbolising the temporary passing of power and ensuring the continuity of royalty, despite the patrilineal nature of the succession. She becomes the "Queen of the Departed" and is carried across the land, showing the people that there is no power vacuum. The new king is then chosen and rides through the lands on the horse of the former king, symbolising the reappropriation of power. But to underline the transition from the old to the new reign, an act of rupture is necessary: the old king's horse is killed, marking the end of the previous era and the beginning of the new one. Finally, the enthronement ceremony, the qurita, officially marks the inauguration of the new king. Though complex and rich in symbolism, these rituals clearly demonstrate how power is continuous and discontinuous, linked to both lineage and the individual person. It is an eloquent demonstration of how traditional societies manage the transition of power and maintain social and political stability.

In many cultures and societies around the world, rituals play an essential role in ensuring a smooth and peaceful transition of power. These rituals have complex social, political and symbolic functions. In social terms, they serve to unify the community, reaffirm social norms and ensure continuity. Politically, they legitimise the new leader and help to maintain order and stability by avoiding potentially destructive power struggles. In addition, they provide a framework for managing the change and uncertainty that can accompany a transition of power. On a symbolic level, the rituals of transition of power underline the continuity between the old and new regimes, while marking the break necessary for the new beginning. They represent the transition of power visually and physically, helping the community to understand and accept the change. In short, these power transition rituals, like those of the Mossi people, are an integral part of the management of the social and political order in many societies.

Language as an element of political power[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Power is inextricably linked to communication. Whoever masters speech and communication holds de facto power. Moreover, those who can express themselves can manipulate power dynamics by establishing order, inciting violence or promoting security. There is therefore an undeniable continuity between power and the use of speech.

Language plays a crucial role in the exercise of political power. Here are some of the many ways in which this happens:

  1. Framing: How questions are asked can influence how people think about them. This is called "framing". For example, if a politician talks about a "tax burden" rather than "public investment", this may influence how people perceive the taxation issue.
  2. Rhetoric: Politicians often use rhetoric to persuade people of their point of view. This can involve using metaphors, stories, emotions, repetition and other techniques to make their speeches more convincing.
  3. Information control: Governments can use language to control the information that is disseminated to the public. This can range from direct censorship to spreading disinformation.
  4. Creation of identity: Language can be used to create collective identities. For example, the use of terms such as "us" and "them" can help forge a sense of belonging to a group.
  5. Legitimisation of power: Language can also be used to legitimise the exercise of power. For example, a leader may use language to explain why certain actions are necessary or why he or she is best placed to lead.

Language is a powerful tool that can be used to influence, persuade and control in politics.

To illustrate their point, Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes refer to the mythical figure of Legba, the god of communication in certain African cultures. Legba, master of all languages, is able to interpret the speeches of all the other deities. He is seen as a messenger sent by God to communicate with mankind. A cult has developed around Legba, not only in traditional places of worship, but also in the home. His omnipresent presence means that he is supposed to have the means to control the whole of society, helping and, if necessary, punishing individuals. He is often seen as the king's spokesman and has the ability to anger and punish. Each individual is therefore expected to live his or her life under the watchful eye of this god.

This leads Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes to conclude that, since the god holds the word, he also holds power. Language thus becomes structuring knowledge. This ties in with Lévi-Strauss's view that language has the capacity to define the rules of social life and express a truth that cannot be disputed. In other words, mastery of language controls and shapes social reality, reflecting a form of power.

In other words, language is not simply a tool of power, it is its very essence. If power loses control of language, it loses its ability to exist. In contemporary theories, the importance of language and words is particularly emphasised in describing social realities. They enable power to be staged, and the power relationship to be constructed and formalised. In other words, language is not only a means of communicating power, but also of constructing, shaping and maintaining it.

Modern theories of political anthropology are based on several fundamental principles:

  1. Power cannot exist without language: Language is the tool through which power is expressed and understood. It gives form to authority, rules and norms, and helps to build and maintain power structures.
  2. Power cannot exist without communication: Communication is essential for transmitting and receiving power. It allows sharing ideas, giving instructions, persuading and influencing, and building consensus.
  3. Power cannot exist without ritual: Rituals are symbolic manifestations of power that reinforce existing structures and help maintain social order. They play an essential role in legitimising power and creating a sense of cohesion and belonging within a community or society.

In other words, language, communication and ritual are all interconnected and play essential roles in creating and maintaining power in societies.

The staging of power is central to its exercise and continuity. This can take a variety of forms, from public speeches to official ceremonies, rituals and symbols. The idea is to reinforce the authority and legitimacy of the power in place, while shaping public opinion and guiding social behaviour. The dramatisation of power can be used to reinforce the authority of the leader, to generate respect or fear, or to create a sense of unity or collective identity. It can also help to institutionalise power, by making it more tangible and placing it at the heart of everyday practices and rituals. In short, staging power is an effective way of communicating and consolidating authority, while influencing the perceptions and behaviour of individuals within society.

Erving Goffman, a Canadian sociologist, developed the concept of "theatricality" in social life through his idea of "social dramaturgy". According to him, social life is a series of performances in which individuals play different roles depending on the situation and the audience. This also applies to power. Power is not simply an abstract entity, but manifests itself through actions, speeches and symbols that are deliberately staged to reinforce the authority and legitimacy of power. It is a form of 'performance' which, like any other performance, requires a certain amount of staging to be effective. This may involve public speeches, official ceremonies, rituals, symbols, insignia of power and so on. These elements contribute to the 'performance' of power and are essential for communicating power's authority, legitimacy and identity to the audience - i.e., the public or citizens. What's more, this staging of power also helps institutionalise power, making it more tangible and inserting it into society's everyday practices and rituals. In short, power is not just exercised. It is also represented and performatively expressed.

Theatricalisation is a fundamental element of modern democracy. It plays a crucial role in the way power is expressed, perceived and understood. In a democracy, power is often expressed theatrically to communicate ideas, values and political positions to the public. For example, speeches by political leaders are often meticulously prepared and presented to maximise their impact and influence. Similarly, election campaigns, political debates and even legislative sessions are often orchestrated with a certain amount of staging to highlight certain ideas or positions, or to influence public opinion. This does not necessarily mean that politics is insincere or superficial. On the contrary, dramatisation can effectively communicate complex ideas and engage the public in political discussions. However, it is important to note that, like any tool, dramatisation can be used constructively or destructively, depending on the intention of those using it. Ultimately, dramatisation is an inevitable part of modern democracy. It is both a reflection of our visual and mediated culture, and an essential means for political actors to communicate and interact with the public.

The rituals of social inversion[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Any society seeking to maintain harmony and legitimise power has to manage a complex tension. This tension is often described as "centrifugal", pushing outwards, away from the centre. This tension can arise from a variety of sources, such as social, political or economic conflicts, or differences of opinion and values within society. On the one hand, tension can be constructive: it can stimulate change, innovation and social progress. It can also serve to hold leaders accountable and encourage transparency and fairness. However, if not managed appropriately, tension can become destructive. It can lead to social conflict, political instability and even violence. Moreover, excessive tension can weaken the legitimacy of the powers that be and undermine public confidence in institutions. To manage this tension, societies often develop various mechanisms, such as conflict resolution systems, social inversion rituals, and mechanisms for participation and democratic dialogue. These mechanisms can help to channel tension productively and maintain a delicate balance between maintaining order and respecting diversity and individual freedom.

Social inversion rituals are one way in which societies manage this tension. These rituals allow social roles and established norms to be temporarily reversed, providing a safety valve for the tensions and frustrations that can build up in a hierarchical society. In such ceremonies, those who are normally in positions of power can be symbolically overthrown or ridiculed, while those who are generally submissive can be placed in positions of prestige and authority. These temporary reversals can help to relieve social tension, strengthen community solidarity and reaffirm existing social roles and norms. A classic example of a social inversion ritual is carnival, a traditional celebration in many cultures where social norms and hierarchies are temporarily suspended or reversed. These events allow a liberation from habitual social norms and can be used to criticise existing power structures, even if only symbolically. However, it is important to note that these rituals do not necessarily challenge power structures in the long term. After the ritual, roles and hierarchies are generally re-established, and power resumes its normal course. In this sense, reversal rituals can also serve to maintain the status quo by providing a temporary outlet for social tensions, without really disrupting the existing power structures.

Rituals of social inversion, such as carnival, release tensions by temporarily reversing roles and social norms. In these contexts, normally unacceptable or taboo behaviours are not only permitted, but encouraged. This can include acts of mockery of authority figures, the expression of normally repressed feelings, and the violation of social taboos. These rituals serve several important functions. Firstly, they release the social and emotional tension that can build up in a society. Secondly, they can act as a safety valve, allowing people to express their frustration and discontent in a controlled way, preventing conflicts from escalating. Thirdly, they can reinforce social solidarity by bringing people together in a moment of fun and shared camaraderie. Finally, by mocking authority figures and inverting social hierarchies, these rituals can also serve to criticise and challenge the powers that be. However, because they are temporary and framed by ritual norms, they can often be tolerated by the authorities without seriously threatening their power. In fact, by allowing this kind of ritual, the authorities can even strengthen their legitimacy, by showing that they can tolerate criticism and opposition.

Rituals of social inversion, such as carnival, are generally controlled and limited in time. Although they allow a certain freedom of expression and a temporary inversion of social norms, these rituals are generally carefully supervised to ensure that they do not degenerate into disorder or open revolt. Carnival, for example, takes place once a year, and its festivities are limited to a specific period. During this time, people are free to make fun of those in power, to express feelings or behaviour that are normally repressed, and to transgress social norms. However, once the carnival is over, the usual rules of conduct and respect for authority are re-established. In this way, those in power can tolerate, and even encourage, these rituals of inversion, as they act as a safety valve to release social tensions. At the same time, by limiting these rituals over time and controlling them, the authorities can ensure that they do not seriously threaten their authority or the stability of society. In other words, social inversion rituals are integral to the power strategy for managing and maintaining social order.

Rituals of social inversion, such as carnival, are a kind of social regulation mechanism that is part of the wider structure of society. They allow a certain form of symbolic disobedience or subversion of social norms, but within a controlled and temporary framework. These rituals provide a safety valve to release the social tensions and frustrations that can build up in society. They allow individuals to express feelings or behaviours that are generally repressed or disapproved of. At the same time, by being limited in time and space and often framed by specific rules, these rituals of social inversion do not seriously threaten the social order or the powers that be. By allowing these forms of symbolic disobedience, the powers that be can actually strengthen their position, by showing tolerance and allowing individuals to express their frustrations in a controlled way. In this way, social inversion rituals can help maintain stability and social order in the long term.

The line between what constitutes a social inversion ritual and what does not can be difficult to draw. Much depends on the specific cultural and social context. In social inversion rituals, customary roles and hierarchies are temporarily reversed or disrupted, allowing those who are usually in subordinate positions to assume roles of power, and vice versa. However, these inversions are usually strictly controlled and temporary, with the clear expectation that the normal social order will be restored at the end of the ritual. The paradox is that, while seemingly subversive on the surface, social inversion rituals can actually reinforce the status quo. Allowing a certain amount of controlled transgression can help relieve social tensions and reinforce acceptance of existing roles and hierarchies. They can also help to underline and reinforce the importance of social norms and roles that are temporarily suspended or reversed. In other words, although they may appear to destabilise the social order, social inversion rituals can actually help to preserve and perpetuate it.

Social inversion rituals such as carnival or political satire can be based on several principles:

  • Acceptance of mockery: In these rituals, the established power must tolerate, and sometimes even encourage, a certain amount of irreverence and mockery. This period of relaxation can allow people to express frustrations or criticisms that would otherwise be repressed.
  • Strengthening social ties: Paradoxically, this period of disorder can actually strengthen social ties. By allowing a controlled expression of dissent and offering a temporary escape from the constraints of everyday life, these rituals can ease tensions and strengthen social cohesion.

These principles suggest that social inversion rituals are not simply moments of chaos and transgression, but that they also play an important role in maintaining social order and strengthening community solidarity.

For a political anthropology of modernity[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

George Balandier (1920 - 2016)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Georges Balandier au Salon du livre de Paris en mars 2010.

George Balandier was a French anthropologist and sociologist renowned for his work on Africa. Born on 21 December 1920 and died on 5 October 2016, Balandier made a major contribution to political anthropology and the sociology of modernity, particularly in the context of post-colonial societies. He studied at the Sorbonne under Marcel Mauss and spent much time studying African societies, particularly the Congo. His work has challenged many Western assumptions about African societies and highlighted the complexity and diversity of these societies. His most notable works include "Sociologie actuelle de l'Afrique Noire" (1955), in which he analyses the social and political dynamics of Africa in the context of decolonisation, and "Le détour: pouvoir et modernité" (1985), in which he examines the effects of modernity on non-Western societies. Balandier was a pioneer in the study of African societies and has greatly influenced the way anthropologists and sociologists approach the study of Africa.

George Balandier was a key player in the study of African societies during the period of decolonisation. His fieldwork in Africa, particularly in Gabon and the Congo, enabled him to observe and analyse the major social changes that were taking place as these nations moved towards independence. In works such as "Changements sociaux au Gabon" and "Sociologie des Brazzavilles Noires", Balandier examined the cultural, social and political transformations in sub-Saharan Africa during this transition period. These works highlighted the challenges and opportunities associated with decolonisation while underlining the complexity and diversity of African societies. Balandier often approached politics as a system of power or authority and a set of functions, structures and permanences that shape social life. He insisted that politics cannot be separated from its social and cultural context and that decolonisation was a complex process that profoundly reshaped these societies. He was also a pioneer in understanding politics as a phenomenon of power and authority and of permanence and structures that influence and shape society. Thus, for Balandier, politics is intrinsically linked to the social and to culture.

George Balandier was interested in the impact of modernisation on traditional African political systems in the context of decolonisation. He sought to understand how these societies evolved and adapted to the forces of modernity and the emergence of political independence. Balandier analysed how independence changed existing political and social structures while creating new political and social relations forms. He observed that the processes of independence were not limited to political or economic changes but also profoundly impacted the social, cultural and symbolic structures of these societies. He also stressed that independence was not just a matter of political transformation but also involved a transformation of individual and collective consciousness, marked by the emergence of a new form of national identity and a new conception of citizenship. In his work, Balandier also emphasised that African societies should not be seen as fixed 'traditional' societies but as dynamic and constantly evolving societies capable of integrating elements of modernity while retaining certain aspects of their traditions. Balandier has thus made a significant contribution to our understanding of the processes of modernisation and independence in Africa, and how these processes have reshaped the political and social structures of these societies.

George Balandier has identified three key areas in which African societies best express their uniqueness and their most significant responses to socio-political change:

  1. Cultural groupings and spaces: These spaces make it possible to identify the criteria based on which cultural links and exclusions are expressed. They reflect the values, beliefs and practices that define a given society. They can also help to understand how these societies perceive and interact with other cultures.
  2. Religions and religious innovations: These elements reveal the transformations in the African social and cultural universe, particularly the new configurations of politics. Religious beliefs and spiritual practices are often deeply rooted in African cultures, and changes or innovations in this area may reflect wider social and political transformations.
  3. Traditional political systems: These systems are often threatened by modernisation processes. They may be put under pressure or transformed by changes such as urbanisation, globalisation, or changing social and cultural norms. However, they can also adapt and evolve in response to these challenges, giving rise to new forms of governance or political relations.

Balandier therefore stressed the importance of understanding these three areas in order to fully grasp the dynamic and complex nature of African societies in the context of decolonisation and modernisation.

George Balandier observed that decolonisation processes often followed the model of the Western nation-state. Even after gaining their independence, many countries adopted political, economic and social structures similar to those of their former colonisers. This is often referred to as "Western-style modernisation". This model of Western modernisation involved, among other things, the adoption of democratic political systems, capitalist economic models and a clear separation between the public and private spheres. However, this transition has not always been easy or without conflict. In fact, in many cases it led to significant social and cultural upheaval. Moreover, Balandier emphasised that the cultural and social disintegration processes initiated by the Western colonial powers did not end with decolonisation. In other words, Western cultural, social and economic influences continued to have an impact on post-colonial societies, even after their formal independence. This has led to a complex situation in which post-colonial societies have had to navigate between preserving their own traditions and cultures and adapting to Western norms and structures. This tension between tradition and modernity is a central theme in Balandier's work and remains an important issue in many postcolonial societies today.

The notions of dependence, domination and submission[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The terms "dependence", "domination" and "submission" are key concepts in the social sciences, and are often used to analyse power relationships.

  • Dependency: Dependency is a state where one entity is conditioned or controlled by another. This can apply at various levels, such as individuals, social groups or countries. For example, in political economy, dependency theory analyses how developed and developing countries are unequally interconnected, where developing countries often depend on developed countries for their economic development.
  • Domination: Domination refers to exercising power or control over another entity. It can be expressed in a variety of ways, ranging from physical coercion to cultural or ideological influence. Domination can be explicit, as in a dictatorship, or more subtle, as in social structures favouring certain groups.
  • Submission: Submission refers to the acceptance of the authority or control of another entity. It is often a response to domination, and can be voluntary or forced. Submission may result from social, economic or political constraints, or may be linked to cultural beliefs or norms.

These concepts are often linked and can interact in complex ways. For example, dependence can lead to domination and submission, and vice versa. Moreover, these relationships are not fixed and can change over time as power dynamics evolve.

Dependence is specific to colonial situations[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The notion of dependence is often used to analyse post-colonial relations, which can maintain forms of domination despite the official end of colonialism. This is where the concept of neo-colonialism comes in. Neo-colonialism refers to the continuing influence of former colonial powers over their former colonies, even after the latter have achieved political independence.

This influence can take various forms, including economic, political and cultural. For example, former colonies may remain economically dependent on their former metropolises because of the structure of the global economy, which is often geared towards the interests of developed countries. Politically, former colonial powers may continue to exert influence through diplomacy, international aid or other mechanisms. Finally, culturally, the values and norms of the former colonial powers may remain predominant, for example through education, the media or language.

Dependency is therefore not simply a feature of colonial relations, but can also be perpetuated in post-colonial relations. It is important to note that these relationships are complex and can vary considerably from one context to another.

Domination produces dependency (material and spiritual)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Domination can produce both material and spiritual forms of dependence.

  • Material dependence is often economic and can result from another exploiting one country's natural resources, workforce or market. In many cases, this creates a relationship of dependence where the dominated country depends on the dominant country for its economy.
  • Spiritual dependence can manifest itself in many ways. For example, it could mean the adoption of the dominant country's beliefs, values, cultural norms or religious practices by the dominated country. It may result from a process of assimilation, cultural colonisation or the effect of soft power.

In both cases, these forms of dependence can limit the autonomy and sovereignty of the dominated country and can have lasting effects, even after the end of direct political domination, as may be the case after decolonisation. This is why it is essential to understand these dynamics when analysing international relations and development.

Modernity and contact with other cultures can bring about profound changes in existing cultures, through various processes:

  • Deculturation: This is a process in which a person or group loses their cultural values and references due to sudden contact with another culture. This can lead to losing the original culture and often to adopting the dominant culture. It is a process often associated with colonisation and forced assimilation.
  • Acculturation: This is a more dynamic process in which two different cultures mix and interact. It involves changes in the initial cultural patterns of one or both groups as a result of continuous and direct contact. It is a form of cultural cross-fertilisation where the two cultures influence each other.
  • Counter-acculturation: This is a reaction to acculturation. It is the process by which a society that has been acculturated mobilises to protect and assert its original cultural identity. This may involve a rejection of foreign cultural influences and an attempt to revitalise the original culture.

These processes demonstrate the complexity of cultural interactions and how they can influence cultural identities and power relations.

George Balandier used the concept of alienation to analyse the consequences of decolonisation. Alienation, in this context, is understood as a form of loss of self and culture as a result of the processes of deculturation and acculturation brought about by colonisation. In other words, individuals or societies can feel alienated when they lose their cultural values and references (deculturation) through intense and often imposed contact with another culture. This can lead to the adoption of elements of the dominant culture (acculturation), creating a mixture of the old and the new that can be destabilising. Alienation can also be associated with feelings of emancipation and dependence. Individuals may feel emancipated by adopting new ideas, values or ways of life. However, they may also feel dependent on the dominant culture for their identity and sense of worth. In the context of decolonisation, alienation can be a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon, reflecting tensions between the desire to preserve cultural traditions and the need to adapt and evolve in a constantly changing world.

The formation of the political field in modern African states depends on a dual process: on the one hand, the mobilisation of populations and the attempt to create a new identity, and on the other, the suffering inherent in the transition from a traditional to a modern society. From the Africanist perspective of the 1950s and 1960s, a period of great change, the political process is at the intersection of these two realities. In other words, political behaviour and political systems are the product of both acculturation and deculturation. It is a complex and sometimes difficult process, in which individuals and societies are constantly seeking a balance between maintaining their cultural traditions and adapting to the demands and values of modern society. Political leaders, in particular, face the difficult task of navigating these troubled waters, trying to meet their citizens' changing needs and expectations while respecting and preserving their cultural heritage.

Balandier argued that in this process of political transformation, we find both elements of rationality specific to Western politics and traditional elements that characterise this primitive governmentality. He pointed out that politics, particularly in the African context, is interesting because it strikes a balance between a rational vision, characteristic of the West, and a more traditional vision of African anthropology, with its rites, rituals and imaginary, sometimes even magical, world. This idea reflects the complexity and richness of African political systems, which are both rooted in deep cultural traditions and confronted with the need to adapt to the norms and structures of Western modernity. In this sense, politics in Africa is often a fascinating blend of the old and the new, the traditional and the modern.

The composite nature of modern African political systems derives from the coexistence of these traditional and modern elements. These systems carry within them the contradictions inherent in meeting these two realities, which may explain the difficulties encountered in constructing their national identity and territory. Building a national identity often involves striking a balance between preserving local traditions and adapting to modern political and social structures. As a result, these contradictions can sometimes translate into tensions or challenges in the process of nation-state formation. However, it is also important to note that this coexistence can be a source of richness and diversity, offering the possibility of a unique path towards modernity that respects and values local traditions and cultures.

The fields of modern political anthropology[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The ritualisation of politics[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The ritualisation of politics refers to the idea that political practices are often framed by rituals that give them symbolic meaning. These rituals can take many forms, from inauguration ceremonies to political speeches and parliamentary debates. They are important because they help to structure political action and legitimise power.

  1. Investiture rituals: These are ceremonies at which an individual is officially invested with a political role or function. For example, the presidential investiture ceremony is an important political ritual that symbolises the transfer of power.
  2. Legislative rituals: Parliamentary debates and votes are also framed by rituals that govern how legislators should behave and interact. These rituals help to maintain order and respect for democratic procedures.
  3. Rituals of commemoration: Commemorative ceremonies, such as Remembrance Day, are political rituals that allow a society to remember and pay tribute to important events or people from its past.
  4. Protest rituals: Protest movements often have their own rituals, such as marches or strikes, which help to unify the movement and draw attention to its cause.
  5. Speech rituals: Political speeches are often framed by rituals. For example, during a State of the Union address, the President of the United States is traditionally interrupted by applause at specific moments.

The ritualisation of politics is important because it helps to legitimise power. Political rituals reinforce leaders' authority and help maintain social cohesion by drawing on shared symbols and traditions. They can also be used to galvanise support for a cause or to criticise and challenge the powers that be.

Rituals in traditional or 'primitive' societies (a term that is used less and less in anthropology because of its pejorative connotations) play a crucial role in maintaining social order and community cohesion. Rituals are a way for these societies to make sense of their world, establish social norms and reinforce collective identity. The different types of ritual are all important in these societies.

  1. Fighting attrition: These rituals can include renewal rites designed to restore and reinvigorate the community's vital energy. They may be linked to natural cycles, such as the seasons, or to social events, such as the arrival of a new chief.
  2. Inducting a new chief: Induction rituals are essential to legitimise a new chief's position and facilitate the transition of power within the community.
  3. Expelling disease and natural disasters: These rituals may include purification or exorcism rites intended to drive evil or misfortune away from the community.
  4. Reinstalling mystical power: These rituals recognise and reinforce the sacred or supernatural power that is supposed to support the social and political order.
  5. Integrating the community through a memorial link: These rituals may include commemorative ceremonies or rites of passage, which help to forge a sense of shared identity and maintain the historical continuity of the community.

Repetition is a key feature of these rituals. Through regular repetition, they help to reinforce community norms and values, provide a sense of continuity and stability, and create a sense of belonging among community members.

Political rituals[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Rituals continue to play an essential role in modern societies, although the form they take may be very different from that in traditional societies. Here is a more detailed explanation of each function:

  1. Integration: Rituals help to integrate individuals into the community by creating a sense of cohesion and unity. They can help reinforce a sense of belonging to a group and build consensus around shared values and beliefs.
  2. Legitimisation: Rituals can help to legitimise the existing social and political order. For example, investiture ceremonies can be used to legitimise the position of a new leader or government.
  3. Hierarchisation: Rituals can help to reinforce and symbolise social hierarchy. For example, at a graduation ceremony, professors and administrators are often dressed in academic robes that symbolise their status and authority.
  4. Moralising: Rituals can help reinforce a community's moral and ethical standards. For example, at a wedding, the vows taken by the couple can reinforce standards of fidelity and commitment.
  5. Rituals can help to arouse strong emotions and create a sense of enthusiasm and excitement. For example, at a football match, the singing and cheering of supporters can help to create a sense of excitement and passion.

So while the specific forms of ritual may vary considerably from one society to another, their fundamental functions remain largely the same.

The staging of politics is a fundamental feature of modern democracy. It manifests in many forms, from carefully staged public speeches to inauguration ceremonies, parades and mass demonstrations. These political rituals play several important roles. Firstly, they provide an opportunity for political leaders to communicate directly with the public, convey their messages, and shape their public image. This may include articulating specific values and ideals, or demonstrating competence and authority. Secondly, political rituals can also help to strengthen community identity and cohesion. This can be done by celebrating shared values and traditions, or by creating a sense of solidarity and belonging among participants. Finally, political rituals can also serve to legitimise the existing political order. For example, an inauguration ceremony can be used to legitimise the transfer of power from one leader to another. In contrast, a military parade can be used to demonstrate the strength and stability of a regime. However, it is important to note that while political rituals can be used for these positive purposes, they can also be used in manipulative or coercive ways. For example, they can be used to promote controversial ideologies or policies, or to reinforce the power and control of an authoritarian leader.

Political discourse[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The speech is a central element of the political ritual. It is a powerful communication tool that enables political leaders to convey their ideas, values and visions to their audience. It also plays an important role in building the political identity of an individual or group, and in legitimising power. A well-crafted and well-delivered speech can effectively build public support, persuade listeners of the rightness of a particular position or policy, or generate support for a cause or movement. At the same time, speech can also be used to draw distinctions between different groups or ideologies or to criticise or challenge the positions or actions of opponents. Moreover, political discourse is not just a matter of content; the way it is delivered - tone, body language, choice of words, etc. - also plays a crucial role in the way in which a political message is perceived. - also plays a crucial role in how the audience perceives and interprets it. That's why the preparation and delivery of a speech are often carefully orchestrated to maximise their impact. The speech is an important part of the political ritual, providing political leaders with a means of communicating with their audience, shaping public opinion and legitimising their power.

Discourse analysis is a valuable tool in the social sciences and political studies for understanding power, integration and mobilisation processes. It enables us not only to understand what is being said explicitly, but also to explore the implied, the implicit and the underlying structures of thought. Discourse analysis can be carried out at different levels. For example:

  • Content analysis: This involves examining the themes and topics covered in the speech and those omitted. The aim is to understand the speaker's main concerns and messages he or she is trying to convey.
  • Language analysis: This involves taking a close look at the choice of words, metaphors, cultural or historical references, etc. This can reveal things about the speaker's values and beliefs. This can reveal things about the speaker's values, attitudes and assumptions.
  • Contextual analysis: This involves understanding the speech in its social, political and historical context. Who is the audience? What are the political issues at stake? What are the speaker's objectives?
  • Analysis of the effects: This involves understanding how the speech was received and interpreted, and what impact it may have had on public opinion, political decisions and so on.

Discourse analysis can help reveal the complexity of political and social processes, and understand how power is exercised through language.

In many political contexts, a politician's speech is often prepared by a team of speechwriters. These people work closely with the politician to ensure that the speech reflects his or her ideas and values, while being as convincing and effective as possible. It's a complex process that requires a deep understanding of politics, rhetoric and communication. The gap between the delivery of a speech and its production can pose challenges for speech analysis. For example, it can be difficult to determine to what extent the ideas expressed in the speech actually reflect the beliefs and intentions of the politician, and to what extent they are the product of a collective and strategic writing process. Furthermore, it is important to note that even if a team prepares the speech, how the politician delivers it - his tone, style, body language - can also have a significant impact on how it is received and interpreted by the audience. This is why speech analysis in politics requires a multifaceted approach, taking into account not only the content of the speech itself, but also the context in which it is produced and received.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Références[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  1. COLOMB, C. La découverte de l’Amérique, Vol. I Le journal de bord 1492-1493 ; Vol. II Relations de voyage 1493-1504, Paris, La Découverte, 1989.