If it is virtually nonexistent in the Muslim world, anthropology in the West is in a state of general theoretical stagnation. Alarmist titles such as "Crisis of British Anthropology" (Banaji 1970) and "The Future of Social Anthropology: Disintegration or Metamorphosis?" (Needham 1970) reflect this. Apart from extending or varying the classical theoretical themes, contemporary anthropology has produced no major recent work. In addition, an acute sense of crisis accentuated by real problems – the shrinking job market, disappearing "primitive" groups, the emergence of "native anthropologists" - troubles the discipline. In particular the confidence of Western anthropology appears to be shaken by the emergence of the "native anthropologist". A leading Western anthropologist of Columbia University notes, "Akbar Ahmed's critique (1976) is also launched, although in a different sense, from within, since he represents one of those specters that haunts the anthropologist, a native of the society being studied" (Vincent 1978:185). Following is a brief summary of the major theoretical framework of Western anthropology.
It may be said that the anthropologist's first task is descriptive. In any empirical inquiry, we must know what the facts are before we can analyze them. Although the distinction between description and analysis is indispensable, it can be misleading, especially in the social sciences. The difference is not simply between studies which imply abstraction and those which do not. Even the most minimal descriptions include abstractions, generally unanalysed and implicit. This is because descriptions tend to be in general terms, and general terms are the names of classes, that is, of abstractions, and not the names of things. Description does more than describe, it also explains. Theories are involved in even the simplest descriptions. Not only do they determine the kinds of facts which are selected for attention, but also they dictate the ways in which these facts shall be ordered and put together. The important question is not whether an account of a social institution (or of anything else) implies generalization and abstraction, for this it does. The critical questions are: What is the level of abstraction, and what are the kinds of theories involved? It is especially necessary to be explicit in social anthropology, for the social situations it deals with are often unfamiliar ones. Anthropologists have thus devised different models to explain society which combine theory and empirical inquiry.
Thus the American anthropologist, Robert Redfield, developed the idea of the "folk" culture, and the French social anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, has distinguished the "statistical model" (the analyst's representation of the system being described) from the "mechanical model", the same system as its participant members regard it.
Levi-Strauss's use of the term "statistical" is significant. "What actually happens" is susceptible to quantitative treatment in a way in which data of other kinds, such as beliefs and values, are not. Modem social anthropologists are required to do more than merely describe people's behavior qualitatively; they are also expected to support their assertions about what people do (or say they do) with some quantitative evidence. It is one thing to say, "such-and-such a people have the institution of bride wealth, whereby cattle and other goods pass from the bridegroom to the bride's family on marriage". It is quite another thing to say that "in 250 marriages, bride wealth was paid in 72 per cent of the sample". The latter statement really gives us "the facts". The main focus of inquiry remains the social structure of the group.
A. Social Structure
Until very recently most social anthropologists, especially in Britain, have stressed the analysis of social systems as systems of action, that is, in causal terms. The most celebrated contributions of the past half-century (derived through Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski from Durkheim and his predecessors) have been made at this level. The key which opened the door to the systematic understanding of the simpler, "primitive" societies was the organic analogy, which derived from French sociology. And the functioning of organisms, like the working of machines, makes sense without any reference to the states of mind of their constituent parts. Scholars on the Continent and in America, and a few social anthropologists in Britain, have throughout sustained an interest in people's thoughts and ideas, both on their own account and as effective elements in systems of action. The theoretical models most characteristic of modem social anthropology have been those which take societies as systems of action, and which either explicitly or implicitly invoke the organic analogy. It is only in the last few years that the study of social and cultural institutions as systems of meanings has become of primary concern.
On the "action" level, two different though associated kinds of questions can be asked about social institutions, both concerned with causes. The first relates to the problem of how things came to be as they are, and so is essentially historical. A certain existing state of affairs is better understood if it can be shown to have followed from some pre-existing state of affairs in accordance with principles of causation already familiar from other contexts. If it can be shown (as it very often cannot) that a certain social institution is as it is because of certain historical happenings, social anthropologists take (or should take) note of these happenings, provided that there is sufficient evidence for them. The happenings need not themselves be physical events on the "action" plane of social reality; we know that ideas and values may play an important part in history. The second relates to the anthropologist's understanding of the current working of social attitudes and relations. History is not only important for sociology as a chain of causes and effects running back into the past. It is also important as a body of contemporary beliefs about those events. Such beliefs may be potent forces in current social attitudes and relations, and as such they are plainly the social anthropologist's concern.
The two most celebrated protagonists of functionalism in British social anthropology have been Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown, and both of them claimed that their particular viewpoints provided a key to the understanding of societies and cultures as wholes, as well as to the understanding of particular institutions. Malinowski held that human society and culture are best understood as an assemblage of contrivances for satisfying the biological and psychological needs of the human organisms which make up the society. He found it necessary to supplement his list of needs with "derived" and "integrative" needs (not themselves strictly biological), but his central thesis was that anthropologists may best study human cultures as machines for satisfying men's organic needs.
Although the classification of human institutions in terms of the needs they serve (such as the provision of food, the propagation of the species, and the maintenance of physical security) provides convenient categories for fieldworkers to use, few if any anthropologists today find this approach satisfactory. Basic physical needs must be at least partly satisfied if human beings are to survive, and there can be no society without people. It is not illuminating to analyze social institutions solely in terms of such needs. Their satisfaction is a condition of the maintenance of any life, not only of social life, so they can hardly throw any distinctive light on the latter. The sociologist is interested in the conditions of living together, not merely of living. Since fundamental human needs are presumably much the same everywhere, differences between social and cultural institutions can never be explained by them. Every society has to provide for mating and reproduction, but if we want to know why some societies are monogamous and others polygamous, we shall have to seek our explanation in terms other than biological ones. Although Malinowski's contribution to modem social anthropology has been immense, his theoretical approach is not held in much regard today.
The second type of "total" functionalism, which Radcliffe-Brown derived largely from Durkheim, has been more influential. It asserts that the function of any social institution is the correspondence between it and some general need or, in Radcliffe-Brown's phrase, some "necessary condition of existence" of the society. Radcliffe-Brown wrote of society as if it were some kind of real existence, and he thought that the ultimate value for any society is its continued survival. This, so his argument goes, can only be achieved through the maintenance of social solidarity or cohesion between its members. They must tolerate, respect and cooperate with one another, to a sufficient degree. Social solidarity is the end to which social institutions must contribute, and this contribution is their function. Radcliffe-Brown does say that functionalism is a hypothesis, not a dogma; his thesis is that social institutions may contribute to the maintenance of the whole society. He does not claim that they must invariably do so. Thus in his first and most celebrated book, The Andaman Islanders, he gives a functional explanation of certain of the ritual institutions of this preliterate and technologically simple people. What he does is show that their rites express symbolically, and so help to sustain, certain social attitudes and values which are conducive to the smooth running of community life. Radcliffe-Brown thought of social function in the context of what he sometimes called "the total social system", and he asserted that functional unity is achieved when "all parts of the social system work together with a sufficient degree of harmony or internal consistency; that is without producing persistent conflicts which can neither be resolved nor regulated."
The first thing to observe is how heavily this formulation depends on the organic analogy; it seems to imply that a "total social system" is an empirical entity to which definite attributes can be ascribed. Radcliffe-Brown is still tacitly assuming that a society is something very like an organism, although this view seems no longer tenable. In recent years, it has become clear that the "holistic" view of society that it implies is of little value in actual research. How, for example, could the lack of "a sufficient degree of harmony" be proved except by the physical destruction of the whole community? In any case "society" is not something given in experience. It is an intellectual construct or model, built up on the basis of experience, but ~:oitt self a datum. Society is a way of ordering experience, a working and for certain purposes indispensable hypothesis. If we impute substantial reality to it, we saddle ourselves with an entity which is more embarrassing than useful.
A functional explanation which refers to society or societies as existent wholes, has little practical value for social anthropologists. On the other hand the sociological functionalism of the 20's and 30's has added greatly to our knowledge by showing how social institutions may be interdependent with other institutions and how they "fit together" in various institutional complexes, such as political, economic, or ritual systems.
The organic analogy has led to error in one further respect. It implies not only that societies are empirically given systems, but also that they are harmoniously integrated ones, or should be if they are "healthy". These systems are then thought of as being in a state of equilibrium or "homeostasis" by a set of smoothly interacting and somehow self-adjusting social institutions.
To summarize, the notions of social function and social structure have been the most important forces in British social anthropology during the past half-century. By the study of social function, anthropologists have generally meant the study of the causal implications of social institutions for other social institutions and systems of institutions in the same society. By the study of social structure they have generally meant the definition of those enduring aspects of social institutions which have appeared to be most important in terms of their interest in them. Modem British social anthropology has sometimes been identified with what has been called the "structural-functional approach". Although there is much more to British social anthropology than this, these concepts have provided the operational framework for many field studies of high quality.
The structural-functional model derives much of its effectiveness from the analogy with organic systems, which can be regarded as complex wholes whose parts work together to ensure the harmonious functioning of the whole system. Though the analogy has proved useful, it has serious limitations when applied to communities of human beings, who differ from the mindless components of natural or mechanical systems in being themselves conscious, willing agents sharing with the social scientists who study them the power of conceptual thinking, representing their social and material universe to themselves, and acting in accordance with these representations. The structural-functional approach sometimes took insufficient account of this fact, although its practitioners have recognized that people's ideas may be causally effective. If a human community is regarded primarily in its dimension as a system of action rather than as a system of ideas and symbols, then the distinction between the analytical system and the "folk" system is unlikely to command much attention, any more than it does in the study of other causal systems, like biological or mechanical ones.
It may be said that despite the great advances in our understanding of the working of small-scale societies as revealed by the development of functional and structural theory, this development has tended to distract attention from the equally important problem of how to understand other peoples' systems of beliefs and values. Systems of beliefs and values were of interest to anthropologists long before the intensive development of structural-functional theory, but it is only quite recently that the interests of a significant number of British anthropologists have returned to them.
There has been a tendency to regard ideas and values as "cultural" data, and for many years "culture" has been regarded at best as a peripheral interest of structurally oriented social anthropologists. It is now more generally recognized that the social anthropologist is directly and legitimately concerned with both dimensions.
A larger argument envelops and partly overlaps these schools. I refer to Marxist anthropology. Anthropologists calling themselves Marxist employ traditional Marxist tools to analyze social structure, organization and relationships. Tala1 Asad's analysis of the Swat Pukhtuns, for example, is a straightforward and successful class analysis1 (Asad 1972). The usefulness of Marxist theory is somewhat curtailed in the overenthusiasm of Marxist scholars wishing to apply their theoretical framework irrespective of ecology or ethnography. For instance Marxist analyses of segmentary societies living in low production zones (Rey 1975, Terray 1972, 1975 a and b) remain unsatisfactory and have been termed by Godelier, himself a Marxist, "vulgar Marxisms" (Godelier 1977).
B. Kinship and Political Organization
According to the dictionary, kinship has to do with relationships by blood, or consanguinity, whereas affinity has to do with relationships brought about by marriage. In social anthropology the two topics are very closely connected. All cultures distinguish various categories of kin and affines, and these categories with their associated patterns of rights and obligations make up what social anthropologists call kinship systems. In some societies every individual is, or thinks he is, related by kinship or affinity to everyone else. In others, including most Western societies, a man's kin and affines are limited for practical purposes to a few close relatives. In every society, however, some relationships of kinship and affinity are culturally recognized.
Social anthropologists are accused of concerning themselves overmuch with the refinements and complexities of kinship terminologies, of indulging in what Malinowski called "kinship algebra", and there are good reasons for this concern. Very few of the interpersonal relationships which make up a Western European's social world are kinship ones. Kinship plays little or no part in his relations with his friends, his employers, his teachers, his colleagues, or in the complex network of political, economic and religious associations in which he is involved. But in many smaller-scale societies, kinship's social importance is paramount. Where a person lives, his group and community membership, whom he should obey and by whom be obeyed, who his friends are and who his enemies are, whom he may and may not marry, from whom he may hope to inherit and to whom pass on his own status and property - all these matters and many more may be determined by his status in a kinship system. Where everyone is or thinks of himself as being related to nearly everyone else, almost all social relationships must be kinship or affinal ones too. Even in societies where kinship is less pervasive, it usually plays a much more important part than it does in modern urban and industrialised Western societies.
Why is kinship so important in small-scale societies? The short answer is that in all human communities, even the most technologically simple ones, the basic categories of biological relationship are available as a means of identifying and ordering social relations. This is true even though some of these categories may be differently defined in different cultures.
Everywhere people are begotten of men and born of women, and in most societies the fact of parenthood and the bonds of mutual dependency and support that it implies are acknowledged. It also leads to the recognition of other links, such as those between siblings (children of the same parents), and between grandparents and their grandchildren. Even in the simplest societies, kinship provides some ready-made categories for distinguishing between the people one is born among, and ordering one's relations with them. Apart from sex and age, which are also of prime social importance, there is no other way of classifying people which is so "built-in" to the human condition.
From a biological point of view not only human beings but all animals have "kinship". The vital point is that, unlike other animals, human beings consciously and explicitly use the categories of kinship to define social relationships. When an anthropologist speaks of a parent-child relationship, or of the relationship between cross-cousins (the children of a brother and a sister), he is not primarily concerned with the biological connections between these kinds of kin, although he recognizes the existence of such relations. What he is concerned with are the social relationships between kin and the fact that in the culture being studied, kinship involves distinct types of social behaviour, and particular patterns of expectations, beliefs and values. Kinship is especially relevant in tribal society.
Radcliffe-Brown's formulation, based on the classical definitions used by Max Weber and others, is more useful, though we shall see that it is not quite adequate either. In the Preface to African Political Systems he wrote that political organization is concerned with "the maintenance or establishment of social order, within a territorial framework, by the organised exercise of coercive authority through the use, or the possibility of use, of physical force." This definition employs two different criteria. First, reference is made to the end to which political activity is directed, and regulation and control of the social order within a certain territory. And secondly, the means whereby this is achieved is brought in, the organized exercise of authority backed by force. Social anthropologists can make good use of the first of these criteria. For some degree of social order is attained in every society, and social anthropologists are interested in finding out how this is done. They are concerned in identifying and analyzing the social institutions through which order is maintained on a territorial or tribal basis and through which relationships with other territorial or tribal groups are created and maintained. It is not disconcerting that some institutions, like the blood feud in certain societies, are not what we ordinarily think of as "political". Our interest is in the realities of social life, not primarily in the names we use to identify these realities. We do, however, have to use words with care, lest the reality be obscured. When we are discussing political phenomena in small-scale societies, there is much to be said for speaking of the political aspect of certain social institutions, rather than of specifically political institutions. Often institutions which have political importance are socially significant in a number of other contexts as well.
The second of Radcliffe-Brown's criteria, the organized exercise of authority backed by force, leads to difficulty when it is applied to some of the societies which anthropologists study. Anthropologists can certainly speak of authority and force when they are considering centralised states like those with which most of us are familiar in the Western world, with their kings, parliaments, courts, judges and police forces. Many of the smaller-scale societies are of this type, though usually their political organisation is less elaborate. But some of them are not. In such tribes as the Nuer, or the Tallensi of northern Ghana, there are (or were) no specialised political functionaries, and there is no organised structure of authority backed by physical force. (This is not to say that physical force is not exercised in such societies.) Nonetheless, these societies do possess order and structural continuity; they may even be shown to have a political structure. The fact that political authority may be widely diffused, for example, among grades of elders or lineage heads, and that it may be backed by religious or magical sanctions rather than by organised physical force, does not mean that such authority is lacking, though it may be relatively unspecialised and very hard to identify.
Even where no political authorities at all can be found, as in some segmentary societies, the ends, which I have defined as political, may be brought about through the interplay of other institutions not overtly political. We shall see later how this happens. Here, as elsewhere, the classical conceptual apparatus of Western culture does not quite fit much of the unfamiliar social material.
To the question, how political order is thought of and maintained (so far as it is maintained) in segmentary, lineage-based societies where there are no political authorities to make and enforce political decisions, there is no short and simple answer. The maintenance of some degree of territorial order is a function of several different social institutions. Where lineal descent provides the principle upon which corporate local groups are established, it provides also the idiom through which inter-group, even inter-tribal, relations operate, as we saw in the case of the blood feud. Where, as among the Nuer, lineal membership or nonmembership is a relevant aspect of practically all social relationships, then lineal attachments and loyalties provide a framework for territorial relations also, and territorial grouping and lineal structure tend to show a rough-and-ready correlation. Even where other factors besides lineal membership play a significant part in many social situations, as among the Tallensi, the lineal organisation is still of great importance. Once again, the matter is very much one of degree. The question is not so much whether such and such people "have" lineages. The important questions are these: What kind of social and political importance, if any, does lineal descent have in the society concerned? If groups are formed on this basis, how large are they and of how many generations do they take account? What patterns of social behavior and value are associated with membership in these groups?
The role of lineal descent as an organizational principle varies widely in different societies but it is generally agreed that there are certain broad categories of rights and obligations which attach to and are transmitted by descent. In many societies these broad categories relate to jural, social, and political status in the widest sense, and are applicable by definition to those groups who have a place on the genealogical charter. Although segmentary societies possess unusual diffusion of power and tendency to egalitarianism among collaterals, the democracy is structural rather than ideological and there are no political theories or written principles to support it. Lineal descent and the accompanying social behaviour implies and imposes through the social Code, acts as an indicator distinguishing those on the genealogical charter from those not on it. There is thus an exaggerated social awareness of lineal descent in many societies. Ideally identical segments are arranged symmetrically on the genealogical chart and the ascendant or descendant levels structurally reflect one another. Segmentary structure and the principle of lineal descent pervade the whole system and contribute to social cohesion. The political superstructure of segmentary tribes tracing descent from a common apical ancestor is an extension of this segmentary lineal organisation. The descent chart defines a hierarchy of homologous groups which can direct fusion or fission of social and political interests within a merging or diverging series of such groups. Ideally such tribal genealogy "is a conceptualisation of a hierarchy of ordered territorial segments" (Peters, 1960:31). In such societies at every level, a high degree of consistency between ecological divisions and genealogical divisions is apparent.
When we turn to consider "centralized" societies, we are faced with similar problems of identification and of degree. As Lucy Mair has recently pointed out, we cannot simply divide societies into those which have chiefs and those which don't. If we could, the classification of small-scale political systems would be much simpler. Two factors contribute to the difficulty of classification. The first is that lineal organization may still be of major political importance even in societies which have a titular head or king, and which may therefore be characterised as centralized. If, for example, the segmentary Nuer were to acknowledge one man, or one lineage, as ritually pre-eminent, while retaining their present segmentary social organization, should we say that they had a centralised political system? We would, rightly, hesitate to do so, and yet a common loyalty to a central head, however tenuous and however restricted the authority allotted to him, certainly has political implications. When we are considering so-called centralised societies, we have to look very closely at the nature and scope of the political authority (if there is any), which is centralised in such societies.
The second, more taxonomic factor was touched on earlier. It is that there are many societies or social aggregates, possessing a common language and culture and more or less conscious of their tribal identity, which have no central head, but which consist of congeries of small, relatively independent units. These units may be based neither on lineal kin groups nor on age sets.
They may themselves be politically centralised statelets or chiefdoms, each centered on its own chief and politically independent of all the others. The important Sukuma and Nyamwezi peoples of Tanzania form such groups. Whether we regard them as centralised or as segmentary societies depends upon whether we regard them from the point of view of their component units, or from the point of view of the whole social aggregate. On the whole it is most useful to speak of such societies as centralised, for unlike the strictly segmentary societies discussed in the first part of this section, their members do look to an individual head. His significance may be either ritual, or political, or both, but his primacy is acknowledged over a wider social field than family or village. We shall do well to bear in mind, first, that centralisation is very much a matter of degree, and of the point of view from which the social situation is regarded, and second, that centralisation, however we define it, is only one of a number of criteria which it is useful to employ in classifying small-scale social systems.
Even though kings of this kind lack political authority, they are usually regarded with veneration, even awe. Often such a king is symbolically identified with his whole country, and it is believed that any physical injury to him must damage the country as a whole. So he has to maintain full physical vigor for as long as he reigns. If he begins to fail, it is believed that he may be (or may have been in the past) secretly killed by his wives or ministers, so that the country he reigns over shall not share in his decline.
Frazer's well-known account of divine kingship refers to this symbolic kind of king. The point is not that the king is actually thought of as specially near to God or the gods and so may intercede with them on his people's behalf (though this too is sometimes the case). It is rather that he is seen as somehow above and different from ordinary people, for in a sense he not only represents but is the whole country. So he is thought to possess a unique prestige and virtue.
The classical example of such a king is the Reth of the Shilluk of the Upper Nile, of whom Evans-Pritchard has written that he "reigns but does not govern". The Shilluk people are organised in agnatic lineages similar in many respects to those of the Nuer, and order is maintained through "selfhelp" rather than by means of any kind of centralised administration. Even though his political role is minimal or even non-existent, the king in societies of this kind still has political importance, as he is a visible expression of the unity of the people he reigns over, and their identification with him distinguishes them from other neighboring peoples. It may also happen, as indeed it has happened in the case of the Shilluk, that a kingship whose primary function is symbolic, and which is traditionally associated with little or no political power, may become invested with such power in consequence of social change and the impact of foreign rule. For example, the availability of guns may enable a particular individual (and so his whole line if his office is hereditary) to establish a political as opposed to a merely ritual dominance, for which there is no traditional warrant. Also, an imposed European administration may unknowingly endow, with the power to make political decisions, persons who had formerly no right to do so.
In conclusion, African Political Systems (Fortes and Evans-Pritchard, 1970) distinguishes three types of tribal social organisation: the Bushmen, where political relations equal kin relations (ibid: 6-7); the second type, called Group A, are unitary states with kings or paramount chiefs ruling centralised states with societies that are ranked; the third type, Group B, are segmentary lineage systems, characterized by: (1) Segmentation of tribal groups; (2) Lineal descent from a common eponymous ancestor (Patrilineal descent is of primary importance as against matrilineal descent in other societies), (Leach, 1971b); (3) Monadism wherein "the small group is the embryo tribe, and the tribe is the smaller group writ large" (Gellner, 1969:48); and finally, (4) Egalitarianism or an acephalous form of political organisation. To these categories of tribal systems may be added another classification, that of the "segmentary state" (Southall, 1953).
C. Beliefs, Magic and Religion
Social anthropologists have always had to take some account of the beliefs and values of the peoples they study. Although functional theory has tended to distract attention from this field, it has greatly advanced our understanding of other people's ways of thought. It has done so mainly because of its emphasis on fieldwork. This understanding implies reference to what people think, as no human social institutions or relationships can be adequately understood unless account is taken of the expectations, beliefs and values which they involve. Nevertheless, with a few notable exceptions, systematic field studies of people's modes of thought, their values and beliefs, have only recently begun to be made.
For the earlier anthropologists, problems about the modes of thought of so-called "primitives" scarcely arose with any complexity. It was easy for the Victorians to assume that such thinking as primitives did was simple and "childish" (one of their favorite adjectives), an inferior version of their own. The intensive fieldwork which was to provide an intimate understanding of "simpler" people's way of life and thought, and so to demonstrate the superficiality and inadequacy of such views, had not begun.
In France, in the early years of this century, the famous sociologist, Emile Durkheim, founded a school of social anthropologists which was called the Annee Sociologique group, after the journal they founded. These writers devoted much attention to the study of the ideas, their repeksentations collectives, which so-called "primitive" peoples held about themselves and about the world around them. Like their predecessors, these scholars did little or no fieldwork, so they were dependent for their information mostly on the reports of travelers and missionaries, which varied a good deal in quality.
I want to stress that it was only with the development of intensive fieldwork that the subtlety, complexity and, often, profundity of the ways of thought of preliterate or only recently literate peoples began to be at all adequately understood. As soon as anthropologists began to live for periods of months and even years among the people they studied, communicating with them in their own tongue and sharing in their daily activities, it began to become plain that the old Western stereotypes about primitive modes of thought were quite inadequate, and often misleading. A landmark in the growth of this recognition is Evans-Pritchard's Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (1937). In this study the beliefs of this highly intelligent people of the southern Sudan are shown, not as a set of weird and irrational delusions about occult forces, but rather as embodying a mode of adjustment to the strains and frustrations of everyday life, which in the whole context of Zande culture is eminently practical and sensible. The Zande system of beliefs, and others like it, provide both an explanation of misfortune (Why did this have to happen to me?) and a way of dealing with it. In a pre-scientific culture there may be no other means of coping with such situations.
Let me briefly refer to Radcliffe-Brown's theory of ritual. His argument states that one of the functions of ritual is to express and so to reinforce certain sentiments or value adherance to which the smooth running of the society depends. The important truth which this view contains is now plain.
Ritual, magic, and taboo, are essentially symbolic and so expressive, and they are often thought to be instrumental as well. Certainly they may have important social consequences for the people who have them. The difficulty with Radcliffe-Brown's account of ritual, is that it is too general to be of much practical use in investigating real human cultures. To say, as he does, that the communal performance of ritual may express, and so sustain, values which contribute to the maintenance of social solidarity may be true. But it is not always so. Communal ritual may be divisive as well as cohesive, and notions other than social solidarity may be symbolically expressed by it.
Some of the rites involved in sorcery, for example, can hardly be said to sustain patterns of behaviour which are conducive to social cohesion. Further, Radcliffe-Brown's hypothesis, as he states it, affords no room for testing. Social cohesion itself is taken to be exhibited by the communal performances which are supposed to sustain it. There is circularity in the argument that dancing together contributes to the kind of situation in which people like to dance together. The thesis could only be disproved by finding a society which failed to carry out the necessary ritual and therefore perished. To Radcliffe-Brown's great merit, however (following Durkheim), he made the point that ritual is an essentially expressive activity, and that it can and does have important social implications. Society is the indispensable condition of human life as we know it, and in worshipping God man is really worshipping his own social system. Durkheim's theory of religion has been subjected to a good deal of criticism. It is rather less naive than it appears to be, when we realise (and Durkheim sometimes failed to make this clear) that society is not a "thing", but rather a system of relationships, in some sense a construct. Social relationships, involving beliefs, expectations, and values as well as human interactions in space and time, are not "given" empirically, in the same sense that the data of the natural sciences are. It is one thing to say that totemism, or religion, means that a man worships the actual group of people of which he is a member. It is quite a different thing to say that what he is revering is a complex system of moral imperatives, of rights and obligations, the observance of which is a condition of ordered social life. It was the latter that Durkheim meant, not the former, though sometimes he was less than clear on this point. What he did was to raise to the level of a sociological principle, the Christian maxim that all men are members one of another.
Most modern students of religion would hold, as against Durkheim, that religious belief and practice are more than merely a system of social and moral symbolism. Group symbolism can be very important, in secular as well as in religious contexts, and it was to Durkheim's great merit that he pointed this out.
As a theory of totemism, it is not quite adequate, although it makes the important point that totems, like flags and old school ties in Western societies, are symbols of group unity. It is worth mentioning in passing what the great psychologist, Sigmund Freud, contributed to the study of totemism. Like Durkheim, he based his hypothesis on the Australian material. He surmised that the origin of the institution lay in the Oedipus complex, which he held to be universal. In the primeval family, he said, the sons covet their father's wives, and in order to acquire them they kill and eat their father. Afterwards they are smitten with remorse, and the totemic feast (which occurred in Australia but is found nowhere else) is really a symbolic re-enacting of that first patricidal crime. Freud does not make clear at what point in human history he thinks that this happened, or whether it happened only once or on many occasions. His theory is not taken seriously by social anthropologists, who in any case are not greatly interested in the undiscoverable origins of human institutions. What Freud does is to translate what is undoubtedly a scientific insight of profound importance (at least in Western cultures) from psychological into socio-historical terms.
But, this turns it into an undemonstrable and therefore valueless hypothesis, significant only as a mythical expression of psycho-analytic values (Freud 1950). The term totemism covers a multitude of phenomena. As it is generally used, however, it refers to situations where each one of a number of discrete social groups into which a society is divided maintains a particular regard - though not necessarily one of worship or reverence-for a particular object in the natural or cultural spheres.
This leads to a final point. What is symbolised in religious behavior? Durkheim said that in totemism (for him the elementary form of religion) society is worshipping itself, or to put it more sophisticatedly, men are asserting and so reinforcing the importance of the system of mutual interdependencies which constitute society. Radcliffe-Brown argued that ritual expresses symbolically certain sentiments or values, upon the acceptance of which the smooth running of society itself depends. This view is essentially a restatement of Durkheim's position, and like it, it obscures the important fact that conflict and opposition may be important components of social systems as well as harmony, and may also become focuses of ritual. Radcliffe-Brown argued also that ritual sometimes expresses more than man's need of society, it expresses his fundamental dependence on the natural world which he occupies and of which he is a part.
We have seen that much ritual and religious behavior translates uncontrollable natural forces into symbolic entities which, through the performance of ritual, can be manipulated and dealt with. Ritual is a language for saying things which are felt to be true and important but which are not susceptible to statement in scientific terms. Even if sophisticated modern man is less inclined to attach instrumental efficacy to the symbols which he has created to express his apprehension of the universe and of its ultimate meaning, he still feels the need to express this awareness. In the areas beyond science, there is no way of expressing it except symbolically.
To say that religious symbols are man-made is not to decry the validity of religion, for ritual is a statement about something, not just about itself. But the comparative study of the religious beliefs and practices of other cultures may suggest that in religion, no less than in other forms of symbolic behavior, reality is misrepresented if the symbol, and not the often indefinable thing that it symbolises, is taken to be the ultimate truth.
D. Economic Anthropology
This section may be introduced by briefly mentioning the two main theoretical positions in economic anthropology, Substantivist versus Formalist. Polanyi (1968b:122) sums up the respective positions thus: The Substantivist economic approach (1) derives from fact, (2) implies neither choice nor insufficiency of means, (3) implies power of gravity, and (4) laws of nature (Bohannan, P. 1959; Bohannan, P. and L., 1968; Bohannan and Dalton, 1962; Dalton, 1961,1962,1965,1967,1968,1969; Meillasoux, 1964, 1972; Polanyi, 1944,1966, 1968 a and b; Polanyi et al., 1957; Sahlins, 1968, 1969). The Formalist approach (1) derives from logic, (2) has sets of rules referring to choices between alternative uses of insufficient means, (3) has the power of syllogism, and (4) derives from the laws of the mind (Burling, 1962; Cancian, 1966; Deane, 1953, Epstein, 1962; Firth, 1964,1966,1970; Hill, 1963, 1965; LeClair, 1962; Salisbury, 1962). The title of Cancian's paper "Maximisation as Norm, Strategy and Theory" (1966) clearly states the Formalist position. Volumes containing both viewpoints are standard academic fare (Firth, 1970; LeClair and Schneider 1968).
Without wishing to become involved in a Substantivist versus Formalist debate in economic anthropology on which there is a flourishing and sophisticated literature, few anthropologists or economists would deny that there exists the closest possible relationship between social groups and their economic environment and those activities which determine social organisation in society.
The study of the economics of simpler societies falls into two main divisions, and I deal with these separately. First, there is the question how people manage to extract the physical necessities of life from their environment; here we are concerned with the means by which resources are exploited and the kinds of social activities involved in production. Second, there is the question, What is done with the goods after they are produced? In the end, of course, they are (mostly) consumed, but often quite complex mechanisms of distribution and exchange are involved, and not all of these can be understood simply in economic terms.
A first and most essential requirement for any human community is to feed itself, and in some of the very simple societies this is everybody's main preoccupation from childhood to death. It is a truism that everything we eat, whether animal, vegetable or (occasionally) mineral, comes either directly or indirectly from the earth. This is much less obvious to the modern man who lives in a world of processed foods and supermarkets, than it is to a member of a peasant community, living at or near a bare subsistence level.
As well as food, the environment also produces shelter, clothing and essential tools. Anthropologists have usually distinguished three main methods by which these necessities have been secured, and in the eighteenth century and later it was usual to rank the communities which practised them in an evolutionary order of "progress". The very simplest communities subsist entirely by, as it were, raiding the environment; these are the hunters, collectors, and sometimes fishermen. They obtain their livelihood, often with remarkable ingenuity, by gathering wild fruit, roots and so on in season, and by hunting and trapping. The Eskimo are such a people, and have achieved a remarkable command over a very harsh environment. Tropical forest peoples like the pygmies of equatorial Africa and South East Asia have a far simpler technology, and a less rigorous environment to cope with. Dwellers in arid regions like the territory of the South African bushmen and the Australian aborigines have developed delicate adjustments to their sparse environment. In consequence material goods are few and easily portable, and often there is no tribal organisation over and above the level of the small family groups which compose the effective economic units. It is natural that in such conditions the very highest value is usually attached to the solidarity of these small groups, for every one is dependent on the support and cooperation of his fellows.
At some time in the unrecorded past, men began to domesticate wild animals. With the domestication of such important species as cattle, goats and sheep it became possible for human communities to sustain life on the produce of their flocks and herds. Though many societies, including the most "advanced", have a mixed pastoral and agricultural economy, the emphasis differs widely from society to society, and there are still many people who subsist wholly, or almost wholly, on their herds. Some nomadic peoples of the Asian steppe fall, or fell, into this category, as do the Nilo-Hamitic Masai of East Africa. Traditionally the Masai lived exclusively on the meat, milk, and blood provided by their cattle; they rejected vegetable foods and despised those who dug the earth to produce them. This way of life also imposes certain restrictions on those who practice it. They must have adequate supplies of grazing and water for their stock, and often this means that they cannot stay for very long in the same place.
Sometimes they are transhumant, which means that they make seasonal movements from their base in search of water and grass. Sometimes they are strictly nomadic, that is, they are forever on the move to new pastures. A pastoral way of life also imposes limits on possible population density; a herding population is more thinly scattered on the ground (though usually not so thinly as hunters and collectors), and this precludes intensive or highly centralized administration. It is often said of pastoral people that they are independent and resentful of authority. It is easy to see why this should be so. It is easy to see, too, why their social systems are so often adapted to raiding and warfare. Unlike some other forms of property, livestock are easily stolen and transported, and raiding is a common diversion in many such societies.
Agriculture makes possible a more settled way of life. Although in many parts of the world cultivation is of the shifting "slash and burn" type, whereby new ground is cleared for planting every few years and old gardens allowed to revert to bush, this mode of subsistence does permit long residence in the same area. It also entails a different attitude toward land from that commonly held by hunters and herders. Whatever the system of land holding, cultivators, as individuals, families, or lineages have a very specific, if rarely exclusive, concern with the plots of land they cultivate and from which they hope to harvest. This is not the place to discuss the growth of the first great civilisations that originated with the early cultivators in the great river valleys of the Middle East and elsewhere. Certain consequences of an agricultural way of life should be noted. First, the greater population density possible, combined with the relative stability of agricultural populations, enables the establishment of wider-scale political units than family or clan. In some fertile areas such as West Africa (to say nothing of the early riverine civilisations), agriculture has also made possible urban concentrations of considerable size, with all the administrative complexity that this implies. Another consequence of the adoption of agriculture has been the emergence of a leisured class and, often, of some form of aristocracy. With good growing conditions and suitable crops, a cultivator, unlike a hunter or a herder, need not give all his time to food production. Also, a surplus may be produced which can be used to feed noncultivators, who may thus be freed for other forms of productive activity.
This type of analysis was first systematically undertaken by Durkheim in his famous book The Division of Labour. Characteristically, his primary concern was sociological rather than economic. He wanted to know just what were the forces which bind men together into communities; what were the bonds of social cohesion? He concluded that social cohesion could be sustained in two ways. The first is through what he called mechanical solidarity. This is a state of affairs in which all or most of the members of the cooperating group, be they hunters, herders, cultivators or something else, carry out the same kinds of tasks. Thus conformity to a common set of rules is the paramount value, and Durkheim thought that this conformity was achieved through the fear of punishment, either secular or supernatural. As we saw in the last chapter, Malinowski showed the inadequacy of this model if it be taken to represent the way in which any "primitive" society actually lives. In contrast to this kind of solidarity Durkheim proposed as a later and more civilised type of cooperation, what he called organic solidarity. Here the bounds lie not in conformity to rules (though of course there are rules and conformity is required), but rather in individual group specialisation, so that some people produce some kinds of goods or services, and other people other kinds. These are then reciprocally exchanged, so that, like the constituent members of an organism, every man is dependent on the activity of other men, their joint activities contributing to the smooth running of the whole community. Durkheim thought that in such a system, repressive sanctions tend to be replaced by restitutive ones; the fulfilment of contractual obligations and not conformity to rules is the cement which binds society together.
Polanyi (1968b) made his major contribution to economic anthropology by distinguishing three main categories of economic relationships in society: reciprocity, redistribution, and exchange. Reciprocity denotes movements between correlative points and symmetrical groupings, redistribution designates movements towards the center and out of it again, and exchange refers to vice versa movements taking place under a market system. Sahlins further analysed reciprocity (Sahlins, 1969). Although this theoretical categorisation of economic relationships within tribal structure is an interesting starting point for a discussion on economic interaction within tribal groups, I cannot sustain it with my own data. In its simple form reciprocity is a "between" relationship, the action and response of two parties, whereas redistribution is a "within" relationship, .the collective action of a group with a defined socio-center where goods are concentrated and thence flow outward. "Redistribution is chieftainship said in economics" (Sahlins, 1968:95).
In this section I have attempted to illustrate the close relationship between forms of social organisation and economic environment. But society is rarely static. Let us turn to a discussion of the processes of social change.
E. Processes of Social Change
Change is taking place in all human societies all the time. Sometimes it is sudden and catastrophic, as when a system of government is destroyed by revolution and replaced by a radically different ruling system. Sometimes it is so gradual and imperceptible that even the members of the society themselves scarcely notice it. But, it is always there, and social anthropologists who wish to understand the working of the societies they study must take account of it. Here they must be the historian. Changes take place in time, and they can only be understood as causal sequences of events leading to new states of affairs. These new states of affairs are "the present", and that is what the social anthropologist is trying to understand. He is a historian, but only in a particular context and for a particular purpose.
Social change cannot be studied as though it were a separate social field, indistinguishable from the other topics which have been discussed in the preceding sections. The student of change is concerned with all aspects of inquiry. He can no more study "social" change in general than he can study "society" in general. His data are specific social and cultural institutions, and he has to study the modifications of these through time, in the context of co-existing social, cultural and, sometimes, ecological factors. One might wonder whether such study will reveal any general laws of social change, though certain trends, characteristic of certain conditions, times and places, may be detected. One such is considered below. For it is now evident that changes in people's social and cultural institutions through time are not to be understood in terms of any single "blanket" principle. A multiplicity of social processes is involved, and these often operate concurrently. One of these is conflict within society.
Though there is conflict in all societies, it may differ considerably in kind and degree. It is a sadly common observation of anthropologists (and others) that under the stress of culture contact many of the societies have ceased to function as they once did, and in some cases have broken down altogether. Sometimes social systems, even people, have been totally or almost destroyed. The Tasmanian aborigines, the Tierra del Fuegians, and the North American Indians are examples. Often the damage has been more subtle, though hardly less radical. The functional, organic model seemed plausible enough when it was applied to those small-scale societies which were virtually unaffected by outside contact, and which had apparently not changed significantly in generations. However, when increasing contact with the West brought radical social change and new and more disruptive social conflicts, and when the more intensive fieldwork of modem times disclosed these changes and conflicts, then this approach, by itself, became plainly inadequate. There was no use plastering up the cracks in institutional functionalism with concepts like dysfunction (a notion better expressed by Durkheim in his concept of anomie or "lawlessness"; a state of affairs in which hitherto accepted and acceptable standards are no longer meaningful). The functional model still implied the untenable assumption that there was an ideally harmonious, "functional" state of society, and that this had somehow been breached.
Social anthropologists have increasingly concerned themselves with situations of conflict and social stress, and they have done so mostly in the context of culture contact. But "conflict" is a vague term. Two problems, in particular, arise. We must ask, first, What are the things that are supposed to be in conflict and second, What kind or degree of conflict is it that concerns us?
Anthropologists have accordingly distinguished between two kinds of social conflict, and so between two kinds of social change. First there are those conflicts and changes which are provided for in the existing social structure. The Nuer blood feud, or the succession struggles which occur in many states when the king dies, are examples of these. Obviously changes in personnel are a feature of every society, as all people grow old, die, and are replaced by others. But so long as the roles themselves continue more or less unchanged, these conflicts and replacements do not affect the structure of the social system itself. They operate within its existing framework, are resolvable in terms of shared systems of values, and offer no challenge to the existing institutions.
The second kind of change is more radical. It is change in the character of the social system itself: some of its constituent institutions are altered, so that they no longer "mesh" with other co-existing institutions as they once did. This is structural or "radical" change, and the conflicts to which it gives rise are not resolvable in terms of the existing values of the society.
Structural changes engender new kinds of conflicts, and tradition provides neither precedents nor cures for them. They are especially disturbing, and involve confusion and strain. If the social system is to persist, sooner or later further radical modifications will have to be made in it, and so the society will become something other than what it originally was. Here again, the ineptness of the organic analogy for the understanding of social change may be noted: organisms do not change from one species into completely different ones. Under the stress of social change, societies often do.
To these two types of change Firth has added a third one that he calls organisational change. Organisational changes are changes in ways of doing things, which themselves continue to be done, and in the extent and range of particular complexes of social relationships, which remain formally unaltered. This further distinction is useful, although in the last resort, structure and organisation are rather two aspects of the same reality than two different things. Having stated the major positions of Western anthropology let me attempt to explain where and how Orientalist literature has influenced perception of Muslim societies.