Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

political organization in a primitive kingdom like the Barotse, in which a political center developed that was symbolically but not structurally differentiated from the periphery, influences the perception of the nature of power and of the polity and the incidence of civil war. He then draws very interesting structural analogies to early feudal Europe. The excerpts that open this section, from the editor's "Primitive Political Systems," are an attempt to classify various primitive political systems and to present on the basis of this analysis some more general hypotheses about the conditions that influence the degree to which autonomous political organizations, activities, and roles develop.


11
Primitive Political Systems: A Preliminary
Comparative Analysis

S. N. Eisenstadt

The starting point of this analysis is the extent of articulation of special political positions and organizations. The first broad group is composed of tribes which seemingly have no specially organized, central political authority or organization; political activity takes place within the subgroups of the society and through their interaction. Beyond this common denominator there are many differences between these tribes, particularly in the nature of the main sub‐ groups among which interaction takes place, and the extent of and the main social spheres of this interaction (our sample does not include all variations, but those presented suffice for our preliminary analysis). This category includes: (a) tribes with but rudimentary political interaction between various loose bands, small family and territorial units (only cursorily mentioned); (b) segmentary tribes organized in corporate lineages between which there is extensive political and ritual interaction; (c) tribes in which, in addition to the organized kinship groups, other important groups and principles of social and political interaction exist, notably in those cases where various criteria of universalistic allocation of roles are manifested in age-groups and regiments; (d) those where association is based on particularistic criteria of membership and oriented either to ritual or collective (war) activities; (e) tribes in which the kinship and lineage groups interact on the basis of

a special hierarchical stratification into classes (mostly in the ritual field) ; and finally (f) the so‐ called "acephalous villages" in which the importance of family and kinship groups diminishes in favor of various specialized associations based on the universalistic criteria of achievement and interacting chiefly in the economic and social spheres.

The next category includes those tribes among which central political authority and organization undoubtedly exist, subdivided according to the types of groups which bear the political action and positions. The first are (g) tribes in which kinship and lineage groups are the most important units that bear political action; the second are (h) tribes in which some universalistic groups also exist, such as regiments or age-groups; and the last are (i) societies in which various types of associations perform such central tasks.

While we call each type by a descriptive name, usually the one most commonly found in the literature, it should be borne in mind that they are not a series of discrete, discontinuous categories, but derive from the analytical criteria enumerated above. *


I. Types of Segmentary Tribes

A. Band Organization

The simplest type of political and social organization can be found among "simple," noncentralized societies, such as Australian and Pygmy tribes, and

____________________
From S. N. Eisenstadt, "Primitive Political Systems: A Preliminary Comparative Analysis," American Anthropologist, LXI, No. 2 (April 1959), 205-220. Reprinted by permission of the American Anthropological Association.
*
See Introduction to this chapter.

-84-

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