Elite Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives

Elite Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives

Elite Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives

Elite Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives

Synopsis

The anthropological study of elites has gained increasing prominence with the issues of power, prestige and status in the societies of of anthropologists themselves. However, our understanding of elites is often partial, obscured as it is by the theoretical weaknesses of Western models on the one hand and, on the other, by the difficulties in studying elites from the 'inside'. Drawing on a diverse, comparative ethnographic literature, this new volume examines the intimate spaces and cultural practices of those elites who occupy positions of power and authority across a variety of different settings.

Excerpt

Discussion of Amazonian elites is a diffuse matter: a hodgepodge of historical examples and a few ethnographic illustrations. One reason for this is that Amazonian class structure - difficult to ignore in a discussion of elites - is hard to grasp because of the vagueness of the idea of a generic Amazonian society. It's difficult to approach structured anything in a domain consistently defined as socially amorphous and naturally rigid, and as we are frequently reminded (by anthropologists, historians, ecologists, planners - just about everyone), there is not a single Amazonia anyway, but at best a mosaic of bits of Amazonia.

If that be the case, it might be asked 'why even bother to introduce Amazonia into a symposium on elites?' There are two answers. One, in light of the anthropological ambition to 'study-up' - substantially unfulfilled despite a number of case studies - any discussion of elites in Amazonia could join the masked ranks awaiting the long-deferred analysis. I am not sure I have much to offer on that front.The second answer, however, may provide a more useful entrée. Maybe elites per se do not provide as useful a starting point as does a consideration of the conditions of existence necessary for the emergence of elites. in part, this strategy is informed by a desire not to enter into either a definitional debate about the relationship between political and economic power (see Marcus 1983:14) or a debate about the role of elites, but it reflects an admiration for the kind of empirical study represented in the work of Domhoff (1967, 1974), Shoup and Minter (1977) and Chomsky and Herman (1988), the latter of whom define the target of analysis with particular clarity: cui bono.

There is an additional reason for citing these works as starting points, and that is in all the concern is less to categorise elites than it is to examine the institutional conditions under which elites are socially reproduced. the elites who are the focus of the studies above comprise a singularly useful starting point given not only the hegemonic role of the us in the post-Second World War period, but the high level of interaction between military/state and corporate interests, and increasing concentration and centralisation of elite power with significant responsibilities for the administration of development

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