Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis

Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis

Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis

Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis

Synopsis

With the originality and energy that have marked his earlier works, Eric Wolf now explores the historical relationship of ideas, power, and culture. Responding to anthropology's long reliance on a concept of culture that takes little account of power, Wolf argues that power is crucial in shaping the circumstances of cultural production. Responding to social-science notions of ideology that incorporate power but disregard the ways ideas respond to cultural promptings, he demonstrates how power and ideas connect through the medium of culture.

Wolf advances his argument by examining three very different societies, each remarkable for its flamboyant ideological expressions: the Kwakiutl Indians of the Northwest Pacific Coast, the Aztecs of pre-Hispanic Mexico, and National Socialist Germany. Tracing the history of each case, he shows how these societies faced tensions posed by ecological, social, political, or psychological crises, prompting ideological responses that drew on distinctive, historically rooted cultural understandings. In each case study, Wolf analyzes how the regnant ideology intertwines with power around the pivotal relationships that govern social labor. Anyone interested in the history of anthropology or in how the social sciences make comparisons will want to join Wolf in Envisioning Power.

Excerpt

For some time I have thought that much good work in the human sciences falls short of its mark because it is unwilling or unable to come to grips with how social relations and cultural configurations intertwine with considerations of power. Anthropologists have relied heavily on notions that see cultural coherence as the working out of cultural-linguistic logics or aesthetics. As a result, they rarely have asked how power structures the contexts in which these promptings manifest themselves or how power is implicated in the reproduction of such patterns. I articulated this concern in an address to the American Anthropological Association in 1990, “Facing Power.” Yet if anthropologists have favored a view of culture without power, other social analysts have advanced a concept of “ideology” without culture, taking it as ideas advanced by elites or ruling classes in defense of their dominance, without attention to the specificities of cultural configurations.

This book seeks a way out of this impasse. the project for it began with reading and discussion in a workshop on ideology that I conducted in 1984 with students in the Ph.D. Program in Anthropology at the City University of New York. It was then carried forward in graduate courses on the history of theory and on ideology, concluding with a seminar on “Ethnography and Theory” in 1992. I am grateful to the students who took part in these efforts and who made teaching at cuny a memorable experience. My research and writ-

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