Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure

Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure

Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure

Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure

Excerpt

To have been asked by Dr. Leach to write a foreword to this book is a tribute to an old friendship and academic association.

It is generally expected of a foreword that it will introduce the book either to a wider public than knows its author, or that it will make manifest some hidden virtue which the book contains. Neither of these objectives is sought here. The author is already known not only to his British colleagues, but also internationally, as a leading social anthropologist. He is also by the force and clarity of his thought fully capable of presenting the merits of his own work. What then can this foreword do? By our ordinary conventions the writer of a foreword is presumably restrained from reviewing the book when it appears. He cannot compensate by reviewing it in his introduction. But what he may do is to give some notice in advance of some of the themes which he sees as being of major significance in any discussion of its merits.

'Dynamic' is an overworked word. But if one says that the primary feature in Dr. Leach's analysis is its attempt to provide the elements of a dynamic theory for social anthropology, the point will be generally understood. What is meant is an analysis of forces in movement or principles in action. Much of social anthropology nowadays is concerned with institutions in change. But the treatment is usually mainly descriptive, or where it becomes abstract the concepts are apt to become overelaborate, highly artificial, and out of relation to the real world of observed human actions in specific societies. What Dr. Leach is attempting to do is to handle dynamic theory at a higher level of abstraction than has been done heretofore in social anthropology while still using the materials from empirical social observation among named groups.

He works forcibly and elegantly. To do this he makes certain assumptions. These involve the notion of descriptions of social systems as models of a social reality. There is a growing tendency in social anthropology, and rather a slipshod one, to call any set of assumptions or abstractions used as a . . .

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