Theorising Power


  • Created by: Lauriie
  • Created on: 18-04-19 11:55
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  • Power
    • Instrumental power
      • Power is a rational resource that some people have. Weber: personal control, the ability to impose one's will on others. 'The ability to attain one's goals and fulfil one's needs'
        • Theoretical contributors
          • Mann 1986: 'the sources of social power'
            • explains ways that people aquire and wield power (ideological, economical, military, political) Interrelated institutions/structures used by certain people to stay at the top of the hierarchy and justify their position.
            • 'overlapping and intersecting sociospatial networks of power'
            • ' The central problems concern organization, control, logistics, communication - the capacity to organize and control people, materials, and territories, and the development of this capacity throughout history. 
            • 'The few at the top can keep the masses at the bottom compliant, provided their control is institutionalized in the laws and the norms of the social group in which both operate.'
          • Flannery 1999: 'process and agency in Early State formation'
            • Aggrandiser principle 'Aggressive human agents are born in all cultures in all epochs.'
              • But, aggrandisers need the means and the right social setting in order to develop states
                • 'it takes preexisting conditions of social inequality and chiefly competition, followed by biased transmission, competitive advantage, expansion, and territorial incorporation, to turn a chief into a king'
          • Marx and Engels: Ideology and religion is used to legitimate the ruling class
            • Power is wielded by states, ultimately reducible to the use of force. This protects an unequal division of labour and appropriation of surplus
              • Added to by Gramsci- 'cultural hegemony'- certain forms of culture, art and music are associated with cultural power, which can be transformed into social power.
        • Archaeological examples
          • Flannery 1999
            • Jaguar and the Zapotecs (Oaxaca Valley)
              • Zapotecs had cycles of chiefdoms. San Jose Mogote peaked between 1150 and 850 BC, declined between 850 and 700 BC, then reasserted itself between 700 and 500 BC. Flannery suggests a violent ending. The main temple was burned. 
                • The leaders of SJM moved to a more defensible location called Monte Alban. Canal irrigation to produce a lot of food, and military power. MA's competitors were eventually forced to move or join the polity.
                  • Once Monte Alban had subdued the rest of the valley, its inner ring of satellite communities disappeared. The four-tiered hierarchy typical of states emerged. This shows traditional state formation processes. 
                    • Set in Building L are two stelae with columns of hieroglyphs  On Stela 13, we might read: 'An individual named 10 Jaguar seized the second-born son [name untranslated] during "Month" W
                      • Embedded in long-term processes as he may have been, 10 Jaguar was clearly an agent taking credit for the defeat of a rival. Flannery claims that, while his contribution is shadowed, he must have been like Narmer or other early state rulers. Aggrandisers contribution to the unification of the valley.  
                        • Use of military power to aggrandise an individual
            • Osei Tutu and the Ashanti
              • The early Ashanti were led by entrepreneurs called abirempon or 'big men', the most ambitious of whom 'institutionalised their wealth into chiefship'
                • Osei Tutu had learned political and military skills during stays among the powerful Denkyira and Akwamu, and returned to the Ashanti with firearms purchased on the coast. He defeated the neighbouring Domaa, then the Tafo, Kaase, and Amakom, achieving complete Ashanti control of the disputed trading centre of Tafo.
                  • in 1701, he overthrew the Denkyira. This victory, ending decades of tribute demands, established the Ashanti as the most powerful polity in the region. 
                    • In a ritual orchestrated by the priest Anoke, Osei Tutu buried the stools of the various chiefs he had conquered, while he himself received a golden stool in which the souls of all the Ashanti people were  enshrined. This stool was said to have descended from the sky, landing in Osei Tutu's lap 
                      • Osei Tutu then converted Ashanti administrative structure to the four-tiered hierarchy typical of states. He sat on a golden stool; his district governors had silver stools; local headmen had wooden stools; simple villagers had no stools
                        • Militeary, ideological and political power used to put one individual at the top
          • Earle 1997: How chiefs come to power
            • Hawaii- the unequal distribution of resources mainly benefits the chief- an Aggrandiser
        • Critiques
          • power is personalised, but what constitutes a person? a bundle of needs and ambitions?
          • assumes identifying priorities is straightforward
          • power is inherently political and confrontational, rather than cooperative
          • how do we agree what is permissible in terms of the exercise of power? power has to be legitimate in some way
          • how do we theorise power pre-chiefdom/ state? Does it just not exist?
      • where does power come from?
        • Trigger: argued that power is not really present in any meaningful way were economic inequality is absent
        • other options: roots of power located in other factors such as ritual?
    • Discourses
      • O'Donovan 2002: The dynamics of power
        • because power is an aspect of social relationships, it cannot be controlled or owned by particular individuals and groups
          • it 'permeates daily life.. and creates the conditions through which agency is expressed'
            • power is thus 'one aspect which creates social agents'; intentionality is transformed by this as intentions are shaped by power
        • power is extremely relational: processes are dynamic and fundamentally interrelated
          • trade and exchange, internal organisation of labour, politics and gender relations, etc
          • when we ask the qiuestions 'who has power, where does it come from, and what does it allow people to do?', we start to see problematic assumptions that come from abstracting some aspects of power from the whole
            • 'sever, collapse or reify relational patterning: treat power in an essentialist manner/ limit power primarily to certain sources, groups or relations'
              • this is a bit dissatisfying: what is the point in theorising power if we can't use it to address questions like inequality and/ or overt  repression? At this point did we theorise it so much that it starts to become meaningless/ starts to mean a different thing?
                • maybe shift this :'who benefits from the status quo of social relations in a given society?  how do they act, intentionally or unintentionally, to reinforce this? How do others?
      • Root in Michel Foucault:
        • Distnguishes between exercises of power in medieval society and today.
          • IN middle ages: there was a sovereign, stood apart from everyday politics, could limit what people did and punish them through public infliction of pain
            • Today: multiple functions of the state in regulating people's bodies and actions, diffuse system of surveillance, regulation, 'pastoral' care
              • key takeway: power is expressed differently in different societies and contexts: are archaeologists in danger of theorsing all expressions of power either like the modern day or the middle ages?
              • executed through the prison system, regulated timetables, factory floors etc.
                • purpose: to create compliant bodies
        • power is not something essential that people can hold or use: it acts though individuals
          • power produces individuals and their actions, its a creative force
          • power can always be challenged in one way or another
        • Archaeological example: Thomas (2002): subjectification in the British Neoliithic
          • Subjectification 'the production of human subjects as an effect of power'
            • For example, built on by Butler: to be culturally intelligible we have to reproduce cultural norms, ie gender and sexuality
          • Earle's explaination of neolithic Wessex: formation of chiefdoms dependent o n chief;s ability to control 'sources of power'
            • Causewayed enclosures demonstrate settlement hierarchy, long barrows as territorial markers. Later, henge monuments: sacred space set up to distinguish rulers from ruled
              • ability to organise/ control communal labour
          • Thomas' view: earlier neolithic societies were kinetic, power relations also had an ebb and flow
            • henge monuments have very different material culture/ some have feasts/ sacrifices, some don't etc.
              • later neolithic was 'actually characterised by fragmentation'
            • cattle not just a wealth/ prestige good: treated siimilar to humans in some burial contexts, connected to identity of a community? record of exchanges/ alliances?
            • circulation of 'prestige goods' such as stone axes, but aso goods that are relatively easy to make such as carved chalk and bone
              • symbolic associations of the materials/ motifs and deposition locations gave them significance
                • different combinations of artefacts, groups of people, places, and monuments constructed contexts where specific kinds of power authority and personhood were expereinced.
                  • unstable, context specific forms of authority.
                  • foucault 'provides no universal models' for how power is exercised
                    • important to distinguish between his general arguments about the nature of power, and his examples of forms power takes in speciifc historical situations.
    • Agency
      • practice: 'men make their own history, but the do not make it under circumstances created by themselves.'
        • social agents not viewed as omnsicient, practical and free willed economisers. nstead they are socially embedded, imperfect, often impractical (Robb and Dobres 2000)
          • interactive/ dialectical relationship between the structures in which agents exist and the structures they create.
            • opposing view: methodological individualism: institutions (top down) constrains the actions of individual choice, which is based on the idea that individuals are generally rational actors.
    • heterarchy: question the reality of centralization/ power even in societies with control hiearchies
      • power is rarely manifested in a single overarching hierarchy
        • elite factionalism (Brumfiel and Fox 1994)
      • view of power as rooted in competition
        • feminist critique: pervasive male bias
        • power-sharing and co-operation
          • Saitta: study of coal miners in Colorado (time of Ludlow massacre)
            • Shared misery gave coal miners a common goal to work towards, collective action
          • Saitta and McGuire: american Southwest pueblos, which are simutaneously egalitarian/heterarchical and not, often depending on the availability of resources.

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