November 9, 2009

power/anthropology

"Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society."

-Michel Foucault

Examples: A large ship sitting on a body of water that has the ability to launch missiles at a group of people at a moment's notice: that's power. A person who holds an armed weapon amidst unarmed bystanders: power. A judge who holds the ability to decide the fate of a fellow human based upon a certain set of philosophical and legal guidelines: power. A person from an incredibly wealthy nation who has the ability and/or desire to cross international borders for purposes of travel and leisure: power. A politician who can decide whether or not knowledge and resources should or should not be used to save lives: power. A person who lives in a politically and economically dominant society who has the ability to choose whether or not she/he should be concerned with the war of the week: power.

And anthropology? Where does anthropology fit in all of this? The ability to produce a collection of information about people that will then be disseminated as a source of "truth" about said people: power. The ability to promote and re-create a longstanding project of knowledge production that casts itself as one of the main protagonists: power, again.

The ability to imagine some kind of alternative course of action to some of the above "situations"? Well, that's power too. Right?

4 comments:

Conor said...

It seems that everything has to do with power, no? Whether its physical, mental, political, social, spiritual, legal etc etc, it has an effect (whether you use it or not) on the present. I dont think you can discuss life with discussing power and how it is wielded.

Stacie Gilmore said...

"COMPLEX strategic situation" - that's something I can agree with :)

One key question might be: What makes these peoples' power possible? That's probably where we're most complicit.

Maximilian C. Forte said...

Very nicely packed post...in its own way: powerful.

Ryan Anderson said...

Thanks for the comments you guys. Sometimes it seems like power is everywhere, and in every relationship. But that might just be because of the readings of late...

So ya, I agree with you Conor.

And Stacie, I think that the complicity part comes along with letting those in power keep that power, whether actively or passively.

Max: thanks for dropping in and thanks for all of the great posts over on your site. What you have been writing has been getting me thinking a lot lately about many of these issues.