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The government of cultures

The government of cultures

Ryan Schram
ANTH 2700: Key debates in anthropology
Social Sciences Building 410 (A02)
Week of May 02, 2022 (Week 10)

Slides available at http://anthro.rschram.org/2700/2022/10

Main reading: Shah (2007)

Other reading: Appadurai (1998); Appadurai (1990)

Asking for trouble

Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” (2 Sam. 24:1, New International Version, cf. 1 Chron. 21:1)

Why is God angry about censuses?

A prison without walls

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon

Remember the story from Week 8.

  • All the cells face inward toward a single, central watchtower.
  • A person standing in the watchtower can see every cell all at once.
  • Each person in every cell can see the watchtower at all times.

No one really needs to be in the watchtower; the prisoners assume someone is there, and so they monitor themselves.

Contrast this with the essence of power for Weber

Stated succinctly, this is: A gets B to do what B would not otherwise do (Dahl 1957, 202–3).

  • Power is the ability to control another person, to make them do what you want, or to stop them from doing what you don’t.

Michel Foucault gives us another view of power

While they overlap in some ways, I want to emphasize the difference between Weber and Foucault.

Political arithmetic

For Foucault, the nature of state authority has changed. It’s not about controlling people, it’s about shaping the conditions of a whole population.

Government is an art of making a whole population safe, healthy, prosperous, and happy. It does not operate on individuals, and it does not directly control or coerce people as individuals.

A government deals in statistics, that is, estimates of a population and its parameters: safety, health, GDP, etc. Statistics are the science of the state.

Knowledge is power

Power is that which shapes people into members of a mass population that can be measured. Power acts on action, not on people (Li 2007).

There are two crucial differences to this sense of power:

  • It takes place in settings that are ostensibly beneficial: the so-called “helping professions,” e.g. education, health care, welfare. When you participate in these social institutions as a client, you make it possible to create official knowledge of populations.
  • The watchtower is everywhere, and no one is in it. Many different, independent social institutions require people who participate in them to modify themselves to fit into their roles. All of these roles teach you to see yourself the ways others see you.

This leads to an important implication for the meaning of power:

  • Power does not stop you, deny you, force you, or make you do anything. It is you. Without your agency as an individual, there is no fuel to maintain social order. Power is the mechanisms by which your own agency is co-opted.

Some thought experiments

What would a prison without walls and without guards look like?

The “Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility” is one example (DeMola 2022; Jaafari 2017).

  • The “shock” is the busy schedule that the prisoners maintain.
  • Nobody needs to be coerced or punished; there’s too much else going on: Boot camp, drills, classes, therapy sessions, etc.
  • This is a prison that frees people by giving them new abilities and skills, many quite practical.
  • The prison in its time reported a great success, less recidivism. What does that mean? It was good at funnelling its inmates into the working class.

Are schools prisons for children?

Everyone in a typical school is there because they want to contribute to education of children.

  • Schools pervasively rank children as individuals and groups.
    • This is not a plot against children, or a conspiracy to control them.
    • Grades are a well-intentioned tool to help teachers teach and to help students learn.
    • Students always have clear incentives to learn, and to graduate from school. There is a real payoff for them.
  • Students are learning, but as they learn, they also discipline themselves to be a specific kind of person.
    • A school system that uses a national language as a medium will churn out a bunch of speakers of the standard language, no matter what their grades are.
    • Students don’t have to memorize official doctrines to internalize social norms; They are good citizens because they are good school students.

What if “Where are you from?” was the only question to answer?

No one forces you to answer census questions, and most people want to answer them. The questions themselves force you to think in certain ways.

  • Census information is useful and practical for many people.
  • Answering the questions is like getting graded at school. You are learning to see yourself the way others see you.
  • The statistical knowledge of a census leads us to be something we would not otherwise be.

A colonial panopticon

Colonialism is a regime based on this kind of knowledge. Through colonial knowledge, people become colonial subjects.

In its 500-years-or-more history, colonialism has been many different things. This is about the latter stages of European colonialism.

  • French imperial rule was a direct form of rule. Though complex and varied, an ideal in French colonial policy was to replace people’s cultures and values.
  • Britain also used direct rule, but a policy of indirect rule developed by Frederick Lugard (1922) was dominant in the late 19th and early 20th century.Lugard justified British colonial authority on a “dual mandate”
    • Economic “development” (Lugard 1922, 6)
    • “Welfare of the subject races” (Lugard 1922, 6)

Autonomy as intervention

Indirect rule is worthy of special emphasis, since I think it had the biggest impact on today’s world. Mahmood Mamdani (1996) makes two important observations about indirect rule:

  • It eliminated the role of educated and highly cosmopolitan African civil servants, professionals, and intellectuals who grew up in an era of mostly “direct” rule. These multilingual, multicultural operators could already imagine the possibility of self-rule within an empire. Now they were out of a job (Mamdani 1996, 74–77).
  • Indirect rule had to impose its own ideas of traditional societies on many different communities, making each of them much more rigid and insular (Mamdani 1996, 50–51).
    • Mamdani calls it a system of “decentralized despotism” (Mamdani 1996, 37).

Indirect rule was not laissez-faire. It was a requirement that every colonial subject become a native, belong to a tribe, and live in a distinct homeland, under the rule of a “chief.”

  • The colonial order is “be more tribal,” that is, live within the confines of the categories we assume you belong to.

Indirectly indirect rule in India

British India had been around too long, and develop so much of its own system, for Lugardian thinking to take hold. If anything, its early experiments inspired him.

  • Princely states had a degree of self-government because British officials assumed that their princes were products of a high civilization.
  • In areas of the British Raj, a regime of nominally direct rule, officials created ad-hoc forms of autonomy for people and communities they could not control (Shah 2007, 1810).

These colonial regimes also relied on highly centralized control of knowledge in order to implement different kinds of subject positions for different communities (Cohn 1987; Chandra 2013).

  • Backward tribes in excluded areas (or backward tracts)
  • Criminal tribes
  • Martial races

Census categories are social facts with teeth. They have normative force.

Foucault and Weber again

  • Modern state bureacracy is an “iron cage” (Weber [1905] 1958, 181)
  • A regime of knowledge is a set of social facts.

References and further reading

Appadurai, Arjun. 1990. “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy.” Theory, Culture & Society 7 (2-3): 295–310. https://doi.org/10.1177/026327690007002017.

———. 1998. “Dead Certainty: Ethnic Violence in the Era of Globalization.” Development and Change 29 (4): 905–25. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-7660.00103.

Chandra, Uday. 2013. “Liberalism and Its Other: The Politics of Primitivism in Colonial and Postcolonial Indian Law.” Law & Society Review 47 (1): 135–68. https://doi.org/10.1111/lasr.12004.

Cohn, Bernard S. 1987. “The census, social structure, and objectification in South Asia.” In An anthropologist among the historians and other essays, 224–54. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Dahl, Robert A. 1957. “The Concept of Power.” Behavioral Science 2 (3): 201–15. https://doi.org/10.1002/bs.3830020303.

DeMola, Pete. 2022. “New York Closes a Shock Camp and Staggers an Adirondacks Community.” The Albany Times Union, March 25, 2022, sec. News. https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Moriah-Shock-closes-17019991.php.

Jaafari, Joseph Darius. 2017. “A Prison With No Walls.” NationSwell. August 4, 2017. https://nationswell.com/news/new-york-shock-incarceration-recidivism/.

Li, Tania Murray. 2007. “Governmentality.” Anthropologica 49 (2): 275–81. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25605363.

Lugard, F. D. 1922. The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa. Edinburgh, London: W. Blackwood and Sons. http://archive.org/details/cu31924028741175.

Mamdani, Mahmood. 1996. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Shah, Alpa. 2007. “The Dark Side of Indigeneity?: Indigenous People, Rights and Development in India.” History Compass 5 (6): 1806–32. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-0542.2007.00471.x.

Weber, Max. (1905) 1958. The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. http://archive.org/details/protestantethics0000webe_r7r0.

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