Ideas and Power

Eric R. Wolf

in Pathways of Power

Published by University of California Press

Published in print January 2001 | ISBN: 9780520223332
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520924871 | DOI:
Ideas and Power

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This chapter addresses an unresolved issue: the relation between economics and political ordering, on one hand, and ideology, on the other. American anthropology—and the anthropological traditions influenced by it and influencing it—has divided into two moieties: “materialists” and “symbolists.” The chapter argues that ritual and ritual elaboration may have significant effects in mobilizing and channeling social energy in particular directions, without conveying specific informational meaning. The materialists have correctly stressed the distinction between what people think and say, and what they do; between human action in the material environment and human action in the cognized environment; between human intentions as exemplified in calculated strategies and the unintentional effects of those strategies. It hopes to find a key to signification and symbolic production in the social relations that govern a mode of production, a system of mobilizing and deploying social labor; the social power implicated in such relations becomes imprinted in symbols.

Keywords: political ordering; ideology; materialists; symbolists; social power

Chapter.  5263 words. 

Subjects: Theory and Practice of Anthropology

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