marx/anthro

Lisa Rogers eqwq.lrogers at email.state.ut.us
Thu Nov 9 19:38:24 MST 1995


Well, Alex, I'm sure it is abundantly clear by now that I know very
little of the history of anthro at large, partly because I did no
undergrad in cultural anthro.  I was bio. then, and took that bio
into anthro later, in grad school.

As promised, I respond from my, modern, view to the propositions of
earlier anthropology as put forward by you.  I've little ability to
confirm the correctness of your presentation of Morgan or whatever,
but I've no reason to doubt you, and besides, Tom and Adrien and
everybody can speak up too.

From: Alex Trotter <uburoi at panix.com>
...Johann Bachofen 1861 *Das Mutterrecht* ("Mother  Right") ... study
of matrilineality among primitive  peoples and the promiscuity of the
'primal horde.' ... female deities were deposed in favor of gods ...
The transition to male  dominance and monogamy involved transgression
of ancient religious law.
LR: This is curious, I've heard something a lot like this from some
modern pagan Goddess-worshipping types.  I am becoming aware of a lot
of archeology that suggests that neolithic, european gods were indeed
female/feminine.  But that's still far from Bachofen.  I know that
his time was little known for field-work.  Travellers, traders,
explorers and adventurers brought stories back from many places, and
those who sat and made up theories later became derisively known as
"armchair anthropologists".

Also, doesn't mutterrecht mean matri_archy_ just as well?  Right as
in to rule?  It is interesting that some mythologies tell of a time
when women ruled, along with a story of how and why men took over.
This is not likely to refer to historical events, partly because it
would have been far too long ago for that.  I take it as simply
rationalization/justification for male supremacy, or a lip-service
denial of the social power that women do still hold.

And promiscuity?  Compared to what?  Victorian era christian european
"standards"?  especially for women?  One of the reasons that
travellers knew something about local sex is that they were getting a
lot of it!  It is true that most societies ever recorded had fewer
restrictions and punishments on sex than bourgeois Europe thought
appropriate, especially for single women!  Some women would come
right up to exotic looking travellers and let their desires be known.
 How shocking!  Besides an interest in anything new, they had to see
if those strange pale people with all the weird gear were just like
_real_ men underneath their clothes.

I thought "primal horde" was Freud's imagination, did he get the
notion from Bachofen and such?  In general, I don't know of any good
reason, theory or evidence to support the views of Bachofen as
presented here.

AT:  Lewis H. Morgan ... *Ancient  Society*, which discussed family
relations among the Iroquois, as well as  in early Greece and Rome,
appeared in 1877. Marx latched onto it... was also critical of
Morgan, pointing out that Morgan was not a  revolutionary and that
his work was subsidized by the U.S. government.
LR:  If Morgan was anti-racist, he's cool with me.  I regret that the
only funding available for any science is capitalist
government/taxes, capitalists themselves or dead capitalists'
"charitable foundations."

AT:  The main theme of Morgan's work is that primitive society was
organized into "gentes" (clans) before the rise of the patriarchal
family  system, corresponding to the institution of communal property
and its  dissolution through an uneven accumulation of wealth and the
evolvement  of privileged castes thereby.
LR:  I don't get it.  What makes a clan non-patriarchal?  I don't see
those two things as oppositional or exclusive at all.  A clan is
generally a group of kin, at least nominal kin, and at the simplest,
smallest society is simply literal kin, defined through paternal
relations, maternal relations, or both.  Some societies have
elaborate classifications and subdivisions of clans, along with
rules about marriage between them, etc.  Some have no exclusive clans
at all, each one has a network of blood and marriage kin, this
network is identical only for full siblings, and each one overlaps
many others, in a web of relatedness.  There are no identifiable
corporate-like clans.

Does "the patriarchal family system" supposedly arise with private
ownership of land?  How and why?  What was held as "communal
property" and why did that "institution" disappear?  None of this
makes sense to me, I know of no evidence to show that it did happen,
and please don't forget that there are living cultures in which
"that" apparently never happened, so why?  And how did all those
"anthropologists" think that they knew all that stuff?  Based on
what?

It confuses and misses many issues to just talk about "primitive
society" in general, or even foraging peoples in general.  Indigenes
of north-Am pacific coast have a very elaborate system of kinship and
clan, formal titles, inherited positions, enormous status displays,
ownership of salmon fishing sites, etc. and _no farming_, but they
are still foragers.  Others have farming, with separate family
gardens of exclusive use until they move to a new one, but are as
egalitarian in wealth and power as any society could be.


AT:  ... Morgan has  historically been given short shrift in American
anthropology,  particularly by the Boas school.
LR:  I have no idea if there is a theoretical divide there, or if
they were just rivals, or what.

AT:  Kroeber was an organicist (like Marx),  not a positivist and
mechanicist like Boas.
LR:  I'm not sure what you mean by these three terms, in this
context.

I suspect that one bias they shared in the 19th cent at least is the
idea of progression.  Whatever different kind of light they put on
it, it seems that they were still always trying to put things into
some kind of single developmental sequence.  This in itself
introduces a lot of bias, because culture and society just isn't like
that.  There is no inherently guiding principle of progression that
I'm aware of!  No more so than in darwinian evolution.

Lisa Rogers



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