The political customs and history of the American people can be traced back to the early ages, as Miller Barbara depicts in her book Cultural Anthropology. Politics is an important player in the institutional control of stratified societies, as well as a requirement for social control of any society. We can see from ancient times that cultural anthropologists required approval from established officials or those in charge to conduct fieldwork. The modern American political structure evolved from previous systems of government. Cultural anthropologists explain policies regarding the use of public power and the ability to possess or take action by the exertion of social or moral pressure (Miller, 2005).
The research was first carried out by reading reports written by missionaries, travelers and explorers, and analyzing them to come up with a final verdict about a particular culture. Things later changed when anthropologists started traveling to foreign countries to get information from the people they were studying during the 19th and early 20th centuries. During this period, direct interaction with indigenous people lacked as the anthropologists used to stay in colonial settlements away from the people a pattern called ‘verandah anthropology.’ Later in the 20th century, a realization of living among the people to know their ways came up changing the whole phase of cultural anthropology. At this time, the anthropologists found a chance to directly study the ways of the people and this I where they understood better the people’s socio-political integration. This integration was categorized into Band, Tribe, Chiefdom, and State which represented the main livelihood of the people. The existence of these systems aimed at ensuring unity among the people as they helped resolved different issues that came up among their people. Bands formed the smallest human organization with its leaders being the voice of the people who were considered to have power and only made decisions by agreement. Tribes were guided by kinship ties of people with similar history under a headman. Leadership was based on ability and generosity of an individual in sharing of available resources. Chiefdoms covered a greater society with some villages in which the positions were permanent and hereditary, and they worked towards social and economic stratification and also as a link between the people and the state. Most of these leadership positions were occupied by men even though a number were held by women as seen from Miller’s book for instance in Yoruba where ivalode was a position for Big Woman. Their role was to ensure equality and promote the culture of their people (Shore & Wright, 2003). States aimed at providing for the people and ensuring that they are stable and their rights are carried on as required. The state also secured a balance in population as per the available resources within a region. A state possessed power since its formation was based on some communities coming together to form one stable form of leadership that would ensure their prosperity. It also defines the rights of its people and the rules to guide them. States directed men into mostly labor intensive sections while women dominated in peace-related strategies.
It is evident that cultural anthropology resulted in a political form that we have today. Before anthropologists were accepted into different communities, the needed a way to convince the people that they had good intentions. This process was not natural as they were faced with many challenges including the language barrier, racial discrimination, gender, ethics, physical and psychological hazards, hostility and different religious beliefs. An example is an Indian government which highly restricts research by foreigners. For a researcher to gain rapport, they needed someone to act as a middleman to convince the people to accept him/her into their society which went to the extent of buying gifts that were culturally and ethically fitting to bring people closer to you. Leaders played an essential role in bringing people together thus a political environment was necessary to ensure the success of these studies.
Miller, B. D. (2005). Cultural anthropology. Boston, New York etc: Pearson.
Shore, C., & Wright, S. (Eds.). (2003). Anthropology of policy: Perspectives on governance and power. Routledge.