The ‘structural-functionalist’ school defined British social anthropology for the first half of the twentieth century.
- Busia, K.A. (1951) The position of the chief in the modern political system of Ashanti. London: Frank Cass.
- Campbell, J.K. (1964) Honour, Family and Patronage: a study of institutions and moral values in a Greek mountain community. Oxford: Oxford University Press
- Deshen, S. 1966. Conflict and social change: the case of an Israeli village. Sociologia Ruralis 6, 31-55
- Evans-Pritchard, E.E. (1937) Witchcraft, oracles and magic among the Azande. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Evans-Pritchard, E.E. (1940) The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Fortes, M. (1949) The Web of Kinship Among the Tallensi. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Fortes, M. (1970) Time and social structure and other essays [esp the essay on ‘Time and social structure’!]
- Fortes, M. and Evans-Pritchard, E.E. (1940) African Political Systems [includes introby Radcliffe-Brown] Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Gluckman, M. (1940) ‘Analysis of a social situation in modern Zululand’ in Bantu Studies, 14:1-30, 147-74. Reprinted in 1958 as a Paper 28 of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute.
- Gluckman, M. 1963. Order and rebellion in tribal Africa. London & New York: Routledge.
- Mitchell, J. C. 1956. The kalela dance: aspects of social relationships among urban Africans in Northern Rhodesia. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
- Myers, M. G. 2006. Households and families of the longhouse Iroquois at Six Nations Reserve. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
- Pitt-Rivers, J.A. (1971) The people of the Sierra. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. (1922) The Andaman Islanders. New York: Free Press.
- Southall, A. (1956) Alur society: a study in processes and types of domination. Cambridge: Heffer.
- Walter, E. V. (1969) Terror and Resistance: A Study of Political Violence With Case Studies Of Some Primitive African Communities. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
The structure and function of structural-functionalism
Structural-functionalism held sway as a theoretical paradigm for decades during the twentieth century, and is still influential today.
Why so exciting? What are its main features? What do the concepts reveal about the nature of social activity? Trajectories - from Radcliffe-Brown’s initial formulation of the model through to its deployment by Evan-Pritchard, Fortes, the Manchester School, and ‘native anthropologists’ from West Africa to Israel.
General introductions to the structural-functionalist school:
- Radcliffe-Brown, A.R. (1952). Structure and Function in Primitive Society. London: Cohen and West.
- Radcliffe-Brown, A.R. (1957). A natural science of society. Glencoe: Free Press.
- Radcliffe-Brown, A.R (1977). The social anthropology of Radcliffe-Brown. London & New York: Routledge.
- Leach, E. R. (1984). "Glimpses of the unmentionable in the history of British Social Anthropology." Annual Review of Anthropology 13: 1-20. [Highly entertaining introduction to the key figures – don’t spend too long on this, but good for a sense of context.]
- Stocking, G.W. (ed) (1984) Functionalism Historicised. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press [esp. essays by Stocking himself. Great if you want to put the movement in historical perspective]
- Turner, J.H. and Maryanski, A. (1979) Functionalism [helpful ‘beginner’s guide’ for the confused]
Malinowski style functionalism
Malinowski Bateson Evans - Pritchard 1937 Audrey Richards Isaac Schapera
Radcliffe-Brown style functionalism
EEP Fortes Radcliffe-Brown Forde
Tribe (in functionalism) - identified by distinct language, territory, political/social organisation. Individuals constrained in their social role.
EEP & Fortes, eds. African Political Systems - Functionalist account. make distinction between primitive states and stateless societies. Critique : overly reductionist.
Structural-functionalism in context: reviews of anthropology in specific locations / institutions:
- Evens, T. M. S. and D. Handelman 2006. The Manchester School: practice and ethnographic praxis in anthropology. Oxford: Berghahn.
- Goodman, Y. and J. Loss 2009. The other as brother: nation building and ethnic ambivalence in early Jewish-Israeli anthropology. Anthropological Quarterly 82, 477-508.
- Hart, K. (1985). "The social anthropology of West Africa." Annual Review of Anthropology 14: 243-272. [Review and partial defence of S-F (and its successors) as it played out in a single ethnographic area.]
- Riviere, P. (2007) A history of Oxford anthropology. Oxford: Berghahn.
- Schumaker, L. 2001. Africanizing anthropology: fieldwork, networks, and the making of cultural knowledge in Central Africa. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
The living death of structural-functionalism
Few theories have been as widely pilloried as structural functionalism, with critiques being directed from a number of fronts. The lecture explores why anthropologists in the latter half of the twentieth century rejected the paradigm so strongly, and evaluates the extent to which these critiques were really fair. Finally, we will address the question of the ways in which such a “dismissed” perspective continues to be influential today. Are the critiques that defeated the theory within anthropology forty years ago no longer being heeded, or no longer relevant? Are contemporary versions of ‘structural functionalism’ really the same thing as older forms? What might we learn about each from a comparison between them?
Johannes Fabian 1983 Time and the Other - good critique of SF.
Evaluations of structural-functionalism from a variety of perspectives
- Bank, L. (2006). ‘Beyond the verandah: fieldwork, locality and the production of knowledge in a South African City’ in Coleman, S. & Collins, P. (eds) Locating the field: space, place and context in anthropology. Oxford & New York: Berg.
- Boissevain, J. 1974. Friends of Friends. Oxford: Blackwell (introduction)
- Clifford, J. (1986) “Introduction: partial truths” in Clifford, J. and Marcus, G. (eds) Writing Culture [also chapters by Rosaldo and Crapanzano]
- Clifford, J. 1983. On ethnographic authority. Representations 2, 118-146.
- Hann, C. (2009 forthcoming) ‘Does ethnic cleansing work? The case of twentieth century Poland.’ Cambridge Anthropology 29(1): 1-25.
- Harris, M. 1969. The rise of anthropological theory: a history of theories of culture. London: Routledge. [Chapter on British social anthropology]
- Leach, E. R. 1961. Rethinking anthropology. London: Athlone Press.
- Leach, E. R. 1954 Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure. London: Athlone Press. - Leach critique of functionalism - Kachin Hill area : 15 different languages, fluid "ethnic" boundaries between different tribes (Kachin hill dwellers migrated to plains and became 'shan'. They used their ethnicity strategically), and at least two different overlapping political organisations. Other examples of fluid ethnic boundaries : Fur and Baggara, and Nuer that were really Dinka in the past in Sudan. Functionalism over-socialised view of individuals : they are not constrained but with free will change reality.
- Leach, E. R. 1961. Pul Eliya, a village in Ceylon: a study of land tenure and kinship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Leach, E. R. (1976). "Social anthropology: a natural science of society?" Proceedings of the British Academy 62: 157-180.
The most relevant sections of these works of Leach’s are all reprinted In Hugh-Jones & Laidlaw (eds) The essential Edmund Leach volume 1 – if using this source, also check out the book reviews on pp 74-79
- Needham, R. 1960. Structure and sentiment: a test-case in social anthropology. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.
- Spiro, M. (1996) “Postmodernist anthropology, subjectivity and science: a modernist critique” in Comparative Studies in Society and History 38:4 759-780
- Varenne, H. (1984) “Collective representation in American anthropological conversations: individual and culture” in Current Anthropology 25:3
Postcolonial critiques of structural-functionalism
- Asad, T. 1973. (ed.) Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter. New York: Humanity Books (particularly intro and chapters by Asad, James and Faris) - Two European views on non-European rule. Contrast functionalist views of the state (cohesive, stable, functional, based on consent, timeless, traditional), and orientalist view (inefficient, coercive, irrational, ruled are submissive, fatalistic or prone to revolt). Proves that anthropological theory is not only shaping the world but shaped by the world. Orientalism as a way of "justify" intervention in Middle East, to deal with the irrational 'other.'
- Stocking, G.W. (ed) (1991) Colonial situations: essays on the contextualisation of ethnographic knowledge. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press [esp essays by Tomas, Stocking & Asad]
- Wolfe, P. 1999. Settler colonialism and the transformation of anthropology: the politics and poetics of an ethnographic event. London: Cassell.
On more recent deployments of structural-functionalist perspectives
- Chabal, P. and J.-P. Daloz 1999. Africa works: disorder as political instrument. Oxford: James Currey.
- Kirby, J. 2009. ‘From broken families to the broken society.’ The Political Quarterly 80(2): 243-247.
- Miller, D. and F. Parrott 2009. Loss and material culture in South London. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15, 502-519.
- Rothwell, G. R. and J. N. Baldwin 2007. Whistle-blowing and the code of silence in police agencies: policy and structural predictors. Crime Delinquency 53, 605-632.
- Social Justice Policy Group. 2007. Breakthrough Britain: ending the costs of social breakdown. Downloadable from http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/default.asp?pageRef=226.
- Barth - (network theory, rational action theory) -action seeing ethnicity as a relational exercise and a process. The task is to identify the conditions under which ethnic boundaries exist and come into being. the division of 'us' and 'them'. Ethnic identity is ascribed by the participants themselves. Polyethnic societies, where movement depend on specific economic/ecologic/political conditions, and influence by the colonial. Social/ethnic boundaries are constructed.
1. Compare and contrast the ways in which any three or more structural-functionalist authors have dealt with individual psychology in their analyses of ‘social structure’. Answer with detailed reference to their ethnographic works.
2. ‘Has the too narrow pursuit of Radcliffe-Brown’s principles led to a dead end?’ (LEACH). Through reference to specific ethnographies, outline what you consider to be the key steps in the development of the structural-functionalist paradigm. Does your account indicate that Radcliffe-Brown’s principles were indeed followed ‘too narrowly’?
3. Explain some of the theories, methodologies, or analytical approaches that critics of structural-functionalism would prefer to have seen used instead. Then, with reference to at least two ethnographies, discuss the competing merits of these approaches for making sense of the material at hand.
4. Why do some contemporary writers continue to draw inspiration from structural/functionalist ideas?