ANT2004 Anthropology of Power and Conflict
|Faculty or Section :
||Faculty of Arts
|School or Department :
||School of Humanities and Communication
|Version produced :
||21 July 2014
Pre-requisite: ANT1000 or ANT1001 or ANT2000
Anthropologists have debated for decades whether the capacity for violence and aggression is intrinsic to being human biology, or whether it is an outcome of human culture. If violence is attributable to biology, what role does culture play in mediating and controlling those impulses?
One of the characteristics of humans, which they share with at least some species of higher primates, is that individuals respond to frustration, or the constraint of their desires with fear or anger. This may generate conflict and competition and may escalate to dominance and threats of violence. In response to such behaviours others may exhibit submissive behaviour. This means that some individuals or groups may use power, to control the behaviour of others in an attempt to get their own way. All social groups evolve behaviours and 'strategies', which may be used to constrain, direct and deflect the power and force of individuals. This is necessary to minimize demands and threats of violence or other coercion, which if unrestrained would threaten the cohesion and solidarity of the group. This is fundamental to social animals like humans who rely on dependence, cooperation and support to survive.
Culture provides members of human groups with the means to create, identify and manipulate power and control in their own communities. Culture also shapes the motivations, values, and beliefs with which people make sense of the uses and abuses of power. We commonly refer to the study of power and control in human societies as "politics". As anthropologists we study political behaviour and political systems, considering in details the diversity of forms and expressions within human cultures. We investigate power and control as they are found across the social scale from individuals through larger groups to the global system. Because power and control are closely associated with coercion and violence, anthropologists study these as part of the repertoire of human "political" responses.