Accepted Paper:

Whither the political party?  


William Fisher (William Mary)

Paper short abstract:

Although there is no shortage of anthropological considerations of politics, there are very few ethnographic analysis of, political parties, a widely disseminated political form within states, especially modern states that embrace some notion of democracy and elaborate a model of citizenship. This paper examines deployment of anthropological concepts of “power” and “politics” in order to understand why political parties, widely considered to be a prime instrument of politics by natives themselves, appear such an unpromising area of anthropological theorization.

Paper long abstract:

Eric Wolf councils that "we must not confuse the theory of state sovereignty with the facts of political life, however, the absence of the analysis of political parties within the writings of political anthropology, in effect constitutes an assertion regarding the relative unimportance for political parties as a form of social agency. Not only are political parties almost absent from the encyclopedic, Companion to an Anthropology of Politics, (eds. David Nugent and Joan Vincent, 2004) but a review of the literature regarding politics within states shows multifarious topics that receive higher billing: peasant, tribal and chiefdom organization within states, clientalism, ritualization of politics and political campaigns, local politics, factionalism, political symbolism, identity, ethnonationalism, imagined communities, media, "post-socialism, post-colonialism, neoliberalism, and collective violence. Generally, anthropological analysis of organizational and communicational form has taken precedence over the analysis of social process involved in party building, reproduction and exercise of power. In keeping with this panel's mandate to "contemplate the discipline's way of coping with practical political challenges of the world we live in," it is argued that by devolving the site of agency away from political parties, anthropology makes an assertion about the wellsprings of politics and about the value of anthropological knowledge.

Panel W015
Diversifying anthropology: politics of research or research in politics?