Everything I need to know about (political) anthropology I learned from FG Bailey
Paper short abstract:
FG Bailey’s work is often condensed to his 1969 “Stratagems and Spoils”. But beyond this staple reference in political anthropology, he offers a large and coherent opus, with succinct lessons in theory and method that can arguably stand the test of time – if we care to read them.
Paper long abstract:
Drawing on the presenter's academic vita, the opus of FG Bailey is reviewed, with an emphasis on his theoretical and methodological contributions to political and general anthropology. While criticised during the 1960s and 70s for alleged methodological individualism and insensitivity to context, Bailey has over decades developed a complex and sophisticated repertoire of terms and axioms for the analysis of social action in general. Among the first to speak of "arenas", his model of actors struggling not only over substantial prizes but also over the rules of the political game is very adaptable and works well with and within more contemporary frameworks. While clearly a product of the 20th century and postcolonial conditions, Bailey's texts are steps towards an anthropological anthropology, which works at a level of abstraction less fashionable today but valuable for its generalising and comparative potential. His claims remain epistemically modest, as he limits himself to working with observed behaviour and cultural inference. Hence, his toolkit for political anthropology really is a toolkit for social behaviour in general. The presentation explores some key ideas such as the "arena", the "tertius" and the "saving lie", and addresses the earlier criticism by exploring Bailey's take on power, structure(s) and culture. "Stratagems and spoils", while surely most quoted, is not the capstone of Bailey's work, but rather an early exploration of themes better developed in later, more neglected publications. His "'old' anthropology" can still matter today precisely for his efforts to develop modest but clear models.
What to do with 'old' anthropology? Zeitgeist, knowledge and time