Anthropology and political ideology

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This chapter makes the bold claim that ideology should be a central concept in political anthropology. Despite some interest from linguistic (Gal 2005) and semiotic (Keane 2007) anthropologists, the renaissance that ideology is experiencing in other disciplines has yet to translate into a proper anthropological re-engagement. That is a loss, since much current anthropology effectively concerns ideology, by which I understand the way in which political subjectivities are formed in systemic ways. This question is inherently political, and therefore should be a key occupation for political anthropologists. In order to make that re-engagement, I argue that we must assess the relation between culture and ideology, and between habitus, affect, and political ideas. I stress that the “webs of significance” in which man is suspended (qua Weber and Geertz) are related to political thought. In other words, from an anthropological point of view, how societies think politically or, how people think politically together, cannot be addressed without understanding the cultural interpretation of thought. Yet the deep understanding of cultural patterns that the discipline proffers has not been sufficiently utilized to shed light on the formation of the logics, the ways of being a political subject in the world, underpinning political action. If ideologies are cognitive structures with legitimizing functions (Stråth 2006: 23), it is also true that there is no clear demarcation from other knowledge structures, including those normally related to “culture,” the main subject of anthropology. That gives anthropologists a distinct edge in the current push in ideology theory towards better understanding the “anatomy of thinking politically” (Freeden 2015), the complex ways in which political thought is shaped between subjective interpretation and social interaction.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Political Anthropology
EditorsHarald Wydra, Bjørn Thomassen
Number of pages14
Place of PublicationCheltenham
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
Publication date2018
ISBN (Print)9781783479009
ISBN (Electronic)9781783479016
Publication statusPublished - 2018
SeriesElgar Handbooks in Political Science

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