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Leach’s Critique of Structural Functionalism

Leach’s Critique of Structural Functionalism

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Leach’s Critique of Structural Functionalism

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  1. Leach’s Critique of Structural Functionalism (continued)

  2. Contradictions in the Ideal Systems • 2. The Critique of Social Change • Kachin Hill area characterized not by equilibrium, but by an ‘unstable equilibirum’ in continual oscillation: • Between Gumsa and Gumlao, between social hierarchies and radical egalitarianism. • I. Gumlao: all are of the same status, no village or domain chiefs, social and linguistic factionalism. • II. Gumsa: ideal model is a feudal state, ranked hierarchy in status and politics. Languages ranked in a status hierarchy, with Jinghpaw being the language of the aristocracy. • Both Gumlao and Gumsa communities are unstable, because they contain elements in tension with each other, I.e. internal contradictions

  3. The Gumsa and Gumlao Models: • GUMSA MODEL: • Descent: Patrilineal lineages and clans, ultimogeniture (youngest son inherits), each lineage headed by an elder. • Allliance: Matrilateral cross-cousin marriage is the ideal. Clans are ideal exogamous, but almost always so at the level of the lineage. • Leads to the mayu-dama system in terms of understanding hierarchy: • I. Mayu: lineages from which ego’s lineage have taken brides. • II. Dama: lineages in which women from ego’s lineage have recently married. • III. Lawu-lahta: recognized as descent relatives, but distant relationships. Neither mayu nor dama. • IV. Closely related lineages whom one cannot marry into.

  4. Contradictions of the Gumsa Model • Mayu/dama relationship is hierarchical. • If a son-in-law cannot give gifts as bride-price, he must work for his father-in-law. • Tendency is for the chief of the village to try to act like a Shan prince (saohpa) and treat the dama relationships as if they were feudal serfs. • At a certain point the dama lineages rebel, instituting a gumlao ‘democracy’

  5. Contradictions in the Gumlao Model • In principle, all lineages are equal and there should be no distinction between wife givers and wife receivers. • However, the terminology and language of mayu and dama is retained. • Over several generations, the mayu lineages try to reassert their authority by requiring high bride price and the village begins to resemble a gumsa autocracy.

  6. A Criticism of the Concept of ‘Tribe’ as a Colonial Construct • Tribe was identified in functionalism by: • I. Language: but the Kachin Hills area does not fit this model. There are fifteen distinct languages. • Language and dialect are related to social status. • 2. Territory: Kachin and Shan are often mixed up together, fluid boundaries. • Many examples of individual kachins who became Shan and vice-versa • 3. Political/Social Organization: Within the Kachin Hill Area, there are two distinct ‘models’ of society: • Hence, none of the objective definitions of tribe could be applied to the Kachin Hill areas.

  7. Colonial ethnography • Previous english writings on the Kachin were written by colonial adminstrators. • They assumed that tribe = single culture= given territory = single language = ‘race.’ • They explained variations in language and cultural traits in the Kachin Hill areas as due to historical migrations. • Hence, Shan were Chinese who had migrated to the Kachin lowlands. • Kachin languages were Tibeto-Burmese, hence it was assumed that the Kachin had migrated from Tibet in earlier centuries. • However, these conjectural histories did not fit the facts of dispersion of languages and cultural traits. • For Leach, the major determining difference between the Kachin and Shan was ecological: • Shan were valley dwellers, practising wet-rice cultivation and were Buddhist • Kachin were hill dwellers, subsistence agriculturalists and animists. • Further research showed that many names of tribes that were assumed to be fixed were appllied by colonial administrators: • E.g. Lao, Dene, and other words really just meant ‘our people’ in the respective language. • Many more expamples of people crossing ethnic boundaries and of changing cynamics of ethnic groups were found: • E.g. the Fur and Baggara in Sudan. • E.g. The Nuer were really ‘Dinka’ in the past.

  8. Tribes as ethnic groups • Individuals in the Kachin Hills used their ethnicity strategically, in relation to external political contexts. • Successful Kachin chiefs tried to emulate the Shan princes. • Some Kachin would migrate to the plains, learn Thai, become Buddhist and within a few generations ‘become Shan.’ • Similarly, people who lost their land in the plains would migrate to the hills and gradually become ‘Kachin.’ • However, the flow of personell across ethnic boundaries did not erase the notion that there were differences between the hill dwellers and the plains.

  9. Ethnic groups and boundaries (Barth) • Focus is on viewing ethnicity relationally and as a process. • Does not assume that shared culture=shared language=shared territory= a single ethnic identity. • Rather the problem becomes that of identifying the conditions under which ethnic boundaries are maintained and those under which they change. For ethnicities to exist, there has to also be a concept of a boundary between ‘us’ and them. Continuity of an ethnic group presupposes the existence of a boundary? • How is this maintained? • How does this change? • Also, this approach gives primary emphasis to the fact that ethnic identity is a category of ascription by the actors themselves.

  10. Many Societies are Polyethnic • Types of Ethnic Boundaries: • Two or more ethnic groups may occupy distinct ecological niches and exploit different resources, but may be linked through incorporation in a polyethnic state and/or through the market. Interaction is likely to be complementary (Kachin/Shan). Market interaction can leave wide areas of cultural diversity untouched. • They may monopolize separate territories, but coexist in the same ecological space, here often competitive boundaries are produced. • They may offer complementary goods and services for each other, in which case they may be complementary, but also stratified. E.g. caste or caste-like systems. • Movement across ethnic boundaries will depend upon particular economic/ecologic/political circumstances, e.g. Fur and Baggara.

  11. To sum up: • Focus now is on how societies change. • Also on the influence of external factors, e.g. colonialism. • Aspects that had seemed ‘objective’ and ‘fixed’ in time are now seen to be constructed and change through time, e.g. ethnic and ‘tribal’ identities. • The focus is on a relational and processual approach to understanding how social groups and boundaries are CONSTRUCTED