Culture 1985

Alexander M. Ervin. Culture and Agriculture In the North American Context Culture, 1985. 5(2): 35-52.

Ervin’s article begins with a critique on Anthropology in terms of its coverage of subjects that have to deal with North America or the West. He argues that anthropologists do not study cultures of the West but instead focus on the cultures of foreign places. For him, this is the reason why the topic of agriculture in North America has been almost ignored, even though it is a topic that should be given considerable attention. The past literature about the topic concerns government agencies’ study of the impact that changes in agriculture had on local communities. These research projects were undertaken in the 1940s and 50s. Ervin then sets out to explore the culture behind agriculture in North America. The aim of the article’s discussion is to point out the changes that have taken place in agriculture on the North American landscape.

Through this study, Ervin points out many of the challenges that face farmers who reside in rural areas or the countryside. He outlines the changes that have gone on with agriculture. Prior to a discussion on the current state of affairs of North American agriculture, the article visits and explains past periods in order to make the comparison with contemporary agriculture more vivid. The main part of Ervin’s study is to uncover the various changes that have come about on the farm as a result of modernization, particularly, the move towards agribusiness. Simply put, he comments that the attitudes and values of farmers and farming communities are changing due to the mechanization of farms. This shift to machines, which places great emphasis on mass-production, property ownership and individualism has led many farmers to change their views about how they approach their occupation.

For the sake of effectiveness, the article is structured in a manner that systematically outlines the effects of the shift to agribusiness. Using a method of comparative analysis, which examines farming communities in various North American sites, the article uncovers the gradual changes in the language of farming. Also, the roles that external forces play in this change are extensively talked about. In general, Ervin’s article clearly shows the plight of rural farmers in North America and he purposefully draws a similarity between them and farmers of other non-Western cultures.


EUGENE AMOAKO York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Beaujot, Roderic. Cultural Constructions of Demographic Inquiry: Experiences of an Expatriate Researcher in Tunisia. Culture, 1985. V(1): 3-16.

Interpreting fertility trends in Tunisia is the main purpose of Beaujot’s research. The article’s structure is typical of its genre; first the author explains how he arranged and organized this project. Then he describes Tunisia and some of its history. The problem is described, his data revealed in tables, explaining how this fits with the Tunisian culture.

Tunisia, a small country, only twice the size of New Brunswick; with a population of 6.8 million has twice the average African per capita income. Their only president provides a mixture of state socialism and free enterprise capitalism. Only a veneer remains of the colonial French influence: the high literacy rate and the spoken language, but few converted to Christianity. 99.2% of the population is Muslim.

The childbearing situation of Tunisia is complex. In Islam, the primacy of man over woman is total and absolute. In Tunisia: polygamy is illegal, women have the right to divorce, there is a minimum age for marriage, and women must consent to marriage.

Fertility has dropped from seven children per woman in the 1960′s to five in the early 1980′s, but this change has slowed recently. Thirty percent of women of childbearing age use contraception. This is a surprisingly high number, showing that the government’s modernization programs have had some effect. This trend of leniency towards women is gradually reverting back to the traditional, because it is seen as an affront to men, and the government has reduced its commitment to social and cultural transformation.

Foreigners are seen as a model for development. There is envy and desire for higher consumption, but consumerism is also criticized. Tunisia’s leadership was prepared to sacrifice tradition for modernization but since 1970, tradition is gaining. Islam was used to oppose colonialism and is now used to effectively oppose modernization.

Tribal loyalties push for the more traditional family. Beaujot’s survey respondents said that the ideal family size is four children, a compromise between the traditional and the modern family. Beaujot says that Islam is a source of unity but tribal loyalty is a source of disunity.

Much of the article is a critical examination of Tunisian society.


HARRY JOHNSON York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Gailey, Christine W. The Kindness of Strangers: Transformations of Kinship in

Precapitalist Class and State Formation. Culture, 1985. 5(2): 3-16.

In this article Christine Ward Gailey examines the violation of traditional kinship ties that she argues is inherent in the process of state formation. Gailey argues that in class and state formation, kinship relations must be transformed or subordinated to allow class relations to emerge. She uses the example of the Tongan Islands in pre-colonial Polynesia to illustrate how kinship ties and claims had to be restricted or interrupted by the installation of foreigners or “strangers” into high ranking positions in Tongan society. This enabled political power to become estranged from kinship ties and allowed for the reproduction of class relations. Gailey also draws on the work of Marx and Engels to demonstrate the importance of emerging state structures and institutions in stabilizing and entrenching nascent class relations.

Gailey argues that in state formation members of lower ranking kin groups must be reconstituted as “strangers” who are exploitable and devoid of claims of reciprocity. Limited in their access to titled positions within the high ranking groups, they became responsible for the supply of tribute, labour and goods that enabled the dominant classes to be permanently separated from subsistence production.

The expression of “fahu” in the pre-colonial Tongan Islands is used by the author to illustrate how specific cultural cognatic ties of kinship and their inherent claims to political and material power had to be subordinated or circumvented in order for class relations to form. Gailey uses the Tongan term “fahu” to define “sisters’ lines”, or lineages that descended from sisters, whose material and political claims outranked their brothers. This bestowed Tongan women with the ability to convey social authority through the selective distribution and production of highly valued ceremonial objects. She argues that in order for class relations to emerge, women’s social authority, which had previously prevented the consolidation and succession of power by one lineage, had to be limited; this was accomplished by the installation of foreigners or “strangers” into high ranking positions in Tongan society, by means of strategic political alliances or through marriage to high ranking Tongan women.

The author concludes that as a process, state formation involves the transformation of kin into strangers in terms of control over production and allocation of products and labour. She argues that in this process cultures are transformed into ethnic identities as previously autonomous peoples are drawn into the service of reproducing class relations. Ethnicity, Gailey argues, emerges in place of an autonomous cultural identity.


SARA GRANDINETTI York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Lee, Richard. Greeks and Victorians: A Re-Examination of Engles’ Theory of the Athenian Polis. Culture, 1985. V(1): 63-74.

Lee propounds a paradox in Engles’ theory of state formation. He feels that Engles’ supporting example does not fit into his theory as once thought. His paper re-examines the Athenian State in contrast to Engles’ views. Lee uses the theory of early state proposed by Henri Classen and Peter Skalnik to forward his views. Issues such as early state development, economy, and roles of kinship and politics are discussed in detail. He also pays attention to individual efforts that lead to change. Lee attempts to clarify “the question of the role of kinship in social evolution, and second, the correlation between the rise of the state and the development of inequality”.

To Lee the early state is a valuable tool in the understanding of state society development. He concurs with Classen and Skalnik in that it arises through a process. It “is inherently dialectical”. By treating it as such we may focus on the internal logic of its growth. Because state development happens over a long period of time it takes on different shapes and is open to self-documentation. In other words, the people have achieved literacy.

Lee and Engles differ in their timing of early state development by a couple of centuries. Engles believes that a kinship based system was replaced by a formal government. Lee feels that Engles errs in his interpretation of the change ensued by Solon and Cleisthenes. They were democratic and not despotic in character. He argues that civil rights improved and there was increased equality. Kin-based societies can contain their own complex forms of inequality and state formation may serve to improve equality. It destroys kin-based institutions.

Lee refers to the time period between 800 and 600 BC, the beginning of the archaic period. He feels that kinship probably played a major role in social life. A massive wave of outmigration and colonization ensued and tyrannies arose. Lee argues that the main reason for inequality was the disproportionate land-holding and unfair agrarian system. Solon instituted widespread changes that re-ordered the Athenian social fabric. He credits Solon with setting the state free from society. Following Solon, Cleisthenes’ changes are said to have ushered in classical Athenian democracy. Lee argues this was a democracy linked to the rise of slavery. However, Greek citizens gained more power in return for loyalty and participation “in the task of running a slave based commercial and military political economy”. The military was expanded beyond its kin-based organization resulting in new forms of alliance. Women were given few if any rights compared to men and were unfairly treated as legal minors. And there was a high level of monetization. Lee uses these facts to address that formation of the Greek State had a negative effect on human freedom. He argues that realities of equality at the time preclude it from exemplifying Engles’ theory.


DAVID MIONE York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Leland, Donald. Captives or Slaves? A Comparison of Northeastern and Northwestern North America by Means of Captivity Narratives. Culture, 1985. 5(2): 17-24.

In his article, Donald Leland depicts the difference between the status of a captive and a slave as pertaining to the North American Indian tribes of the Maliseet and the Nuu-chah-nulth.

Leland defines a captive as a “person who has been taken from their natal social setting and held, at least initially against their will in their captor’s society.” The term slave he argues is used because captives may have been owned, sold or killed as `property’ of their captor. His main source of data is the `Captivity Narrative,” of John Jewitt captured by the Nuu-chah-nulth in 1803, and John Gyles captured by the Maliseet in 1689. He bases his argument on the differences of the lifestyle of which each man lived. Leland asserts that the treatment of captured victims as either a `captive’ or as a `slave,’ can be determined by the practices and social make up of the society into which the captive was brought. Aspects such as family make up, means of subsistence, (hunter-gatherer, or domestication), the number of people in the society and the social structure of the group all determine whether the captured is to be a `captive,’ or a `slave.’ He examines the meaning and reason behind death threats and the reason these men were kept alive, as well as questioning their status as captive or slave in relation to the tasks and work they were given. Was it extreme tasks, or did they do the equivalent to what a native boy their age would do? Lastly he focuses on the living conditions of the two men. Claiming that Gyles in the Maliseet society was a captive, for he suffered when his captors suffered, where as Jewitt was probably a slave, as he often went hungry even when his captors may not have. It is from these differences that Leland suggests that, like most other North American Native Groups, the Maliseets of the Northeast held captives where as the Nuu-chah-nulth of the Northwest treated their captives as slaves.


HEATHER NICHOLS York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Patterson, Thomas C. Exploitation and Class Formation in the Inca State. Culture, 1985. 5(1): 35-41.

Utilizing a Marxist approach, Patterson explores how expanded exploitation created new challenges that developed as the structure of the dominant class altered within the Inca state. These expansionist tactics of the Inca reigning class were an effort to settle issues caused by an internal organization centered on kinship. The new types of exploitation set out for each generation of the ruling class to plan new ways for obtaining surplus product from communities and governments integrated into the royal state. Patterson discusses how panaqas (which are business landholding units made up of brothers and sisters, traced from the same ruler), connect to the internal conflicts within the Inca ruling class, specifically inheritance issues and the succession to the throne. The panaqas invented new strategies for extracting excessive product from the Andean peoples: setting up coalitions with powerful shrines that were non-Inca, appropriating territory and servants for the absolute use of the ruling division or as offerings for those who endorsed the welfare of the Inca state and its leading class.

The expansion of the Inca state began during the sovereignty of Viracocha `Inka, who belonged to the Zukzu panaqa. He constituted permanent rule over groups that had been previously conquered. Pachakuti was the next ruler who limited the aptitude of the Zukzu panaqa to accumulate further wealth. Topa `Inka followed, who faked close relations with powerful shrines to form a class structure that went against traditional Andean social rankings, usually described in terms of descent from a common ancestor or nationality. Wayna Qhapaq was next to reign and created new ways for raising revenue by granting estates to individuals. Washkar was later assigned to the throne and formed a war against his rivalry `Ataw Wallpa. Both men awarded lands and servants to individuals to promote faithfulness, which ensured the provisions necessary for the reproduction of the dominant class. Patterson concludes that the transformation of the Inca state involved archaism- the intentional effort to promote an illusion of the stability of old institutions and practices in a new perspective.


MARK KAY York University (Maggie Macdonald).

Richard Lee. Greeks and Victorians: A Re-Examination of Engels’ Theory of the Athenian Polis Culture, 1985. V(1): 63-74.

According to Lee, Engel believed that the state existed as a result of unequal power distribution favoring a small group of elite non producers against a vast majority of commoners. The state was a feature of human society, the origin of agriculture and the rise of capitalism. Lee employs the Victorian theorist’s notion of State, and reveals that their version of the origin of state corresponds to what we now call, following Claessen, the transition from the early to the mature state.

Lee makes reference to Engel’s argument about how human societies are universally based on kinship. Primitive human society was primarily dominated by strong kinship ties. As human development proceeded towards social evolution, principles of social organization began to dominate human affairs.

Relating to the importance of a paper by Edward van der Vliet, Lee lays claim to the fact that the Athenian State was ruled by Kings who had proven themselves in battle to validate their claim to the throne. However the Archaic period was marked by the development and rediscovery of literacy and the appearance of iron. This led to the progress of agriculture and manufacturing. Social organization consisted of four basic units, the tribe, the phratry, the deme and the clan or gens. Lee refers to Engel’s definition of primitive communities. Rapid social change in the region led to inequality among people and resulted in unequal distribution of power, this resulted in a threat to Athenian society.

Referencing Moore’s claim about a remarkable new poet, Lee talks about a merchant with widespread foreign ties by the name of Solon who was appointed in Athens as Archon. Solon brought about reforms in the region such that a level was defined below which people cannot sink. This reform brought about change that will result in a transition from an early state from to a mature state from. The rights of citizens expanded and people gained freedom in Athenian society. However this change and development was only one segment of Athenian society. Women were strictly secluded and remained anonymous in legal, political and social matters while men enjoyed the company of sexual encounters with other men, boys and slave women. Lee states that Engel has placed significant emphasis on the subordination of women as an integral part of the rise of early states. Although the reforms brought about by Solon has created a sense of balance in society Richard B. Lee believes that Engel was able to see what others have missed


ARIFUR RAHMAN York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Richling, Barnett. Isolation and Community Resettlement: a Labrador Example. Culture, 1985. 5(2): 77 – 86.

In 1976, the remote village of Hopedale, on Labrador’s north coast, became Richling’s subject of field work. Using Hopedale as his example, he set out to elaborate on the findings of a Royal Commission report that had briefly described the experienced isolation of northern communities in Labrador. That report concluded that the felt isolation was not due to physical geography as might be thought, but rather ensued from historical patterns linked from the onset to external economic and political interventions. Consequently, Richling considers the effect that isolation has had on “local priorities and decision making”.

The article briefly summarizes the history of the Inuit people of Hopedale, clearly marking a relationship between the arrival of outsiders whose adjustment to the north.