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[Katie Iverson] E. E. Evans-Pritchard

This text was produced by Katie Iverson while the person was a student at Macalester. It was distributed for in-class review. Any use of this text necessitates you to contact the person directly for copyright purposes.

From: Katie Iverson
Sent: Thursday, October 21, 2004 11:17 AM
Subject: E.E. Evans-Pritchard!!
I know you’re gonna love this one. It’s long AND informative.

E.E. Evans-Pritchard Crib Sheet
Katie Iverson
“The Nuer of the Southern Sudan” 1940

*Evans-Pritchard gives description and explanation of the Nuer political system *

I. Distribution

The Nuer are cattle pastoralists who also practice horticulture, fishing, and hunting and gathering. Their environment is a flat savannah which has both dry and wet seasons. According to the time of year, the Nuer move from place to place to meet their needs. The distribution of the Nuer is largely determined by their environment and their subsistence. As a result of a lack of surplus food, the Nuer communities are cooperative groups, sharing and working together. Villages serve as the political units for the Nuer, but the territorial structure is changed by seasonal migration. This leads to the Nuer having many different types of social relations, with most of communal life being conducted by tribal segments

II. Tribal System

Nuer tribes are exclusive territorial units which run independently of each other. There is no larger political group than the tribe. Each tribe has a dominate clan and an age-set system. Within each tribe there are laws, or ways in which feuds are settled. Feuds, once started, will either end in resolution, or the tribe will divide as a result of it. Limitations of a tribe’s political power is also the limitation of social intercourse, for any Nuer family can leave at any time and join any other tribe. There are primary, secondary and tertiary sections of tribes. A tertiary section is divided into villages and villages into domestic groups. The membership of any Nuer person to a political group is relative to the issue being dealt with. If a man is feuding with a man of his own village, he will associate himself as a member of a certain domestic group that is in opposition to another domestic group in the village. Thus political identification is made in relation to what is being opposed. As a result, political groupings are always changing. Evans-Pritchard uses the terms fission and fusion to describe how political units are constantly breaking apart and then coming together. Their structure is segmentary in this sense.

III Lineage System

The Kinship system is also highly segmentary. Lineages are genealogically based comprising agnates through the male line only. Descent can be traced very far back, and thus all Nuer have relations that they recognize as more or less closely related to them. Therefore lineages are also segmentary because within a clan there are several lineages and within a lineage there are several segments that are more closely related than others. Different clans and lineages can be found in every tribe. Dominate clans within tribes have no actual power, only prestige. Social obligations are expressed thought the idiom of kinship. Fission and Fusion can happen within clans that have lineages that are feuding.

IV Age-Set System

Age-sets are a tribal institution which are socially significant. They do not have a specific political function or specific activities. The age-sets are another way in which Nuer society is segmentary. The sets are constantly changing their status in relation to one another, and there can be fission and fusion. These groups determine how men treat one another socially, by rank of seniority.

V. Feuds and Other Disputes

The Nuer political system operates through the medium of the feud. These feuds are mediated by the leopard chief who provides sanctuary to law breakers and attempts to bring about resolution. Feuds are more easily settled in smaller groups than in large groups and this illustrates/reinforces tribal or clan social relations. However, a feud necessarily involves whole communities, as it divides them or brings them together. Thus feuds have a political connotation and illustrate the hostility between segments of groups. Evans-Pritchard believes that feuds maintain a “balanced opposition” which allows for hostility and allows for unification (fusion). Thus the feud helps the political structure to maintain itself. How and when a feud is resolved is relative to the groups involved in the fight. This involves the fission or fusion of tribes, lineages and age-set groups.

VI. Summary
The Nuer political system is segmentary. There are no official people or institutions of power. This political system is one of fission and fusion between tribal, lineage and age-set groupings. Therefore the system is inherently segmentary and “defined by the relativity and opposition of its segments”. This political structure is demonstrated and reinforced through the feud.

Anthropological Theory of Evans-Pritchard (Hatch)
· Moved from positivistic functionalism to more of an idealism
· Reformed the functionalism concept-function is not the key to understanding
· Was very interested in subjective culture and free will- cultures must be understood in terms of culture’s own subjective categories and values
· Cultural and natural sciences are very different
· Wants to explain cultures by making them intelligible to other cultures-explain how they are rational, understand their system of ideas
· Reasonableness of man will lead to patterns-man wants an ordered and intelligible world
· Wants to understand culture from the inside point of view, wants to look to individual goals, thoughts and feelings
· Understanding is a legitimate form of explanation- don’t have to analyze
· Social structure is not so important, but it is useful to understand the whole society
· Institutions express human values and ideas
· 3 phases of proper anthropological field work according to Evans-Prit.
1. Describe and translate so that culture can be understood. Interpret from inside the culture.
2. Structural/relational method- discover the order and logical structure to show how parts are related
3. Comparison of essential features of structural forms and their reasons for variation. Not wide ranging, no broad generalizations, retain social context

1. How are the ideas and work of Evans-Pritchard similar to that of Malinowski? How are they different? What about Radcliff-Brown?
2. Where does Evans-Pritchard place the person in his theory of the Nuer political system? Where does he place the individual?
3. What is Evans-Pritchard’s concept of society?

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