transcending the barrierseric wolf beyond marx




Transcending the Barriers

"My primary interest is to explain something out there that impinges
me, and I would sell my soul to the devil if I thought it would help."
Eric Wolf, 1987

Eric Wolf\'s interest into the realm of anthropology emerged upon recognition of the theorist- imposed boundaries, encompassing both theories and subjects, which current and past anthropological scholars had constructed. These boundaries, Wolf believed, were a result of theorist tending to societies and cultures as fixed entities–static, bounded and autonomous, rather then describing and interpreting societies within a state of constant change, ceaselessly vulnerable to external influence, and always interconnected with other societies. Yet to transcend current anthropological theories and boundaries, and to explain this interconnectedness, in attempt to understand the world, Wolf believed three criteria must be met: 1) To trace the world market and the course of capitalist development, 2) To develop this theory of this growth and development and finally, one must be able to relate both the history and theory of that unfolding development to processes that affect and change the lives of local populations Wolf, 1982:21)
By tracing the formation of Wolf\'s theory through these criteria, from Marxist and beyond, one can see how, although Marxist in orientation, he goes beyond current anthropological theory and attempts to diminish the boundaries, by suggesting that a political economic theory laden with history in a macrocosomic context is the only means in which one can begin to attempt to understand the world.
Capitalist Development
The influence of Lewis Henry Morgon and his unilinear version of social evolution posed as the backbone for Karl Marx and Fred Engels. Yet rather then transcending from the primitive to the civilized upon "the classification of cultures into seven distinct ethical periods" based on the development of subsistence techniques (Kuper, 66), Marx and Engels based their course of creation from primitive communism, through to feudalism and capitalism judged in terms of the "Modes of Production" which dominated each stage. It was these "Modes of Production", referring to the specific technologies, which form the base or the "infrastructure" of a society.
From this base, Marx purposed a "Superstructure Theory" in which the base determines the superstructure, that is laws and government, while both the Superstructure and the Base determine the ideology, the philosophies, religion and the ideals that are prevalent in society. In other words, the economic base provided the cultural superstructure, thus culture could only be understood by drawing upon the changing nature of human production and reproduction, which inevitably is controlled by those in which power is invested-read the ruling class. Change or advancement towards the teleological goal of civilization therefore became a class struggle, those with little power, against those with power. To maintain this power, Marx believed, the ruling class will resort to whatever means they can, especially through futility in ideological mystification, resulting in the construction of a false consciousness, or a false belief of the lower class. This false consciousness and false belief resulted eventually in a conceptualized delusion, subjecting them [the lower class] unconsciously to the dominant ideals of society-a concept also known to Gramsci as "Hegemony".
Growth of a Theory
Wolf adapted this Marxist approach in his theorizing, that is paying attention to the fundamental dynamics of change and phenomena such as exploitation, domination and colonialism from the get- go of his anthropological inquiry. In his Ph.D dissertation (1951) while probing into the lives of Puerto Rican societies and cultures he suggested that communities and their socio-cultural traits could not be completely understood without analyzing the impact of existing forces such as national power relations, international trade and world markets (Abbink, 95) It was through these forces which he saw us as all interconnected.
From his fieldwork with peasants he discovered that these smaller communities form a central component of larger, more complex societies. Therefore occurrences at local levels needed to be understood in terms of reactions of the local people to the economic and political forces expelled from the larger societies, as it is these larger societies which are subjecting the smaller societies to a false consciousness based on the ideology of those in power.
Communities which form part of a complex society can thus be viewed
no longer as self-contained and integrated systems in their own right. It
is more appropriate to