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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Eskimo political organization: a behavioural approach Babcock, Douglas Robert


The state-stateless dichotomy in political anthropology, based on the criterion of government in a legal-structural sense, leads to the "ordered anarchy" designation of some primitive societies such as the Eskimo. The dichotomy apparently stems from a pre-occupation with Western forms of government. This ethnocentric, structural bias invalidates many of the conclusions to be found in the literature regarding primitive societies, and has important implications for current research methods. A tentative analytic framework is outlined for political organization, here construed as a process rather than a substantive structure, utilizing the interrelated concepts of power or influence, and decision- making. Influence or power, defined as the ability to get others to act, think, or feel as one intends, is an attribute of social relationships. Its dimensions include sources, means, scopes, extension, amount, costs, and strength. Political organization is regarded as the process by which decisions of group range are effected by influentials (i.e., individuals wielding power or influence). Some of the literature relating to the political organization of Eskimo groups is reviewed and found to be unanimous in its apolitical designation of the Eskimo. Five cases, utilizing published behavioral data, illustrate the usefulness of the power-decision framework for political organization, but serious limitations are imposed by the incomplete range of the data. A specific Eskimo aggregation for which considerable background material is available is then considered in its political aspects, and within the limits of the range of data, support is again provided for the present framework. The methodological truism that basic assumptions should guide but not predetermine research conclusions is illustrated by the foregoing.

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