Felix Girke
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F. G. Bailey’s political anthropology and its malcontents
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F. G. Bailey has likened himself to the fox, who has many ideas, as contrasted to the hedgehog, who has but one (and supposedly defends it with bristling spines). However, this is not to say that there is no coherence in his writings from the 1950s into the 21st century. Over decades, he has developed a sophisticated and ever-refined repertoire of terms and axioms applicable and adaptable for the analysis of social action in general – famously, he was among the first scholars to speak of political ‘arenas’. With his model of actors struggling not only over substantial prizes but also over the very rules of the political game, F. G. Bailey has always remained epistemologically modest, basing his analyses on observed behaviour and plausible inference, culturally grounded but always assuming a very humanistic unity of mankind. His eventual turn towards rhetorical persuasion as a prime vehicle of social action opens a window into his very conception of human nature. Drawing on a thorough reading of F. G. Bailey’s theoretical corpus, this chapter summarizes his proverbial toolkit to demonstrate how the various parts interlock and offer an accessible middle-range approach to interaction and conflict. It ends on a reflection on the position of F. G. Bailey’s work in the patchy history of political anthropology. A discussion of three critics of his approach serves to underline the specific strengths of the toolkit, with its universalist ambitions. Operating at a level of abstraction less fashionable today, as the postmodern drift of political anthropology has rerouted disciplinary interest away from political action to political form and eventually political thought, it might not receive fair and adequate representation in current textbooks, but still remains an inspiring and cohesive contribution to not only interaction, but social theory.

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The anthropology of power, agency, and morality

The enduring legacy of F. G. Bailey


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