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The enduring legacy of F. G. Bailey

The works of F. G. Bailey (1924‒2020) provide a masterful template for good ethnography: the kind that leads to theoretical insight. Central to this endeavour is Bailey’s ability to conceptually connect the well-described micro-contexts of individual interactions to the macro-context of culture. Bailey’s core concerns – the tension between individual and collective interests, the will to power, how leaders yield and keep power, and the dialectics of social forces which foster both collective solidarity as well as divisiveness and discontent – are themes of universal interest; the beauty of his work lies in bite of his analyses of how these play out in local arenas between real people. Bailey’s ethnographic gaze enables richly thick descriptions of social interactions in which actors recognize the rules of the game, simultaneously deploying creative actions that circumvent those rules in ways that Bailey’s models illuminate. His work provides nuanced, yet explicit road maps to analyzing the different leadership styles of everyday people as well as contemporary leaders: Boris Johnson, Trump, Obama, Putin, Macron, Modi, Kim Jong-un. It is our hope that this volume will inspire new generations of anthropologists to revisit his seminal texts by demonstrating the broad range of research areas in which Bailey’s conceptual and methodological toolkit can be applied. The range of topics and cultures studied in the chapters collected will help new scholars navigate their way through the ethnographic thicket of their own research.

Hindu Nadar identities in urban South India
Sara Dickey

Nadars occupy a uniquely disjunctive set of social positions in southern India. Historically viewed as one of the lowest ranked castes in the region, over the past two centuries they have also become one of the wealthiest. In negotiating identities and social status today, Nadars must balance the honour of their socioeconomic class with the continuing stigma of their caste. Part of this effort involves claims made on history to explain past and present standings. Such claims are especially likely to appear in the recounting of family history. This chapter uses such accounts – which chart movements across both space and hierarchy – to explore urban Hindu Nadars’ discursive strategies for managing disjunctive identities. They range from claiming expulsion from uppermost echelons during ancient regime changes; to acknowledging centuries-old degradation, albeit now overcome by a singular work ethic; to highlighting shared past discrimination with ‘untouchables’ as a radical critique of caste inequalities. Examining embedded class, caste, and religious politics, I consider the potential outcomes, losses, and gains of each strategy. Drawing from Caste and the Economic Frontier, Gifts and Poison and The Kingdom of Individuals, I build on Bailey’s insights into honour and reputation, caste mobility, and collective vs. individual goods.

in The anthropology of power, agency, and morality
Felix Girke

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.

in The anthropology of power, agency, and morality
Victor C. de Munck and Elisa J. Sobo

Bailey’s prominence in anthropology reflects the unique capacity he had to seamlessly integrate good ethnography with coherent theory. He accomplished this by having a clear and flexible theory of social interaction, a toolkit of methods for synthesizing his findings, and an ability to transform his mind’s eye understandings of social interactions into text. This is no mean feat. To situate Bailey’s contributions, we describe and appraise the growth of the Manchester School of Anthropology under Max Gluckman and the development of the extended case study method. We then interrogate the two anthropological lives of Bailey ‒ one in India and England, the other in the USA, where his growing interest in adapting cognitive anthropology to his own work on leadership styles blossomed. We explore how, through Bailey’s lens, people behave as moral actors adhering to cultural practices signifying normative values, while at the same time being motivated by instrumental and desired personal ends. This is the basic paradigm for everyday life in Bailey’s Bisipara; and it appears to be the basic paradigm for everyday life most anywhere in the world. The introduction concludes with an overview of the 16 chapters that make up this volume. The chapters were written by anthropologists who have been strongly influenced by Bailey (many are either former students or colleagues). The diversity of the chapters, in content and approach, attest to Bailey’s enduring legacy as anthropology moves forward.

in The anthropology of power, agency, and morality
An aperture on ‘character’
Christopher Griffin

The author was trained and supervised by Bailey at Sussex in the early 1970s and remained in touch with him for the next half-century. This chapter examines Bailey’s original theoretical influence on the writer’s focus on community, leadership, continuity, and change. It considers Bailey’s debt to E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Max Gluckman, and someone frequently overlooked, the classicist Gilbert Murray, Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford University whose attention to the Stoics drove to the heart of Bailey’s political anthropology, to his character, and helps explain F. G. B.’s antipathy to Marx and to religion ‒ something this writer’s background was steeped in. Indeed, was it not for embarking on this essay to begin with, it is likely the author would have skirted the discomfiture his faith-religion long presented. The chapter is divided into four histories: (i) Bailey’s Oxford years, (ii) Liverpool and Manchester, (iii) F. G. B.’s initial role and impact on the author, and (iv) on Griffin’s use of FGB’s concepts in Nice and a Var village in the 1970s, and on a Traveller-‘Gypsy’ caravan site in west London in the 1980s. In between, and later, not included here, the writer did fieldwork in Fiji, and (collaboratively on a case of nomad displacement) in Chennai.

in The anthropology of power, agency, and morality
David Lipset

The chapter argues that there has been an unacknowledged relationship of Manchester Anthropology that Max Gluckman promoted, and in which F. G. Bailey was trained, to a small network of Melanesianists, myself included. The chapter begins with a brief account of the orientation and interests of what I call ‘Mancunian Realism’, Gluckman’s actor-centered methodology. I then appraise the political anthropology that Bailey went on to develop from it, before turning to the impact of Mancunian Realism on Melanesian anthropology. Specifically, I assess exemplary texts in the work of John Barnes, Peter Worsley, and A. L. Epstein, and go on to evaluate the extent to which Mancunian Realism did and did not influence my own doctoral research in Papua New Guinea.

in The anthropology of power, agency, and morality
From Bisipara to Aotearoa
Erica Prussing

This chapter draws inspiration from F. G. Bailey’s The Witch Hunt (1996, Cornell University Press) to analyse an instance of political conflict from a growing transnational field of epidemiological researcher-advocates who are working to promote Indigenous health equity. While Bailey’s ethnographic focus on the Indian village of Bisipara in the 1950s may seem worlds apart from transnational Indigenous activism at the turn of the 21st century, his attention to how participants in political conflicts regularly reframe what others experience as injustice in morally positive terms, as they attempt to achieve their own agendas, remain timely and relevant. In The Witch Hunt: Or, the Triumph of Morality, Bailey documents how key participants in a conflict in the village of Bisipara ended up framing the persecution of one man as a morally appropriate act in support of the collective good. For comparison, I draw an example from the twists and turns of a political conflict in Aotearoa New Zealand, in which Māori researchers have contended with recurrent political efforts to deny copious evidence that ethnicity patterns health and social inequities, and responded to the ways in which proponents of these denials have attempted to invoke the positive moral rubric of ‘fairness’.

in The anthropology of power, agency, and morality
Gitika De

This paper traces F. G. Bailey’s varied oeuvre to arrive at three enduring and significant aspects in his ethnography of politics: morality, truth, and power. In a career spanning more than six decades, Bailey’s political ethnographies have generated concepts, and sharpened the theoretical and methodological innovations of the ‘Manchester School’ for discerning and explaining political phenomena. Focusing mainly on his political ethnographies of Orissa in India, as well as his comparative studies, I attempt to show how Bailey’s paradigm helps us navigate universal principles of social life in specific cultural contexts and political practices. Underlying Bailey’s theoretical concerns is the search for a normative core of societies, and the way collectivities negotiate between norms and strategies. Morality is located in the eschewing of violence in favour of disengagement, the saving lie, indifference and manipulation – elements of so called ‘gentlemanly politics’. In Bailey’s political ethnographies, however, ordinary villagers and peasants, the proverbial small men, are the ones who deploy these strategies to preserve their world unencumbered by those in power. It is this idea of morality that informs Bailey’s substantive notion of politics and political power, leading in turn to his idea of truth in politics arrived at through hard-nosed political ethnographies: contingently, as the case may be.

in The anthropology of power, agency, and morality
Older Americans’ strategies
Yohko Tsuji

Old age in America represents the antithesis of American culture because cherished American values (e.g., independence, health, and productivity) become harder to achieve as people grow older. Thus, older Americans are ‘oppressed’ by cultural demands. This chapter explores how they negotiate the gap between the ideal (e.g., being independent) and the real (e.g., needing assistance), drawing on the data from my longitudinal research at a senior center. To discover elders’ strategies, I examine their social exchange and postretirement housing and demonstrate how their endeavour to conform to dominant values ‒ most importantly, independence, egalitarianism, and freedom of choice ‒ motivates and shapes their actions. Paradoxically, elders negotiate the reality within the realm of the very culture that oppresses them. Such seemingly contradictory actions are not only possible but also normal in human experience, because, as Bailey shows us in his works, sociocultural systems do not exist in the abstract but are embodied in people’s lives and shaped through their agency. Consequently, no matter how despotic the systems may seem, leeway always exists even for the most disadvantaged, invoking people’s ingenuity to achieve their goals.

in The anthropology of power, agency, and morality
Karen J. Brison

This chapter draws on F. G. Bailey’s foundational work in Tribe, Caste and Nation (1960) about the role of entrepreneurial individuals in creating new leadership roles through ‘bridge-actions’ that make use of resources, ideologies, and roles in one political structure to act in another structure. Pastors in the Harvest Ministry, an independent Fijian Pentecostal church, appeared to advocate a shift away from the ethnic pluralism and hereditary rank that organize Fijian society toward multi-ethnic leadership based on professional achievements. But closer examination suggested that pastors used bridge-actions to create new kinds of leadership roles drawing together the structures of the indigenous Fijian vanua, on the one hand, and transnational Pentecostalism and business, on the other, in order to suggest that successful Pentecostal professionals would surpass the power of indigenous chiefs. What looked like social class was really an attempt by entrepreneurial pastors to create new roles for themselves in response to local political and economic changes challenging chiefly power and ethnic pluralism in Fiji.

in The anthropology of power, agency, and morality