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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.

Victor C. de Munck
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