The anthropology of power, agency, and morality

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.

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