Sunday, 3 March 2013

'Embedded in the Social'

When we speak of something being 'embedded' in social considerations, or even (a cumbersome and ugly phrase) 'embedded in the social', what we mean is that considerations of status and abstract relationships form part of the reasons for a particular action.  'The social', so-called (the influence of French academics should be obvious in the use of this hideous terminology), is often thought of as a disembodied milieu in which things happen; it is thought of as an over-arching whole encompassing human actions rather than just another set of reasons for action.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Violence in Pre-Colonial Amazonia

     I've recently been reading Comparative Arawakan Histories, a collection of some excellent essays on Arawak societies and their cultural histories edited by Jonathan Hill and Fernando Santos-Granero. Arawak (or 'Maipurean') is a language family of South America and the Antilles, and Arawak languages produced many of the words we use in English for American products and ideas (maize, canoe, hurricane, cannibal, etc). Arawak-speaking groups appear to show remarkable consistencies in social structure and what we might term 'culture'.

      In particular, hierarchically-arranged chiefdoms and the deliberate disavowal of endo-warfare (that is to say, warfare within the group) and feuding, as well as the preference for creating strong alliances with other groups (especially other Arawak-speaking groups), mark out Arawak populations across the continent. Arawak languages are found from the Andean foothills in southern Amazonia through to the Caribbean, and these principles, with changes, are recurrent throughout the language area.