He is best known for his contributions to the field of political anthropology , with his fieldwork among the Guayaki in Paraguay and his theory of stateless societies. An anarchist seeking an alternative to the hierarchized Western societies, he mostly researched indigenous people in which the power was not considered coercive and chiefs were powerless. Clastres mostly published essays and, because of his premature death, his work was unfinished and scattered. His signature work is the essay collection Society Against the State and his bibliography also includes Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians , Le Grand Parler , and Archeology of Violence
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Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. The thesis is radical, writes Marshall Sahlins of this landmark text in anthropology and political science.
We conventionally define the state as the regulation of violence; it may be the origin of it. Clastres's thesis is that economic expropriation and political coercion are inconsistent with the character of tribal society - which is to say, with the greater part of hum The thesis is radical, writes Marshall Sahlins of this landmark text in anthropology and political science.
Clastres's thesis is that economic expropriation and political coercion are inconsistent with the character of tribal society - which is to say, with the greater part of human history.
Can there be a society that is not divided into oppressors and oppressed, or that refuses coercive state apparatuses? In this beautifully written book, Pierre Clastres offers examples of South American Indian groups that, although without hierarchical leadership, were both affluent and complex. In so doing he refutes the usual negative definition of tribal society and poses its order as a radical critique of our own Western state of power.
Born in , Pierre Clastres was educated at the Sorbonne; throughout the s he lived with Indian groups in Paraguay and Venezuela. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published October 4th by Zone Books first published More Details Original Title.
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Be the first to ask a question about Society Against the State. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 4. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Oct 18, Demelza rated it really liked it. Is Clastres the red-headed step-child of anthropology? I've got two anthro degrees, and had to come to him via Tiqqun.
While I've been forced to read a good chunk of the French anthro canon, nary a word of Clastres. I don't think it's quite a conspiracy, but I question this strange "hiding" of anthro texts that hint at anarchism like Clastres, I also had to read Graeber on my own.
At times I felt like he was homogenizing, what he ca Is Clastres the red-headed step-child of anthropology? At times I felt like he was homogenizing, what he calls, "primitive" societies. Is it truly possible that every non-state society is actively fighting against statehood? On the other hand, he's got some great ideas embodied in his text; ideas that I still need to fully think through. It's known that he was a friend of Deleuze and Guattari, and some of his ideas must have influenced Foucault's articulations of power and biopower.
Clastres deserves to be read for years to come. View 2 comments. View all 4 comments. Aug 23, blakeR rated it liked it Shelves: anth-sosh. But I was instead disappointed. He says essentially similar things, but in more theoretical ways than he does in the other book.
This made it harder for me to stay interested. Additionally, there were a couple of spots where he seemed to romanticize the indigenous people, giving them way more credit for creating a sophisticated political safeguard than they must have deserved. Theirs struck me as a system that surely evolved much more organically than he continuously intimated. For example, from page They had a very early premonition that power's transcendence conceals a mortal risk for the group, that the principle of an authority which is external and the creator of its own legality is a challenge to culture itself.
It is the intuition of this threat that determined the depth of their political philosophy. Now, call me cynical and "culture-ist" if you will, but to refer to the organization of primitive societies and tribes as a deep political philosophy seems a little ridiculous.
Clastres' preaching aside, he continues to raise some good points about the common modern view of "primitives. Either he worked all day for his food, or he didn't work it all, it can't be both. Ultimately, though, Clastres left me wanting more.
In the titular essay at the end of the book, he poses some fascinating questions: All civilized people were first primitives, and the State is impossible in primitive society, so what made the State cease to be impossible? Why did some people cease to be primitives? What event allowed the Despot to emerge? Instead, Clastres immediately follows them with a disclaimer about the impossibility of answering, followed by a weak hypothesis about the emergence of spiritual prophets who could have provided the seed for political power.
Otherwise, "Archaeology" is far more interesting -- an anthropological masterpiece. Not Bad Reviews blakerosser View all 3 comments. Feb 15, Laszlo Szerdahelyi rated it it was amazing Shelves: anthro. The chief crazy enough to dream of the abuse of a power he does not possess, as of the use of power, the chief who tries to play chief, is abandoned.
Primitive society itself, and not the chief, is the real locus of power That European observations of and conclusions about 'other' people's social, political and economic organization, from the early writings of Jesuits to travelers and explorers and the early ethnographers and anthropologists, is marred with a strong Western ethnocentric prejudice The chief crazy enough to dream of the abuse of a power he does not possess, as of the use of power, the chief who tries to play chief, is abandoned.
Primitive society itself, and not the chief, is the real locus of power That European observations of and conclusions about 'other' people's social, political and economic organization, from the early writings of Jesuits to travelers and explorers and the early ethnographers and anthropologists, is marred with a strong Western ethnocentric prejudice and bias is nothing new to most.
However, Clastres, using his ethnographic work and applying a Marxist critique in deconstructing and highlighting the fallacies of these approaches, creates a framework for a radical reassessment of our notions of hierarchy, State and power in the history of humanity and the methods of their implementation. In focusing on the socio-political and economic life of indigenous people of South America, focusing on the Tupi Guarani and Guayaki of Brazil and Paraguay, Clastres raises questions as to the why at all and how did we develop our current form of societal organization based on a State-centric, coercion-based form of order.
Firstly, he takes apart the preconceived notions that the indigenous people of the Americas are, societies that have ''yet to evolve'' or ''in an ''embryonic'' stage of development as they function on the basis of a subsistence economy, they have no writing, hence no laws and no real kings or forms of centralized authority.
Western observers have always viewed ''the Other'' through their own racist,evolutionist framework and when confronted with societies that do not conform or resemble their own, have judged it as inferior, undeveloped or plainly, primitive. While admiring the Inca or Aztec for their centralized and bureaucratized governments, they looked down on many of the other people's of the Americas as mere primitive savages for not sharing in these characteristic of centralized statecraft.
Under this white supremacist and ethnocentric veil, are societies that, as explored by Clastres, are in fact very advanced and sophisticated from the perspective of social organization and dynamics, that have created economic systems and technological implements that are carefully constructed to fit exactly their needs and that are also designed to resist the encroachment of European hegemony and, in the case of the Tupi-Guarani have, created a philosophical and theological realm of constructing meaning and framing their worlds, that would make European thinkers eat their hearts out.
Chiefs role is that of a peacemaker, war leader and negotiator amongst his people, who must use his rhetorical and oratorical skills to fulfill his roles, lest he be abandoned and disgraced. Furthermore, he must be generous to the point of personal destitution and poverty in sharing his goods with others. In fact, his only perk being that he is often, the only one who is polygamous, although this helps if one needs to constantly satisfy the needs for goods of others.
His technical expertise in oratory and warfare is not translated in political power, in fact the people of the tribe often ignore the chief, they are not obliged to listen to him and as such his influence is checked by public opinion and potentially vetoed by the elders of the group.
In this respect, Clastres argues that the Tupi-Guarani have maintained classless, egalitarian, anarchist structures, not out of some underdevelopment, but rather willfully in order to avoid the development of coercive structures of command and violence that, could lead to the development of states.
Essentially they knowingly structured their social life and diffused political power using sophisticated social and semiotic systems, in order to maintain their status quo and avoid centralization of power. In the economic field, although often brought up, the subsistence economy practiced by these societies is not one of excessive toil to attain the most minimal implements of survival.
Rather, it is the highly efficient use of technology and environmental factors together with social labor division that ensures that typically, work is limited to hours a day, allowing for generous amount of time to play, worship and hunt while also acquiring more than enough food to sustain themselves. As evidenced by the essay on Amerindian demographics, that clearly show large populations, despite the recurring arguments of a survival based economy.
These societies see no logic in acquiring surpluses and their economy is not one of that embraces excessive leisure but one that rather rejects useless surplus. It is only, when faced with coercion, force and violence, due they toil for excess, as evidenced by the Inca empires economic system as a contrast, where the toilers labored to produce excess for their masters. Aside from the very well constructed analysis of the dynamics and symbols of power in indigenous peoples in South America, Clastres infuses his text, both from his own writing that flows from highly technical language to almost poetic prose, with a look at the value of that the world-building that the Tupi-Guarani spiritual world plays in helping them construct meaning and endure hardships.
Weather it be the song of the Guayaki hunters who lament the hardships they are compelled to endure in sharing their wives or their hunt and expressing it in late night laments that echo in the forrests to the karai, the meditative shaman-prophets of the Guarani, through whom their Gods speak and foretell their prophecies.
In describing the theology of the Guarani, we discover a theological and philosophical look at the world, that harkens back to the teaching of the Gnostic Christians such as the Cathars, the belief in the duality of the world, of the sinful and imperfect nature of the mortal realm, where, the Guarani see all things that can decay and die, that are ephemeral, be it them or nature around them, encapsulated in the notion of ''the One'' as evil, sinful, imperfect and something to be transcended, to travel to the 'Land without Evil' that they believe lies beyond the expanse of the Ocean.
In having to endure their existence in the mortal realm, they even conceptualize their existential suffering in the term tekoachy ''troubled existence''. In the chapters that describe these aspects of the indigenous spiritual realm and how it relates to their reality, we find some of the most beautifully written parts of the book both from Clastres's contribution but also from the transcripts of a Guarani prayer for the Gods to channel their words through the karai: For in truth, I exist in a manner imperfect My blood is of a nature imperfect My flesh is of a nature imperfect is is horrible, it is lacking excellence.
Thing being thus arranged so that my blood of a nature imperfect so that my flesh of a nature imperfect shake themselves and cast their imperfections far from them with bended knees, i bow down, with a valorous heart in view And yet hear this: thou dost not utter the words All in all, this series of essays constitutes an essential piece in the unraveling of the essence of our condition, of the reality of the history of humanity and the ways in which our world, the way in which we conceive of it, especially with the things we hold as being firm and immutable, as is the power of the State and of the way in which our reality has been constructed, are in fact very much at the whim of the will of those who construct it,the people, we, everyone, all those who constitute society, that is, if we know the true history of mankind, of where we came from and how much we can change as well as how much we stand to gain or lose by our action or inactions.
It is said that the history of peoples who have a history is the history of class struggle. It might be said, with at least as much truthfulness, that the history of peoples without history is the history of their struggle against the State The topic of each essay is different, but the line connecting them would be 'power' - what is power in South American autochtonous societies, what is it source, its place, its limites, who wields, etc.
Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology