manners, defer, private property

(1997) by david graeber via kindle version from anarchist library []

intro’d via simona ferlini‘s fb post:

David’s hardest text (and also the less persuasive one)

notes/quotes from pg:


This essay is derived from my Master’s paper at the University of Chicago, written in 1986

This essay is an attempt to map out the rudiments of a theory of manners and formal deference [humble submission and respect] and to demonstrate how such a theory can be usefully applied to certain long-standing problems in the historical sociology of Europe. It is also meant to demonstrate the continuing relevance of comparative ethnography for social theory—something which has been somewhat cast into doubt in recent years.

evans polite\ness law et al

Elias (1978:70—84) has made a famous argument that the sixteenth century marked the beginning of a broad “advance of thresholds of shame and embarrassment” throughout Western Europe, an increasing tendency to repress open displays of or even references to bodily functions in everyday interactions—a process which came to a peak around the end of the nineteenth century. Burke (1978:207) has noted that at this same time Church authorities throughout Europe were also engaged in a much more explicit campaign to “reform popular culture”—that is, to eradicate what they considered to be immoral elements in public life and ritual. English Puritans of the time spoke of both as part of the same “reformation of manners.”


In the anthropological literature, the expression joking relation does not really refer to a relation of people who joke with one another, for it refers more to a relationship marked by playful aggression. “Joking partners” are those people who are expected to make fun of one another, tease, harass, even (often) make play of attacking each other.[1] Relations of avoidance on the other hand are relations marked by such extreme respect and formality that one party is enjoined never to speak to or even gaze upon the other.

Some ethnographers (such as, Eggan 1937) have been known to use the term more loosely, describing a kind of broad continuum of types of interaction ranging from obligatory joking to relations of indulgent familiarity, then proceeding through relations marked by greater and greater formality and deference to those of extreme or literal avoidance. Used this way, joking and avoidance represent two ideal poles, and almost any relationship between two people can be placed somewhere between them. Whether or not they take this view, anthropologists have always seen joking and avoidance as clearly opposed modes of behavior. In fact, they seem in many ways to be logical inversions of each other. Where joking relations tend to be mutual, an equal exchange of abuse emphasizing an equality of status, avoidance is generally hierarchical, with one party clearly inferior and obliged to pay respect.

The two stand opposed in other ways as well. Almost any description of avoidance, for instance, will make some reference to shame: Often it is said the inferior party is expected to have a general sense of shame in the presence of the superior party; if not, they are certainly expected to be ashamed if they break any of the rules. Joking between joking partners is, as the name implies, generally expected to be accompanied by much hilarity on the part of all involved. But it is important to emphasize that what goes on between joking partners is not simply humor; it is humor of a very particular kind, one which might justifiably be called “shameless,” an intentional invocation of the very things that would be most likely to cause embarrassment in other circumstances.


Here again, avoidance can be seen as an inversion of joking. At the level of avoidance, the body is closed, all orifices shut off and nullified; nothing flows either in or out. The body is constituted as a perfect, abstract, and self-sufficient thing unto itself, with no need for exchange either with other bodies or the world. Now, this sort of separation itself cannot imply a relation of hierarchy, simply because separating two things implies that there is no relation between them at all. But avoidance is ultimately hierarchical. There is, it is true, a certain mutuality in relations of avoidance. If I were standing before the Queen of England, I would not pick my nose or crack a dirty joke; and I would expect the same from her. On the other hand, the burden of avoidance would definitely be on me, and it is appropriate that any sort of contact—conversation, eye contact, and the like—ought to be initiated by the person of superior rank. Further, if I were to pick my nose in the presence of the Queen or crack a dirty joke, I could fully expect to be excluded from polite society till the end of my days; but if the Queen did so in my presence, I would probably take this as a gesture of indulgent familiarity and perhaps reciprocate, though never quite so freely as she.

The body in the domain of joking, one might say, is constituted mainly of substances—stuff flowing in or flowing out. The same could hardly be true of the body in the domain of avoidance, where it is set apart from the world. To a very large extent, the physical body itself is negated, the person translated into some higher or more abstract level. In fact, I would argue that while joking bodies are necessarily one with the world (one is almost tempted to say “nature”) and made up from the same sort of materials, the body in avoidance is constructed out of something completely different. It is constructed of property. Now, I realize that this is a somewhat daring assertion. Not least, because what is considered property in the first place can vary a great deal from culture to culture. But I think one can make out an elementary logic in the idea of property that can be said to be more or less constant. Interestingly enough, that logic is very similar to the logic of avoidance.

Far from having a right to exclude others from their property, these people are themselves forbidden to touch the things they are said to own.. Even in English, a number of words used to imply ownership have a similar sort of reciprocity, including the most obviously possessive pronouns: One can say either “my secretary” or “my boss”. The English word property itself has two meanings: that which I own, that is, some thing which takes on its identity from me and that which makes something what it is and gives it its identity (“it is a property of fire to be hot”).

One might call this property in its semiotic mode, insofar as it serves mainly to convey meaning. But what I want to emphasize is that even here, one finds the same logic of exclusion. To return to the Lau Islands: Only aristocratic clans “owned” species of animals or bird. Commoner clans did not; they were referred to collectively as “owners of the land” (L. Thompson 1940). And as Marshall Sahlins (1981) has observed, there was a tendency to merge such Fijian “owners of the land” with nature and natural processes, to identify them with what Bakhtin calls “the material bodily lower stratum,” the latter simply being the grotesque image of the body in its social incarnation. In other words, the aristocratic groups are set apart, marked off against a residual category which is more or less merged with the world. This is precisely the logic of avoidance

His property was an extension of his person. If property is so closely related to avoidance and if these two principles of identification and exclusion really are so consistently at play (and I think they are), then is it really so daring to suggest that the person, in the domain of avoidance, is constructed out of property? Or, at least, of properties? The etymology of the word person is itself suggestive. *As Marcel Mauss pointed out long ago (1968 [1938]), the Latin persona is derived from an Etruscan word meaning mask. Even when taken up in legal parlance as a term roughly similar to our word person, it still kept its implication of an abstract social being identified by physical objects, properties and insignia of various sorts. Slaves, and most women, had no personae for the same reasons that Maori slaves and women had no tapu.

*wilde not-us law et al.. masks and measures et al..

Two important observations follow from all this. The first concerns exchange. Marcel Mauss (1954 [1927]) has also argued that in giving a gift, one is giving a part of oneself. If the person is indeed made up of a collection of properties, this is clearly true, but it is important to bear in mind that the self in question is a particular kind of self—that sort which is constituted on the level of avoidance. Gift giving of the Maussian variety is never, to my knowledge, accompanied by the sort of behavior typical of joking relations; but it often accompanies avoidance. Second, insofar as it serves to construct a person in this way, a property need not have any practical use. In ways, it is perhaps better that it does not. It simply needs to say something about its owner. This is a topic I have discussed at some length elsewhere (Graeber 1996), but here suffice it to say that the key thing is the existence of some larger code of meanings by which objects can do this, by which properties can be compared and contrasted. This need not be one of exchange value, although that is a salient example; and I would argue that it is no coincidence that the generalization of exchange value as a medium for social relations has been accompanied, in Europe, by a generalization of avoidance. But I will have to return to this argument a little later on.


hier archy ness

need 1st/most: means to undo our hierarchical listening to self/others/nature ie: tech as it could be

Hierarchy has become a very popular term in contemporary social science, though it is often hard to know precisely what any given author means by it. To say that a set of things are organized into a hierarchy, after all, is merely to say that they are ranked; there are all sorts of ways to rank things. The notion the term most immediately brings to mind is what might be called a “linear hierarchy,” a way of ranking things, as along a ruler, as higher or lower than each other. The classic example of such a linear hierarchy is probably the Great Chain of Being, made famous by Arthur Lovejoy (1936). This was a system by which Medieval scholars tried to rank all living creatures from moss to slugs to humans and seraphim, according to the degree to which they were believed to possess a rational soul. Lovejoy points out that it is critical to such a system that there can only be one criterion of ranking; as soon as others are introduced, the whole system will tend to dissolve into confusion (1936:56-57ff).

When an anthropologist refers to a social hierarchy, however, she is likely to be working with a very different implicit model, one less resembling the Great Chain of Being than the sort of taxonomic hierarchies that botanists or zoologists employ, which are sometimes referred to as hierarchies of inclusion, since each level encompasses those below: Lions are a kind of cat, cats a kind of mammal, and so on. Levels are higher insofar as they are more encompassing and abstract and have a greater level of generality. This is obviously quite different from a linear hierarchy, but rarely do social scientists make a clear distinction between the two. Some, like the French anthropologist Louis Dumont—the man who is probably the most responsible for popularizing the use of the term hierarchy to begin with—quite consciously argue that no distinction should be made: that when social categories are ranked, it is always on the basis of greater generality and inclusivenes

Probably it would be best to describe all such linear hierarchies as “exclusive” rather than “inclusive.” The logic, it may be observed, would then be much the same as that of avoidance, since the higher group is set apart from a residual category composed of all the others. If so, it may be easier to understand how social scientists can get away with fudging the distinction between two different kinds of hierarchy as if they were the same; and that is because any actual social hierarchy will tend to combine elements of both. There are always higher and higher levels of inclusion (from household to lineage to clan to tribe or from household to parish to borough to county), but there is also a series of ascending, increasingly exclusive, groups who gain their exclusive status by being able to make a claim that they represent the whole at every level. Linear and taxonomic hierarchies, thus, tend to be superimposed.

Let me return once more then to the traditional lineage system of the Maori. On the one hand, their society was ideally organized according to what anthropologists would call a segmentary lineage system—a taxonomic classification of social groups. Every household belonged to a lineage, every lineage to a clan, every clan to a tribe. Each of these groups had its representative—called a headman or chief, in the literature—and who was also said to “own” everything that belonged to his lineage, or clan, or tribe. Needless to say, the higher up in the taxonomic hierarchy the representative, the more tapu he was said to have. But it is here that things become interesting, since (as I have pointed out) it is precisely in the notion of tapu that the element of exclusion comes back in. What this means is that the greater the purview of any given representative, the more inclusive the group he was seen to represent and the more he himself was set apart from everyone else, including other members of his own clan or lineage.

A moment’s reflection will make it clear that something along these lines happens almost everywhere where society is organized into more and more inclusive groups. If those groups have representatives (barons, dukes and kings; mayors, governors, and presidents), then those representatives will also be set off against those they represent as members of more and more exclusive categories of people. The higher the group they represent in the taxonomic hierarchy, the more abstract and universal they themselves are seen to be; hence, the more they are set off against the world—including those they represent.

representation ness et al.. marsh label law et al

Or that the lower orders are cruder, coarser in features as in manners—but at the same time more free with their feelings, more spontaneous? Most people seem to consider it a matter of course that upper and lower stratum of society should differ in this way (if they think about it at all, perhaps they write it off to conditions of health, work, and leisure) or at least, that they should be represented so

It is at this point that one has to move from the role played by joking and avoidance in the dynamics of personal relations to the way a whole social class or stratum marks itself off from those it considers below it by the way its members conduct themselves towards one another.

The tendency to see the common people as bestial was itself perfectly in keeping with the notion that standards of comportment were a way for the aristocracy to constitute themselves on a level of avoidance, over and against “a residual category more or less merged with the world.” The same attitude was to be seen in literary stereotypes of the peasant as “barely human monster” (LeGoff 1978:93) and in Medieval art, in which

Man was frequently depicted as part of nature: images of animal-men and plant-men, trees with human heads, anthropomorphic mountains, beings with many hands and many legs, recur over and over all through antiquity and the Middle Ages, and find their most complete expression in the works of Breughel and Bosch (Gurevich 1985:53).

In Carnival, not only was hierarchy temporarily suspended or reversed, but the whole world was reconstructed as a “Land of Cockaigne,” as the saying went, a domain in which there was nothing but bodies happily partaking of the world and of each other. Bakhtin implies that the grotesque, that joking and laughter, was a sort of universal solvent of hierarchy: that by representing a world of joking bodies and nothing more, the very fiber was stripped out of the structures of official culture so that even its loftiest pinnacles inevitably came crashing to the earth. Given the categories I have been using in this essay, this makes perfect sense. If one rejects the principle of avoidance altogether, hierarchy cannot exist. In a joking world there are only bodies, and the only possible difference between them is that some are bigger and stronger than others and that these bigger and stronger bodies can take more goods and give more bads. And the implications of that for a view of the contemporary social order, and particularly for the moral standing of the high and mighty of the world, need hardly be pointed out.


At this point, I can return to Norbert Elias’ argument about the “civilizing process” in Europe (1978 [1939]), and Peter Burke’s notion of the reform of popular culture (1978:207—43). Elias’ observations are mainly based on comparing primers used to instruct children in different periods of European history, beginning in the twelfth century and ending in the eighteenth and nineteenth. What he discovers is a continual “advance in thresholds of embarrassment and shame” over time, an increasing demand to suppress any public acknowledgment of bodily functions, excretion, aggressiveness, death, or decay—in fact, any or all of those things which are typically thought to be embarrassing or shameful within relations of avoidance. The most interesting aspect of Elias’ material, from my own perspective, is how behavior which Medieval courtesy books represented as shameful only if done before superiors (say, blowing one’s nose in the tablecloth), gradually came to be represented as embarrassing even if done before equals, then inferiors, and finally, as behavior to be avoided on principle, even if no one else is there. In my terms, one might say that avoidance became generalized, in the sense that principles of behavior which once applied mainly to relations of formal deference gradually came to set the terms for all social relations, until they became so thoroughly internalized they ended up transforming people’s most basic relations with the world around them.

Burke’s “reform of popular culture” was part of this same movement. Essentially it came down to an attempt, largely on the part of middle-class religious authorities, to improve the manners of those below—most of all, by eliminating all traces of the carnivalesque from popular life. Burke lists among their targets “actors, ballads, bear-baiting, bull-fights, cards, chapbooks, charivaris, charlatans, dancing, dicing, divining, fairs, folktales, fortune-telling, magic, masks, minstrels, puppets, taverns and witchcraft” (Burke 1978:208), to name a few. In England, Puritans actually called their campaign a “reformation of manners”; in its name they went about shutting down ale-houses, enforcing laws concerning sexual morality, and most of all, outlawing popular modes of entertainment like May poles, morris dancing, and Christmas revels. In Catholic Europe, counter-reformation authorities were conducting analogous campaigns. Such campaigns almost always generated a great deal of opposition but overall were remarkably successful.

The role of the middle classes, I think, is crucial. The middle classes, in this period, essentially means “those sections of the population most thoroughly caught up in the commercial life of the times,” not only merchants and shopkeepers but prosperous farmers and urban craftsmen. It is notorious, for instance, that this was the stratum most attracted to English Puritanism (Tawney 1937:20; Hill 1964; Wrightson 1984). They were also the people whose lives were most dominated by relations of private property, which is also crucial, since according to the terms I have been developing here, a generalization of avoidance would be a process in which everyone in society came increasingly to be defined by the logic of abstract, exclusive properties. One might well imagine that, as social life among all classes of society came to be shaped, more and more, by the logic of the market, the manners once typical of the commercial classes would tend to be generally adopted too.

The question, then, is: Are there any ethnographic precedents for something like this happening? Have there been cases where the spread of exchange relations has led to different standards of daily comportment? Let me try to answer this briefly before returning to concepts of the person in Early Modern Europe. One thing the ethnographic evidence makes abundantly clear is that when relationships between two people, or two groups, are defined primarily around exchange (and not, say, by idioms of common substance) they have a strong tendency to also be marked by rules of avoidance. The classic example is relations between affines, particularly when two families are locked in extended cycles of marriage payment

..More often, if there has been a violation of the rules of avoidance, a minor fine is levied on the lower-status party (the one on whom the burden of avoidance lies). But even here, the fines are more than simple recompense: The very act of giving them also acts to restore relations to their appropriate level of abstraction. And the same goes for fines levied for actual damage to the person or property of others, or for that matter, affinal payments—in fact, for all those varied kinds of transaction which typically knit together to form what anthropologists refer to as a “gift economy”.

Even more interesting for present purposes is what happens to a society when such networks of formal exchange become so important that they could be said to be the main institution setting the terms of social life. In such societies, everyday standards of interaction often begin to resemble what would in other societies be considered mild avoidance. ..Both were also societies in which the exchange of property was one of the main ways in which relations between people worked themselves out—even, sometimes, relations between the closest kin. Much of the commonplace drama of daily life seems to have turned largely on who had been given what, who owed what, who accepted what from whom.

In contexts involving exchange, persons were defined by what they had. Since money made all property at least potentially equivalent, then people were as well. And the actual process of exchange meant that in practice, people were constantly establishing such temporary equivalences.

The phrasing here—“enclosure,” “against all the world”—is certainly suggestive of the logic of avoidance.

To every Individual in nature is given an individual property by nature, not to be invaded or usurped by any: for every one as he is himself, so he hath a self propriety, else could he not be himself, and on this no second may presume to deprive any of, without manifest violation and affront to the very principles of nature, and of the Rules of equity and justice between man and man… Every man [is] by nature a King, Priest and Prophet in his own natural circuit and compass, whereof no second may partake, but by deputation, commission, and free consent from him whose natural right and freedom it is” (in MacPherson 1962:140—1).

In other words, a man’s person—his body, like his chattels—were his exclusive property; and therefore he had the absolute right to exclude “all things hurtful and obnoxious” from it. Even the king could not trespass on this right. This was perhaps the first political evocation of the principle that (as Goffman put it) the human person was sacred.

Where an earlier, hierarchical view assumed that people’s identities (their properties, if you will) were defined by their place in society, the assumption was now that who one was was based on what one had, rather than the other way around.

One is ultimately left with the view of the world one still finds in economics text books, which takes it for granted that human beings are bounded, autonomous beings whose identity is determined by what they possess and whose mutual intercourse is assumed to consist primarily of exchanging such possessions with one another according to the principles of rational calculation. It is a view of human society which has formed the backbone of most subsequent social theory, which as developed either on its basis or in reaction to it. It is also based on a way of imagining that the human person is in almost every way analogous to how the person is imagined in avoidance.

black science of people/whales law et al


So far, I have been trying to make a case that it was the emerging commercial classes of Early Modern Europe that first embraced the notion of reforming society by reforming its manners and that the standards of propriety they embraced were ultimately rooted in ideologies of private property. I also suggested that, insofar as projects of reform were successful, it was largely because the market and commercial logic were increasingly setting the terms of social life among all classes of people.

It is one thing to say that there is a logical connection between manners and regimes of property and quite another to understand how such changes actually took place.

The obvious place to look is in the education of children. Elias’ material, for example, is almost exclusively drawn from manuals intended to instruct youth. What I am going to do in this section, then, is provide a very brief sketch of ideas of education and the public role of youth in Medieval and Early Modern societies, a sketch which I think makes clear why the emergence of a regime of wage labor should almost inevitably have led to projects of social reform. It is not exactly an explanation but does lay out the outlines of what a full explanation might be like.

oi.. supposed to’s of school/work et al

In the Middle Ages, just about everyone who did know how to read had learned their letters at least partly from “courtesy books,” which were produced in remarkable numbers. ..these books often covered a wide variety of topics, ranging from advice on cutting one’s fingernails to advice on choosing a suitable wife, and also had a strong tendency to mix precepts on how to eat at table with those on how to wait at table. This latter is significant, for the period when young people were learning manners was almost always the one in which they were also expected to be in domestic service.

Though “the Italian considers this custom cruel[,] … insinuating that the English took in each other’s children because they thought that in that way they would obtain better service than they would from their own offspring,” Aries suggests, realistically enough, that “the explanation which the English themselves gave to the Italian observer was probably the real one: ‘In order that their children might learn better manners’ (1962:365).

This condition was expected to last until the age of twenty-five or even thirty: in part, because no one was expected to marry until they had accumulated enough resources to set up an independent household of their own. Wage labor, in other words, was basically a lifecycle phenomenon; and “youth” or adolescence, the period during which one accumulated the resources to establish oneself as a fully mature, autonomous being.

It should be clear enough how all this relates to the logic of joking and avoidance. It’s not just that youth were considered unformed: Their typical vices were the carnal ones of violence and debauchery. They were by nature riotous, rebellious against the legitimate authority of their elders.

oi.. we have no idea.. adolescence ness et al

..In France, every village or urban quarter had its “youth abbeys” which not only provided the basis for the local militia but were responsible for putting on satirical charivaris to mock immoral villagers as well as to organize celebrations like Carnival.

..Traditionally, wage labor had been no more a permanent state than was adolescence—it was, in fact, the means by which adolescence was overcome. Even after it had become a permanent status, it was still imagined as a process of transformation. In the eyes of their employers, the laboring classes were not so much undisciplined and carnal by nature (a joking residue, a base stratum whose vices could be held out as evidence of those employers’ own innate superiority) as rambunctious adolescents who needed to be disciplined and reformed through carefully supervised labor.


English Calvinists (“Puritans” was in fact a term of abuse) were mostly drawn from the “middle stratum” of their communities, the one which, as I’ve said, was most thoroughly caught up in the emerging national market. They were also the prosperous householders who employed the largest numbers of local youth as servants. The retreat of the aristocracy from rural life, along with much of the gentry (Stone 1965; Laslett 1965:180—1) left these people in a strategic position in most villages which they were quick to take advantage of. Godly reformers circulated pamphlets and bibles, pooled funds to hire preachers, and tried as best they could to win control of both the borough and the parish governments. As churchwardens and magistrates, they began stripping away everything they found distasteful in traditional worship.

But concerns about youth were already becoming hard to distinguish from those concerning class. One constant complaint in Puritan tracts was the multiplication of impoverished households: The problem, in their view, was that young men and women were abandoning domestic service and marrying early, despite the fact that neither had the resources to support a proper family.

The more radical Calvinists developed a utopian vision in which authoritarian families were the only hierarchical organization that really needed to exist.. their catechism and moral instruction.

As one might imagine, this vision, or the prospect of reducing collective ritual life to a mater of sermons and bible reading, did not inspire uniform enthusiasm among parishioners. English villagers seem to have had a particular aversion to being preached at. “When the vicar goeth into the pulpit to read what he himself hath written,” observes one Stephen Gardiner in 1547, “then do the multitude goeth straight out of church, and home to drink” (Thomas 1971:161).

any form of people telling other people what to do et al

It’s hard to say how often such occasions led to outright violence (most of our sources were written by Puritans who referred to ordinary church ales as “heathenish rioting”), but riots did occur and not only over economic issues like enclosure.

The conflict between Puritans and “honest good fellows”—or, from the Puritan point of view, between the godly and the profane—divided virtually every parish in southern England. In Wiltshire and Dorsetshire in the 1630s it was the custom in many parishes to balance the factions by choosing one Puritan and one “honest man” as churchwardens. This conflict was far more ubiquitous and intense, I would argue, than antagonisms based explicitly on social class or even economic interest (Hunt 1983:146).

Alongside the abuse there was also a more utopian side. Festivals had once been moments to define a community of equals. Now, after they had been pulled out of the fabric of everyday life and challenged from above, that definition began to acquire a whole new meaning. Like carnivals on the Continent, they came to commemorate a golden age when, it was imagined, equality and physical happiness were not yet things of the past. Festivals were times for merrymaking; once, all England had been merry.

In 1647, a group of dissidents and young servants from the newly founded Puritan colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts, abandoned their households to join the local Indians and set up a sixty-foot Maypole to celebrate their newfound independence. The elders of Plymouth immediately sent out a military expedition to have the pole ripped down and the ringleaders arrested.


I began this essay by arguing for the continuing relevance of comparative ethnography. The advantage of terms like joking and avoidance, I suggested, was that they are in no sense projections of existing Western categories on other cultures; in fact, the people who first coined the terms were under the impression that they were dealing with something with no parallel in their own societies. Nonetheless, the implicit logic they reveal can indeed be applied back to patterns of formal deference and hierarchy anywhere—in Western societies as much as any other. The first section of the essay was thus largely concerned with developing the outlines of such a theory. I began by distinguishing two ways of defining the human person, either as a collection of substances intrinsically continuous with the world and with others or as a collection of abstract properties set apart from it. In joking (by which I mean here, such behavior as is considered typical between joking partners), relations between bodies are at least playfully hostile; but in the case of relations of common substance they can take on a more idealistic, even utopian color. This came out particularly strongly in my analysis of hierarchy and its mock dissolution in the carnivalesque, where whole groups are set off against the world. I also suggested that carnival is not simply a matter of inverting hierarchy but of challenging its very basis by invoking radically different ways of conceiving the world—even if in the eyes of superiors, in which case the very act of challenging hierarchy in this way will often serve to provide more evidence of their own superiority.

The second half of this study focuses specifically on the relation of manners and property: the “generalization of avoidance” of the title. Rather than review this argument again, let me end with a note of comparison. A skeptical reader, faced with exotic terms like joking and avoidance may well ask if all I am doing is to introduce yet another level of jargon to an already crowded field. In fact, I have been consistently trying to avoid setting up my terms in such a way as to make it easy for others to borrow the terms in any unthinking, automatic fashion (hopefully, not at the cost of future obscurity). Still, it would not hurt to provide a little demonstration of how much of a difference these terms can make. Let me illustrate this by comparing my own analysis with the work of Louis Dumont, whose arguments about the nature of hierarchy I rather cavalierly dismissed in section 2.

Dumont conceives hierarchical societies, most of all, as holistic ones. A social hierarchy is a system whereby different groups are ranked in relation to a whole. If one group is ranked higher than another, it is always because it is the one that represents the totality to which both of them belong. According to Dumont, hierarchy is about inclusion (it is just that, in a sort of Orwellian sense, some are a little more included than others). To speak of exclusion in a hierarchical society is meaningless. It only makes sense in an individualistic society, in which the assumption is that everyone has an equal right of access to whatever good things there are, simply on the basis of their individuality. The American “color bar,” according to Dumont, is an ideology of exclusion and, as such, has nothing in common with hierarchy. It is a fundamentally different type of thing. Therefore, there can be no real continuity between a hierarchical order and an individualistic one; they are divided by a fundamental historical break (Dumont 1971, 1986).

My own insistence that social hierarchies are always combinations of inclusion and exclusion has entirely different implications. First of all, one need posit no absolute break between the two periods. Take Puritan ideology for example. It was clearly hierarchical; only, in place of the endless gradations characteristic of a feudal system, one is left with a minimal hierarchy of two or perhaps three levels: women, children, and servants were encompassed within the personality of the householder; and in all but the most radical versions, householders were encompassed by the King or state. Neither was the Puritan concern with “the darker parish” and floating population of “masterless men” fundamentally different from contemporary concerns with an immoral and overly fertile In fact, as some historians of the time have noted (Hunt 1983), Puritan opinions on this subject—that the problem of poverty had nothing to do with real wages but was rooted in the poor’s own lack of morality and self-control, their unwillingness to create proper families—have an uncanny resemblance to those employed by American conservatives today. Rather than hierarchies being swept away, it is more as if the hierarchical residual has been squeezed down, its imagery becoming all the more intense having been so.

This leads to my second, and final, point: that any attempt to create a genuinely egalitarian ethos on the basis of principles ultimately derived from formal deference is impossible. There is a fundamental contradiction here. The logic of setting an abstract being apart necessarily involves setting it off against something; in practice, that always seems to mean creating a residual category of people—if not some racial or ethnic category, then workers, the poor, losers in the economic game—who are seen as chaotic, corporeal, animalistic, dangerous. By this logic, for instance, North American racism is not the great exception to the possessive individualism on which the country is founded—an anomaly which for some reason never seems to go away—but something essential to its nature. In the current political climate, in which “the market” is considered synonymous with democracy and freedom and in which its proponents are therefore proclaiming the right to “reform” everything and everyone on earth, this is a point we might do well to bear in mind.