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The Anthropological Study of Class and Consciousness

By E. Paul Durrenberger

Publication Year: 2012

Presenting prehistoric, historic, and ethnographic data from Mongolia, China, Iceland, Mexico, Brazil, and the United States, The Anthropological Study of Class and Consciousness offers a first step toward examining class as a central issue within anthropology. Contributors to this volume use the methods of historical materialism, cultural ecology, and political ecology to understand the realities of class and how they evolve. Five central ideas unify the collection: the objective basis for class in different social orders; people’s understanding of class in relation to race and gender; the relation of ideologies of class to realities of class; the U.S. managerial middle-class denial of class and emphasis on meritocracy in relation to increasing economic insecurity; and personal responses to economic insecurity and their political implications. Anthropologists who want to understand the nature and dynamics of culture must also understand the nature and dynamics of class. The Anthropological Study of Class and Consciousness addresses the role of the concept of class as an analytical construct in anthropology and how it relates to culture. Although issues of social hierarchy have been studied in anthropology, class has not often been considered as a central element. Yet a better understanding of its role in shaping culture, consciousness, and people’s awareness of their social and natural world would in turn lead to better understanding of major trends in social evolution as well as contemporary society. This book will be of great interest to students and scholars of anthropology, labor studies, ethnohistory, and sociology.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This is a book about the role of the concept of class as an analytical construct in anthropology and how it relates to culture. We hope this book will give anthropologists permission to use the word class. We should not let the ideologies of neoliberalism deter us from incorporating class as central to our understandings...

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1. Introduction

E. Paul Durrenberger

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pp. 1-27

Steinbeck was writing of California. We write about the world as the processes he described in The Grapes of Wrath have overtaken the planet. He outlined the processes...

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2. Thinking Political Communities: The State and Social Stratification among Ancient Nomads of Mongolia

William Honeychurch

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pp. 29-63

The distant ancestors of today’s Mongolians constructed some of the great polities of the Old World. More than 2,000 years ago, the first nomadic state, called by the name Xiongnu, challenged the Han dynasty of China, dividing East Asia into two distinct political spheres for more than three centuries...

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3. Dividing Land and Creating Class: The Development of a Landlord-Tenant Political Economy in Medieval Iceland

Douglas Bolender

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pp. 65-83

Structured inequalities in the production and distribution of surplus labor are not unique to the modern world. For much of the world the archaeological record is the only means to access the emergence of class relations. In contexts with historical documentation, the archaeological record provides...

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4. Fried’s Evolutionary Model, Social Stratification, and the Nuosu in Southwest China

Ann Maxwell Hill

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pp. 85-104

Social stratification in Nuosu societies in southwest China has a long history extending back to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), if not earlier, documented in Chinese chronicles.1 Although often treated by historians and ethnologists as a single, bounded society with unique characteristics relative to other...

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5. Class and Consciousness in the “Antiglobal” South: On Poverty, Climate Change, and the Illusion of Creating Wealth

Paul Trawick

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pp. 105-147

The rapid warming of the earth’s climate is driven mainly by people’s increasing consumption of goods and services of all kinds, including fossil fuels; thus it is a direct result of the kind of “growth” that most economists regard as inherently beneficial to society. The goods being consumed are ultimately...

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6. Crash, Collapse, and Catastrophe in Postindustrial North America

Dimitra Doukas

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pp. 149-168

The world as we know it is soon to end, according to many, possibly most, North Americans. In the early twenty-first century, end-of-the-world discourse has burst forth from the lunatic fringe into excited conversations, face-to-face, from the pulpit, on the Internet, and on late-night talk radio...

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7. Class and Consciousness: The American Farmer’s Daughter

Barbara J. Dilly

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pp. 169-199

The current focus of empirical analysis of class and class consciousness on the intersecting processes of capitalist relations, historically constituted regional frameworks, and the contexts of lived experiences and understandings (Adams and Gorton 2006...

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8. Immigrant Heterogeneity and Class Consciousness in New Rural US Destinations

David Griffith

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pp. 201-221

Immigrant groups tend to be associated with processes that fragment labor markets, work sites, communities, and other social spaces where class allegiances develop. Loyalties and affiliations are more likely to be based on local histories, ethnicity, national origin, enclaves, neighborhoods...

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9. Class Consciousness in a Complicated Setting: Race, Immigration Status, Nationality, and Class on the US-Mexico Border

Josiah Heyman

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pp. 223-247

The US-Mexico border is particularly interesting for examining the complications of class consciousness. Class relations and perceptions on the US side are deeply interwoven with race relations between Anglo Americans and Mexican...

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10. Difference and Dispossession: Considerations on the Making and Unmaking of a Labor Elite at Saturn

Sharryn Kasmir

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pp. 249-273

The 1999 United Auto Workers (UAW) elections at General Motor’s (GM) Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, were hotly contested.1 Flyers, newsletters, and palm cards flooded the shop floor, and representatives from rival union caucuses crowded factory doors, handing out campaign literature to...

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11. Do Hair and Class Gel?

Kate Goltermann

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pp. 275-296

Americans spent over $50 billion on cosmetics and toiletries in 2006 (Singer 2007). That is more than the US government spent in the same year on elementary, secondary, and vocational education combined, according to the US Office of Management and Budget report. As sales in luxury items...

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12. Dreams, Illusions, and Realities: Conclusions

E. Paul Durrenberger

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pp. 297-304

Michael is using interest from his trust fund to pay for this trip. I am grateful, but also angry at the inequalities in our realities. No matter what I say or do, he can’t understand what it’s like to scrabble for the money for rent and heat and food. Worse, he thinks he does...


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pp. 305-307


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pp. 309-317

E-ISBN-13: 9781607321576
E-ISBN-10: 1607321572
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607321569
Print-ISBN-10: 1607321564

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 2 b&w photos, 6 line drawings
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 781635696
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Anthropological Study of Class and Consciousness

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Social stratification.
  • Labor unions.
  • Working class.
  • Social classes.
  • Classism.
  • Class consciousness.
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