Segmentäre und zentralisierte Gesellschaften


Ort: Leipzig, Villa Tillmanns, Wächterstraße 30
Zeit: 25. Oktober 2002, 9.00–16.45 Uhr

Alle Teilnehmer des Kolloquiums sind herzlich eingeladen zum Empfang am 24.10., 19.00 Uhr, in der Villa Tillmanns, Wächterstraße 5.



25. Oktober 2002
Leipzig, Villa Tillmanns, Wächterstraße 30

9.00 Uhr


9.15 Uhr

Christian Sigrist, Münster:
Segmentary Societies: The Evolution and Actual Relevance of an Interdisciplinary Conception

10.00 - 10.30 Uhr


10.30 Uhr

Michael E. Meeker, San Diego:
The Idea of a Center among People who Desire but Resist a Center

11.15 Uhr

David N. Edwards, Leicester:
Heterarchy or Hierarchy? Early Stateys in Nord East Africa

12.00 - 14.00 Uhr


14.00 Uhr

Detlef Müller-Mahn, Bayreuth:
The Incorporation of Nomads into a Centralized State: The Aulâd 'Alî in Egypt

14.45 Uhr

Hélène Claudot-Hawad, Aix-en-Provence:
Neither Segmentary, nor Centralized: the Sociopolitical Organisation of a Nomadic Society (Tuaregs) beyond Categories

15.30 - 16.00 Uhr


16.00 - 16.45 Uhr

Schlußdiskussion (mit Judith Okely, Hull)



Segmentary Societies: The Evolution and Actual Relevance of an Interdisciplinary Conception

Christian Sigrist

In this lecture the author intends to rethink the subject of segmentary societies hitherto discussed. After an exposé of Durkheim's concepts of sociétés segmentaires and sociétés polysegmentaires which he had developed as elementary social types in the context of the foundation of sociology as an empirical science the restriction applied to this terminology by Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes to designate only non-centralized societies organised in the framework of Unilinear Descent Groups (UDG) is to be treated as a crucial problem. Essentially the author subscribes to the clear distinction of segmentary societies and centralized ("unitary") societies. This position is linked to Pierre Clastres' La société contre l'Etat. On the other hand, Southall's conception of the segmentary state as a concept of transition will be maintained. Whereas centralized societies are controlled by a political centre commanding physical coercion segmentary societies function as autopoetic systems. Processes of segmentation do occur in centralized societies, too, but are inhibited by mechanisms of central control. In a recent approach by Haude and Wagner segmentary societies have been analyzed as fractal societies. The "restrictive" model of segmentary societies as exposed in African Political Systems emerged in a particular constellation of colonial rule. It is remarkable that after the conclusion of monographic series on "typical" segmentary societies like Nuer and Tallensi the theoretical model seemed to lose importance, its political implications being overshadowed by elaborate controverses on descent, filiation and affinity. Restudies like those on the Tallensi (by V. Riehl) and on the Nuer (by Sh. Hutchinson) have contributed to new debates, particularly on strategies to changes externally imposed (in the case of the Nuer: to the challenge of survival).

The Idea of a Center among People who desire but resist a Center

Michael E. Meeker

What is the phenomenon of segmentation? If such a thing can be defined, is it possible to specify an ideal type of segmentary society? And this being possible, what peoples best represent such an ideal type? These are all suspect questions. To attempt to find answers to them leads to the problem of why they should be posed in the first place.

  • (Hypothesis) The discussion of segmentation begins with the historical research of W. Robertson Smith, reaches theoretical maturity with Durkheim and Mauss, and falters with the ethnographic empiricism of Evans-Pritchard. Each of these authors regarded the phenomenon of segmentation as an artifact of a primordial experience of community. Among early peoples, they assumed, any such experience is symbolically represented. The result is the nesting of more intense associations (family, lineage) within less intense associations (horde, tribe). By this logic, segmentary symbolic systems are the result of a desire for community running ahead or lagging behind associational practices.
  • (Crisis) By the 1970s, the discussion of segmentation confronted two difficulties. This occurred in the instance of segmentary lineage systems among mounted-pastoral-steppe nomads in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. The ethnography of these peoples revealed segmentary genealogical systems that sometimes approached an ideal type of segmentation. And yet, for this very reason, these systems were both excessive and deficient. Their upward extensions exceeded any experience of community. Their downward extensions were inconsistent with associational practices. The excessive and deficient features of the genealogies, as symbolic systems, indicated a degree of mental energy and conflict that could not be reduced to positive community.
  • (Resolution) In his essay, "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death," Freud developed a theory of human ambivalence: feelings of love for others are inextricably bound with feelings of hate. Freud's argument pointed to an emotional economy of mental energies and conflicts, one that could not possibly be reduced to an experience of positive community. Ambivalence is a notable property of segmentary lineage systems. In this regard, it is easy to show that segmentary genealogical representations are linked with an emotional economy of love and hate. This means that segmentation is a situationally peculiar example of a universal property of representation.
  • (Ethnography) The existence of peoples whose symbolic systems approach an ideal type of segmentation therefore raises questions of history and structure. For example, what are the circumstances that lead to the proliferation of segmentary genealogical representations? My answer is the desire for a center among peoples whose way of life requires them to resist a center. This was the circumstance of mounted-pastoral-steppe nomads in contact with states and markets. The proliferation of genealogical representations therefore reflects a critical gap between symbol and desire. Moreover, genealogical representations are always incomplete as well as excessive and deficient. It is no accident that their proliferation is commonly accompanied by monotheism and humanism.
  • (Conclusion) Freud turned to a notion of ambivalence to explain a disturbing thought. The civilized peoples of Europe had not succeeded in mastering the passions that led savages to engage in wanton murder and destruction. Faced with the slaughter of millions, he had sensed the collapse of a previously secure difference: civilized = primitive. Freud's example offers us a clue to the fascination of segmentation. When scholars encountered this phenomenon, they had the sense of an identity where there should have been difference: primitive = civilized. That is, segmentation inspired the same intuition as the Great War, but in reverse.


Heterarchy or Hierarchy? Early States in North East Africa

David N. Edwards

A number of recent studies of early states in sub-Saharan Africa drawing on political anthropology (e.g. Edwards 1996; McIntosh 1999) have begun to raise interesting, and for archaeologists, important theoretical questions concerning early political forms and structures and their recognition in the archaeological record. In particular there has been a growing awareness that the traditional emphasis placed on centralized power and hierarchy as essential features of early states (opposed to lineage-based organisational principles of non-state societies) may not be very appropriate or helpful in many historical contexts, not only within Africa but also in many other parts of the world.
Of particular interest has been Southall's model of the 'Segmentary State' (1988), with its acknowledgement of the often limited coercive and direct forms of central power available in many early states, but also the great importance of royal religious powers in establishing their often extensive ritual hegemony. Further historical studies in African contexts may also alert us to the potential importance of more heterarchical forms of political organisation in which horizontal associations, for example cult associations, may co-exist with and counterbalance the power of central royal authority. Recent archaeological studies along these lines have already provided interesting challenges to many well-established preconceptions about state organisation (Ehrenreich et al 1995).
This paper will first sketch out some of the issues facing archaeologists and historians working in Sudanic Africa and beyond, and identify potential problems with some of the definitions of 'states' which are commonly used. Focusing on archaeological examples of early states of the Sudanese Middle Nile, I will then suggest some alternative perspectives on their long-term development, as well as highlight some of the inadequacies of dominant discourses which draw on Pharaonic Egyptian models. Looking at the Kushite state (c.800BC-AD300) we may also look for evidence which relates to changing degrees of centralisation over time in the ebb and flow of imperial culture.

The Incorporation of Nomads into a centralized State: The Aulâd 'Alî in Egypt

Detlef Müller-Mahn

The Aulâd 'Alî are a spatially and socially marginalized part of Egyptian society: they live at the edge of the country on a narrow coastal strip west of Alexandria, and as Bedouins, they are considered outsiders by their Nile Valley neighbors. Already at the beginning of the 20th century, however, they were being targeted by the state as one of the peoples to be subjugated in its attempt to gain power over the extensive desert region between the Delta and the Libyan border. The process of political and social incorporation of the Aulâd 'Alî into the larger context of Egypt has been characterized by a structural imbalance between the two parties involved, and has led to sedentarization of these former nomads, a partial disintegration of their segmentary infrastructure and the formation of new socioeconomic disparities.

Neither Segmentary, nor Centralized: the Sociopolitical Organisation of a Nomadic Society (Tuaregs) beyond Categories

Hélène Claudot-Hawad

The patterns of the Tuareg sociopolitical organisation combine several principles which are generally deemed incompatible in current anthropological theories. How can one capture realities which defeat classical analytical categories? The aim of this paper will be to describe and analyse the workings of the Tuareg political system in the early XXth century, its various manifestations and transformations during the anticolonial war.