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Applying Anthropology to Supranational Networks


Applying Anthropology to Supranational Networks

Description of Group “Applying Anthropology to supranational networks and systems.”

Members of this group share ideas about the evolution of cultural systems above the level of states. Upon observing the network of corporations that dominated the mining systems in southern Africa in the 1960s Alvin Wolfe described what he saw as a “supranational system”resulting from the interaction of political states and business corporations.

As this evolution proceeded throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, business firms became wealthier and more powerful  while states, themselves  corporations that depended more on their populations than on their capital, weakened.

During this same period theories and methods to study complex networks evolved to the point that understanding supranational systems is now possible and anthropology is the discipline that should be doing so. After all, this is culture, and culture is our business.

Website: http://wolfe.myweb.usf.edu/
Location: http://wolfe.myweb.usf.edu/
Members: 13
Latest Activity: Apr 10, 2016

Discussion Forum

Evolution of Supranational Networks 1 Reply

The SfAA Community Group Home Page (…Continue

Tags: Systems, Supranational, Evolution

Started by Alvin W Wolfe. Last reply by John V. Stone Aug 15, 2014.

Comment Wall

Comment by Alejandra Colom on September 9, 2013 at 1:28pm

Hi, my PhD research is on conservationists working in Central Africa. I used snowball sampling to track networks across countries of work and nationalities. I'm interested in finding common models of conservation among conservationists of different nationalities. I also looked at the role of international NGOs in shaping shared discourse about protected areas.

Comment by Alvin W Wolfe on September 10, 2013 at 9:21am

Thanks, Alejandra, for your comment. Although my interest is much more in the networks of states and business corporations, I look forward to your comments about NGOs.  A little more than a year ago, when the AAA NGO Special Interest Group was starting a bibliography on NGO studies I wrote to them sevearl times inquiring why they limited their studies to non-profit organizations when it is quite obvious that the interaction of profitable corporations and state governments are much more influntial in the world (supranational system). I never received a reply from any of their many members. I look forward to your participation in this SfAA group on "applying anthropology ato supranational networks."


Comment by Merrill Eisenberg on September 10, 2013 at 9:32am

Alvin - my work is at the local level and is very applied -- so one of the things I've been involved in is working with community groups to establish networks that have can have an impact on local policy development. I'm deeply involved with folks who engage in "urban agriculture" including keeping chickens, small goats, etc. for food purposes.  This work has been highly effective and over 400 households are currently participating in the development of zoning codes that support local food production.  The city utilizes our network to gather information and feedback on draft regulations....we are now gearing up to use the network to engage the opponents of urban ag (mostly neighborhood NIMBY-type folks, but they do raise some reasonable questions...) to find common ground.  In our case the players are city government, proponents of food sustainability (including but not limited to our 400+ families who are members of CLUCKS, a facebook group where our communication occurs), and a network of neighborhood organizations throughout the city.  I'm not sure how relevant this work is to your ore global interests, but I've been a fan of network theory ever since Bert Pelto introduced it to me as a student back in the 1980s and I do want to follow your discussion.  

Comment by Merrill Eisenberg on September 10, 2013 at 9:36am

I should mention that this work grows out of a $16 million grant we received from the CDC to create policy and systems change that prevents obesity.  Another thing that we started with this grant is the Pima County Food Alliance, another more formal network of folks from all sectors of the food system (production, manufacturing, marketing, distribution etc.) who are also deeply involved in our planning and zoning work.  I wrote all of this up and it will be in PA's January issue....if you are interested....

Comment by Alvin W Wolfe on September 10, 2013 at 10:41am

Thanks, Merrill, for your very interesting and important comment on the food system which, although local in so many respects, has important supranational aspects.

I received your comments just as I was about to enter an earlier  response  I had received from Art Gallaher well before we started this SfAA Community Group.

You may recall that before we started this SfAA Community Group“ I had wondered not only  why network scholars had devoted so little attention  to supranational networks constituted of such powerful corporations that even the United States, the most powerful state in the world, is clearly yielding some of its sovereignty to it, and also, as an anthropologist wondering  why anthropologists have paid so little attention to the close connections among corporations and states in the continuing evolution of culture. I said that I think network studies of complex societies are crucial, and that anthropologists should be involved.

Art Gallaher, a past president of SfAA and a former chancellor of the University of Kentucky which has a great place in the history of applied anthropology responded to my concerns on July 16, 2013:

“Al, I agree with you, and when I get my short-story volume in the mail, I'll be back to you.

“;(1) You are hitting a nerve for me, always there, as you know from my work, and more intense after spending a long period in university administration. Anthropologists should be involved in all aspects of our culture; if we were, we would be in a more defensible posture to protect our discipline in the enormous changes that lie ahead for higher education;

“(2) we are missing so much on the globalization of institutional areas, mainly because we cannot break free of our propensity for micro-analysis;

“(3) We, who should know more than anyone on the historical growth and decline of urbanization, hardly mention it today; 

“(4) We have had little to say about the formation, and now the decline, of the "nation state construct, and possible consequences thereof: rise of fundamentalism; emergence of urban clusters world-wide that are inching toward city-state provenience; and the developing interest in regional alliance theory, such as Canada-U.S.-Mexico, in what Robert A. Pastor calls "The North American Idea;" and

“(5) why in hell are we making so little effort to make applied anthropology known to potential clients?”


Hopefully, when Art finishes his volume of short stories, we will hear much more from him!

Comment by Merrill Eisenberg on September 10, 2013 at 11:02am

Alvin -- Art's comments are well taken.  Personally I'm not so invested in protecting the discipline as I am in using our theories and methods to solve problems, but I definitely agree that we need to do that on a global level.  I view my very local work as combatting the impacts of the globalization of the food system -- sort of building an alternative to some small degree. And if anthropologists are to seriously be engaged in the policy conversation at the global level, perhaps we should be providing opportunities for students to "cut their policy teeth" at the local level first.  Just some thoughts....I usually find myself and  my interests to be marginal to most anthropological discourse!

Comment by Alejandra Colom on September 10, 2013 at 12:35pm

The main reason why I focused on NGOs for my dissertation was that they seemed to play a more important role in dictating conservation policy in Central Africa. I did include each countries' Natural Resources ministries/institutes but not corporations, although I am fully aware that large NGOs like WWF and CI have serious corportate connections.  Since I was focusing on cultural models of conservation, I concentrated on individuals' narratives and not on the larger level policies. Maybe for my next research project :)

Comment by Angela Gomez on September 11, 2013 at 3:56pm

Hello, I am just checking in. I know I will learn much from this group!

Comment by Alvin W Wolfe on September 13, 2013 at 2:46pm

Before we started the SfAA Community Group “Applying Anthropology to Supranational Networks,” I had sent some statements on such issues  to some  network scholars and anthropologists. A few days ago I gave you some comments I had received from Art Gallaher. Now I want to give you some that I received from another Kentuckian whose views I also respect. These are from Stephen Borgatti, an anthropologist  and network scholar who  is now Paul Chellgren Endowed Chair of Managem ent in the College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky. His network credentials are also strong, for he was a major developer of UCINET, a major  software package for the analysis of social network data.

Like Professor Gallaher, Professor Borgatti, has not yet joined this SfAA community group, but  I will share some of his earlier comments anyway.  Below are excerpts from my July statements  followed by  Steve Borgatti’s comments of August 5. I urge you to get into this discussion.

AWW:  From my several perspectives -- anthropologist, network scholar, and concerned citizen -- I have lots of concerns, among them the increasing autonomy of business corporations in their relations with the U.S. Government. Much as I want to address my own concerns, I really want to make sure each of you feel motivated to comment from your own perspectives.

[Steve Borgatti] I’m not sure what you mean about the autonomy of corporations in their relations with the government, but I agree that the level of govt surveillance and control will eventually be a major problem. Terrorism is the perfect irritant for creating a totalitarian state, which is then virtually impossible to undo. Marc Smith (of NodeXL fame) argues jokingly that he’d be willing to share everything with the NSA if they would serve as a free backup service for him. at least it is an exchange of value, and you know what they have about you. Similarly, I could see benefits of somewhat reduced privacy if the information were available to all.

AWW: No doubt to some of you, the government’s “spying on Americans” using very advanced data mining techniques developed by governmental and multinational enterprises may seem primarily a news story, a current issue. For me, it is another step in a longer term cultural evolutionary pattern in which corporations, culturally defined entities invented by humans, are interacting with states in developing a supranational system above the level of states.  A half-century ago I described this evolution of corporations and states as it was occurring in the mining industry in southern Africa (1963) and fifteen years later explained the evolutionary aspects of it, how that evolution fit into and supported the development of a new level of integration, the “supranational” level (1977).

[Steve Borgatti] I totally agree with supranational orgs bit. I enjoy science fiction about that, like Metatropolis (http://www.amazon.com/METAtropolis-Jay-Lake/dp/B004E3XEH0). I’m not sure there is a necessary connection with collaborating with government on surveillance. I know current situation is google, Verizon etc sharing with governments, but NSA could do it independently if necessary. More importantly, the rising power of multinational corporations also means they can be more independent of nations than in the past. So I think there are two phenomena of interest here, increasing surveillance and corporate power, and each is important and interesting on their own.

Comment by Alvin W Wolfe on September 16, 2013 at 7:54am

Mary Gray Rust joined the group with this comment yesterday:


.  Suffice it to say for the moment that I see indications of corporations heavily involved in NSA surveillance as a means of acquiring more power.  The empire needs both to expand its power globally.  Maybe I should cut and paste this email into the community section. 

What do you think?"



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