Two-Dimensional Man: An Essay on the Anthropology of Power and Symbolism in Complex Society

Two-Dimensional Man: An Essay on the Anthropology of Power and Symbolism in Complex Society

by Abner Cohen


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Central to this original study, first published in 1974, is that Political Man is also Symbolist Man, that man is two-dimensional. The book explores the possibilities of the systematic study of the dialectical interdependence between power relationships and symbolic action in modern, complex society. The discussion focuses on the processes by which interest groups, that cannot organise themselves formally, manipulate different types of symbolic formations to articulate a number of basic organisational functions: distinctiveness, communication, decision-making, authority, ideology and socialisation. The analysis is worked out in terms of specific case studies of different types of groupings, or ‘invisible organisations’ – ethnic, elitist, religious, ritually secret, cousinhood – which go through processes of cultural metamorphosis, shifting from one symbolic strategy to another, in response to changes in their circumstances. In conclusion, the discussion is brought to bear on the study of stratification in large-scale industrial society generally.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781138928725
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 07/28/2015
Series: Routledge Library Editions: Social and Cultural Anthropology Series
Pages: 174
Product dimensions: 6.25(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Abner Cohen (1921-2001) was, before his retirement, Professor of African Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at London University. His books include The Politics Of Elite Culture (1981) and Masquerade Politics: Explorations in the Structure Of Urban Cultural Movements (1993).

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: the Bizarre and the Mystical in Modern Society 2. Power Relations and Symbolic Action 3. The Dialectics of Politico-Symbolic Interdependence 4. Political Man – Symbolist man 5. Symbolic Strategies in Group Organisation 6. ‘Invisible’ Organisations: Some Case Studies 7. Conclusions: Symbolic Action in the Politics of Stratification

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