Anthropological Sensibility and Secular Numbness: Preliminary Analysis of Wolf on Power

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The Greek etymology of the word idea (idein in the sense of "to see")11 points to the inherent materiality of ideas as does Wolf's own position when he points out, for example, that the nervous system could underlie concept formation and ideational processes (p. 281) or when he says that in "real" life, unlike in analytical labor, people engage and activate bodies and minds as whole persons" (p.289).12 Wolf does not allow these insights to guide the unfolding of his argument. [...]to this "real" life, Wolf seems to imply the existence of an "analytical" one that engages the self studying human action and is thus able or required to separate its components. Discounting the influence of ideas and ideology-caused the followers of pragmatism to neglect the significance of ideas in arousing and mobilizing people for action. [...]many a well-intentioned rationalist simply would not believe, until it was too late, that scientifically unverifiable and irrational ideas could yet appeal to large number of people, and that beliefs in witchcraft, eliminationist anti-Semitism, or millenarianism, could be taken seriously by apparently reasonable people (p. 47). [...]seeing through the secular in our age, will push us to inquire into how we have come to understand power, largely in keeping with Weber,14 as domination or at least as the capability to dominate others.15 Wolf takes power as the equivalent of domination. [...]it seems to me especially fitting for discussion of Wolf's work, which evokes the ocular in its title. 2 If pursued further, I suspect the intimate relation between "the ordinary" and "the extra-ordinary" raises yet another questiosn about how "truths" are thought to arrive, unfold, and circulate.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTheory & Event
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2008


  • Political Science
  • Asad, Talal
  • Weber, Max


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