Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Progressive egalitarians (as many anthropologists are) have a hard time understanding why anyone would buckle under to authority. So we look around for people who buck the system--and champion their efforts. Our investments make it hard for us to see how a great many other people operate. I suggest that people who have long accepted hierarchical arrangements but find that their lives are not flourishing may feel drawn to "democracy," and then feel disappointed that things get no better. But their understanding of democracy actually retains hierarchical assumptions. The result is populism: an effort to enter into exchange relations with the powerful from a position of relative, often radical, weakness. This strategy resembles procedures enacted in religion. Developments in Burma and Indonesia illustrate this analysis.