Annotation: Barth, Frederik. 1966. Models of Social Organization.

Barth, Frederik. 1966. Models of Social Organization. Glasgow: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

Barth critiques anthropology’s focus on the static concept of status, and instead suggests the “need to understand the nature of the interconnection between the statuses,” and to look into the “transactional nature of interpersonal relations” (3). Drawing form the ethnographic examples from Norway and the Middle East, Barth proposes in this seminal work to study processes, not merely patterns, and construct generative models that can explain the “form of social life” (1). The unit of investigation in Barth’s model is the “social life of a particular region during a certain period of time,” hinting on the need for the specificity instead of the universality of ethnographic research. Barth calls for the attention to “transaction,” which to him refers to the process through which we can model relationships between the microlevel of interpersonal relations an the macrolovel of social systems. He encourages the observation of human behaviour at the “moment of action,” as a means of acknowledging that we study whole persons involved in social relations, who have the capacity to confront, resist, cooperate, converge, are who are also constrained. According to Barth, these transactions are governed by “reciprocity,” or the result of action which assures the interacting parties that the value gained is greater than the value lost. Barth suggests that patterns may be observed in these transactions, and one is able to identify contracts between individuals, and then attach role stereotypes to particular individuals. These roles, as Barth argues, is not static, as innovations external to individual choice (e.g. technological changes), in addition to changes in decision-making processes, affect the choice that individuals take. In his model of social organization, attention is also paid to the the practices embedded in the society as Barth notes that “every instance of transaction takes place in a matrix of values and statuses” (15).

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