Political anthropology is the study of politics all the way from a stateless society to complex bureaucracies. It is a very similar discipline to Political sociology, but differentiated in terms of what relations they study. Political anthropology studies the politics associated with human society, usually oriented toward the basis of societal structure. Political sociology, on the other hand, is a study of the relation between Human society and the state. The “state”, while the most common form of human socio-political organization this day, has not been the most prevalent across history.
Until about 1960, political anthropology largely focused on the politics of stateless societies. Even nowadays, the subfield of anthropology that studies complex bureaucracies, markets, and other characteristics of the state is largely still developing. Yet by treading that fine line they boarder on the study of Sociology’s slice of academia. So does that mean political anthropologists who study states and established, non-nomadic cultures are sociologists? Sort of, but the way they apply the research is on the basis of human studies (Anthropology) via scientific methods, not social studies (Sociology).
Anthropologists are primed to become politicians and part of our society’s political structure because of their long, arduous (and often extensive) studies into human beings. The length of civilization throughout history is relatively minute (around 10,000 years) when one takes a look at homo sapiens sapiens total existence (around an overwhelming 200,000 years long), like political anthropologists. These anthropologists (particularly ones who focus in the political field) make excellent diplomats to different cultures, employees of the government, and high ranking officials due to their empathetic views of others. After all, a better understanding of who you are governing will yield better long term results.
The history of the field goes back far (even to the late 19th century) but was not taken seriously by many universities until the mid 20th, between the 1940’s and the 1950’s. British functionalist schools took many of their fieldwork to Africa to study how the basic human political system is, and who was to benefit from it (individuals or the group).
Today’s modern-day political anthropology courses are wide in variation, but generally study the responses between humans and their socio-political institutions. There is much difference in the wide variety of theories presented in “poly anthro”, and these anthropologists can disagree on just about everything. Yet, when it comes to intelligent political human debate, you have it in this field of study!
– IAPA, Institute for Applied Political Anthropology
– Wikipedia, Political anthropology