Sherry Ortner’s Practice anthropology aims to place emphasis on humans and what they are doing and to eliminate the preconceived categorization that exists in anthropology. Without using their exact terminology, Ortner pulls the basis of practice anthropology from three main sources: Marx, Weber, and Wallerstein.
Marx was interested in how people related to one another on an economic level. He asserted that social classes developed from capitalism. Marx believed that eventually class conflict will arise between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and workers will overthrow their oppressive government. They will then establish a new government that will benefit everyone in society. The governmental style he pushed for was communism. Ortner shares Marx’s view that the economy is the most motivational factor on the individual, and pulled this into both interest theory and strain theory.
Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory states material production has caused the development of economics and politics as well as created a world class system. Wallerstein asserts that history can be divided into three periods based on economy. The first period is from 1300-1450. During this time feudalism was stagnating, and was on its way out. The second period is from 1450-1670. The European economy was expanding rapidly, and nation-states were forming. The ruling kings were insisting on a bureaucracy with themselves on top. The new nation-states began forming joint-stock companies. This minimized their financial risk while maximizing their return. Eventually the merchant class was able to buy its way into the bureaucracy. The extensive overseas trade led to an influx of cheap goods. The third and final period began in 1700 and led into the modern era. Through the success of capitalism, it was realized that more resources meant more money. European colonialism gained momentum as Europe became more dependent on its colonies. Slavery was a result of colonialism and the European industrial revolution; colonialism gave European nations cheap resources and slavery provided free labor. All of this came to an end after World War II, when Europe was financially drained and could no longer afford its colonies. World Systems Theory is Marxism on a global scale; Wallerstein promoted the idea that the economy was the driving force behind global change. Ortner was interested in how individuals operate within a given system, and was highly supportive of the notion that society is dynamic, and the economy is a major catalyst for change.
Weber was pulled into anthropological thought in the 1970’s. Weber stated that the basic unit of society was the group. He gave three reasons for group formation: economics, politics, and culture. Societies are comprised of stratified groups. People will naturally assign themselves to groups based on similarities and work together to exclude individuals who are dissimilar. Weber believed that the intentional behaviors and actions of individuals were important to study, and Ortner agreed. According to Weber, there are two main types of organization: personalistic and bureaucratic. Personalistic organization begins in the family and is the basis for the social organization of small-scale societies. Bureaucracies are a way of controlling a large amount of people through a tiered system of command. Ortner took Weber’s ideas of studying the group’s effect on the individual and the individual’s effect on the group.