“Think of all the good the purge does…”

In Moberg’s chapter on Decolonization and Anti-Structure, he discusses the backlash British Structural Functionalism began to receive due to its lack of explanation about conflict and change.  Moberg goes on to explain that some anthropologists wanted to address conflict while still maintaining the functionalist perspective; one of these anthropologists was Max Gluckman.  Gluckman analyzed conflict as not in opposition to functionalism, rather as a contributing a functional purpose to the system.

While Gluckman was conducting field work he observed a pattern of behavior practiced by many stratified African societies, ritualized rebellion.  He described these rituals as a brief reversal of social order and the roles people fulfill.  Gluckman proposes that these events grant a psychological release for those that do not hold an authoritative role.  It is an opportunity to discharge any frustrations, while also providing a warning to the rulers of what could happen if the people so choose.  These momentary role reversals become a way to balance and preserve the system (Moberg 2013, pg. 206-7).

Ritual rebellion reminds me of a recently released movie, The Purge, where all crime is temporarily legalized for 24 hours, and all emergency services are closed.  It is assumed that if allowing citizens to engage in any behavior they desire for 24 hours, the system will be able to maintain order the other 364 days of the year.  While I do not believe, even for a moment, that the logic assumed by this movie is any way feasible or moral, I do see an overlap between what Gluckman observed, and the plot to this move. Citizens are provided an opportunity to act on deep seeded revenge or festering anger; these 24 hours offers a form of liberation.  It is a mechanism created by the system, for the system, to dissolve any chance of revolution

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3 thoughts on ““Think of all the good the purge does…”

  1. This is EXACTLY what I thought of when I read that chapter. Just thinking about the movie gives me chills, especially when we see hoe closely related it is to Theory… Gives it that added bonus. It’s bone chilling to think about how the underlying mechanisms to culture can sometimes make us seem, well, not so “human” any more.

  2. First of all, that sounds terrifying. People allowed to do whatever they want for 24 hours sounds like a terrible idea. Secondly, is Gluckman saying that if people are allowed to act out at a certain time in any way they see fit that society will be able to continue because of it? If so, that sounds very similar to Radcliffe-Brown’s idea of equilibrium in society. Small rebellions happened in order to restore order to society and to equal everything out.

  3. I saw this film and I agree with the creepy factor. However, I also couldn’t shake the thought how flawed that system is. For that 24-hour period, people attack the poor and homeless because they are seen as unneeded in the world. Sooo when you get rid of the poor people, are you just assuming that everyone who is still alive is considered the same socially as before? The rich can afford security systems to protect themselves, but eventually the rich will be pegged against the rich and the whole system will collapse.
    Sorry, this movie REALLY got me thinking!

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