Description of Group “Applying Anthropology to supranational networks and systems.”

Members of this group share ideas about the evolution of cultural systems above the level of states. Upon observing the network of corporations that dominated the mining systems in southern Africa in the 1960s Alvin Wolfe described what he saw as a “supranational system”resulting from the interaction of political states and business corporations.

As this evolution proceeded throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, business firms became wealthier and more powerful  while states, themselves  corporations that depended more on their populations than on their capital, weakened.

During this same period theories and methods to study complex networks evolved to the point that understanding supranational systems is now possible and anthropology is the discipline that should be doing so. After all, this is culture, and culture is our business.

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  • We have left these comments unanswered for too long.  It is time we all got back into this subject matter of evolution of supranational corporations.  Anthropologists should be studying the creation of those thousands of corporations in Panama. There is no genuinely useful purpose for creating corporations whose "owners" are held secret from states and other corporations.


  • Interesting article here on "Big Data + Big Pharma = Big Money," which touches upon issues of surveillance, data capture, and private governance:

    Cheers, jvs

  • I've been commenting on Al's "Corporations as Cultural Artifacts" page and am curious whether those posts go out to the full group. I typically receive notice of my own posts to the 'supranational' group, but not on the 'artifacts' page. Has anyone else received the latter?

  • I wonder what the State Department is doing to promote organic seed production -- if anything.

    U.S. Version – Biotech Ambassadors: How the U.S. State Department P...

  • Yes, nonprofits are integral to the supranational networks.  The IRS is still under fire for examining closely some applications for 501(c)3 status from conservative organizations with strong links -- including board members -- to the corporate sectors.  Despite growing public opposition to Monsanto's GMO food production at a supranational level, including 50 countries either banning or restricting it, the American Grocery Association is clearly promoting GMO foods without labeling requirements and the Supreme Court is supporting this position.  I wonder how many of this AGA nonprofit's board and PAC members represent Monsanto and other genetically engineered food manufacturers. 

    ~Mary R

  • I just saw Mike LeBlanc's comment -- took me a while to figure out there is a second page on this discussion (argh!). Mike,  I would love to communicate with you about your local planning activities -- are you going to AAA?  If so, let's try t meet up...Merrill

  • I found interested the comment sent regarding the Koch brothers because the creation of nonprofits by the rich and the super rich has been documented in the literature for some time now. I think they are an important nod when doing network analysis of the corporate world.


  • Having now read the NYTimes article,<>

     and having looked at some of the network graphs in the Daily KOS piece,


     I am reminded of my early days of gathering network data on the African Mineral Industry.


      My graphs of the mining companies and their directors fifty-one years ago looked very much like those of the Koch brothers and foundations and government agencies published in the Daily Kos this month.  I got my information at that time largely from The Mining Yearbook and newspapers. Today, they are getting the data from newspapers and IRS Reports.

    After observing the dynamics of the interactions among corporations and states in those days, the 1960s, I soon discerned that we were observing cultural evolution as the business networks were coming to dominate over nation-states in cultural systems above the level of states, generating a system that I called “supernational.”

    Now, with new capabilities to study networks, new computer systems to collect, store, and analyze data, we anthropologists should be doing much more as those evolutionary processes reach astounding speed and the resulting organizations reach astounding proportions.  That’s the sort of thing I talk about in my 2011 paper, “Anthropologist View on Social Network Analysis and Data Mining,”< >

    If you can’t get that one, try “Network Perspectives on Communities”< >

    Or “Connecting the Dots without forgetting the Circles”<>

    If anthropologists don’t recognize these developments as evolutionary, who will?

    --Alvin Wolfe.

  • John: I don't think you are "a rag-tag bunch" at all.  It seems to me that you are a member of a group that is ahead of most social scientists. I only wish anthropology had greater representation in such  enterprises not only in Michigan but elsewhere.


  • I am but the lone anthroplogist (let alone applied anthropologist) on our research team. We're a rag-tag bunch of animal scientists, ethicists, philosphers, and predominantly sociologist social scientists. This 'TSR' network described above is something for which I've been pushing a network project for several years. Including the physical objects of surveillance in the standardization mix would provide, it seems to me, a window on the structure and functioning of both the (public/private and trans-national) human and non-human actors that simultaneously enable and are implicated in the 'network of surveillance systems' aka 'uberveillance' that that appears to be the emerging neo-liberal coercive force, as I say, "cloaked in the political rhetoric of national security.' I would love to be involved in such a project, but sadly, I have neither the time nor the institutional support to pursue it at this time. Such is the life of the non-tenure stream senior research anthropologist at a major state university: a career built upon the shifting sands of college-level administrative whimsy. But that's a discussion better left to another venue, preferably a pub. Cheers, jvs

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