How Can Charisma (Max Weber) Be Used as a Political Instrument?

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  • Topic: Bronisław Malinowski, Functionalism, Charisma
  • Pages : 3 (816 words )
  • Download(s) : 52
  • Published : February 19, 2006
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Charisma is a quality of an individual personality that is considered extraordinary, and followers may consider this quality to be endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or exceptional powers or qualities. Whether such powers actually exist or not is irrelevant – the fact that followers believe that such powers exist is what is important. Charismatic leadership has emerged in all places and in all historical ages. For example, we have the Kwaio ‘Big Man' of Melanesia (Sahlins, 1963) compared to the black ghetto in Chicago (Kochman, 1960's).

First and foremost, since the task is to define how charisma can be used as a political instrument, it is important to discuss ‘functionalism'. Bronislaw Malinowski introduced the concept of Functionalism. It is universal theory and posits that all cultural "traits" are functionally interrelated and form an integrated social whole. In addition, it posited that all parts of society functioned to satisfy the individual's biological needs (in this case, seeking power, or generally gaining an advantage over another). Functionalism was thus a less system-oriented theory than structural functionalism and more oriented towards the individual. It was also more open toward social change.

The political leaders of Melanesian societies are characteristically ‘big men', individuals who have acquired power because of their personal qualities and their personal achievement. There is a constant competition, a constant yearning for upward mobility between the men of the village to achieve the statues of ‘big man'. They aspire to make decisions on behalf of the village and wish to be respected and powerful – where influence, authority, and leadership in the secular affairs come from success in mobilizing and manipulating wealth. A Big Man's objective to gain popular loyalty and enthusiasm comes from his charisma and his ability to make people obligated to him by contributing to their feasts, financing marriages, and otherwise investing...
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