Stamm (social sciences)

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Stamm - in the German-speaking and cultural area also especially Volksstamm  - describes a relatively less complex form of social organization , the members of which are held together by the often mythical idea of ​​a common descent, as well as by language or dialect, religion, customs and law, as well as by political interests . Political science and ethnology distinguish the higher level of integration of the state from this idea of ​​a tribe .

The term Stamm is, v. a. by opponents of evolutionary theoretical approaches , subjected to a profound ideology criticism , largely rejected and gladly replaced by the term " ethnicity ". However , it is still used at a central point among representatives of evolutionary theories , especially neoevolutionism , and is often found elsewhere in current scientific literature, especially in archeology and historical studies . In ethnology, too, the definition of an ethnic group as "tribe" v. a. then still up to date (compare for example the Scheduled Tribesin India) if it is based on self-identification and the cultural, religious and ethnic identity of the respective social group .

"Base" is generally on the biological "lineage" ( Lineage to distinguish), and for example, corresponds to the relative Africa "Ethnic", namely a socially constructed , but forms as real conceived unit.

After the ethnological systematization, the members of a related clan to a mythical ancestor (or on a totem ), while a more or less clearly identifiable biological or historical including on the following level of lineages ancestor or ancestress called. On the tribe level above, the unifying principle is of a more abstract nature (language, religion, customs, law - this is also the case with the German tribes), although here, too, mythical ancestors are occasionally cited (for example with the tribes of Israel ).

Tribes joined together to form tribal associations or large tribes (compare tribal confederation , tribal society ), which are then sometimes referred to as their own " people " (such as the "people of the Franks "), while peoples are otherwise only spoken of when different tribes are united to form a nation becomes (" people of the Germans ").

Concept history

The term "tribe" as an organized association within a people appears in a prominent place in the Twelve Tribes of Israel in Exodus . The superordinate unity of the "people" is used here restrictedly as a historical myth in the sense of a tribal association with a common descent for all members . By developing a common language and culture within a closed settlement area, the Israelite tribes developed their own, outwardly demarcated sense of togetherness. This is where the idea of ​​a " progenitor " established itself . The subsequent historical process by which a group of people distinguishes itself from others and comes together to form a people is known as ethnogenesis .

Linguistically and figuratively, the "descent" is connected to the tree trunk from which branches have grown from its origin (from the seed). This literally leads to a branching off at the beginning of a single line (compare linear relationship ). This double meaning also includes the Latin stirps , which botanically denotes the "root" or the "stem" as well as the " descendants " of a family or lineage, for example that of Aeneas .

The word "Stamm" was formed in the corresponding meaning via the Middle High German stam from the Old High German liutstam . The English word tribe and the French tribu begin with the syllable tri ("three") from the Latin word tribus , which meant a division of the population of ancient Rome into 3 divisions. In the course of the Christianization of Britain - also imported by the Roman occupying power - the English tribe also referred to the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The idea of ​​these tribes went directly into the travelogues of the 17th and 18th centuries; In addition, the ethnologists of the time began to use the term tribe in the sense of a division or division of the peoples in the foreign countries visited. The evolutionist approach involved in this was partly still under the influence of the biblical reports, but authors from classical Greece also offered a fixed point. They described the structure of their own society as, among other things, divided into trittyen ("third") and thus delimited it from the communities of the presumably more disorganized barbarians .

The post-Roman Germanic population groups in Central Europe such as Alemanni and Lombards are known as tribes because of their low level of state organization. In the Middle Ages, on the way to nation-building , there were tribal demarcations between the Frisians , Saxons , Thuringians , Franconians , Swabians and Bavarians .

In the course of the 19th century, “tribe” for contemporary societies acquired the general meaning of a simply and originally organized subgroup of a preferably non-European society (compare tribal society ). Accordingly, a dictionary entry from 1965 defines the tribe as "an ethnic unit that comes to the fore, especially among primitive peoples, which unites people of the same language and culture to form an autonomous territorial association." The word kinship does not appear in this text.

Ancient society

The study of Greco-Roman antiquity was fundamental for the formation of anthropological theories in the 19th century . In ancient Greece , the phyle (tribe, people) was an organizational sub-unit of the state. Genos (Pl. Genē ) denoted a family group. The phratry formed a superordinate unit that referred to a mythical ancestor. A social classification includes genos (gender, family group), phratry, trittys as a subdivision of the phyle and ethnos (people). The genē were endogamous, so the marriage community did not include the entire tribe. Originally, the division into genē was probably limited to the aristocracy. This structure was also the basis of the military organization. In the Iliad (2, 101), Nestor recommends : "Arrange the men according to tribes and according to phratria, so that the phratry should accompany the phratry and the tribe to the tribe". In Attica there were four tribes of three phratries and thirty genes . These tribes traced their ancestry back to an eponymous hero , but are artificially created political and administrative units. Each tribe sent 100 members to the Athenian Council of 400. Consequently, anyone who was not a member of a tribe had no political rights. Since the reform of Kleisthenes , the tribe no longer played a role in the political organization, it divided Attika into parish districts ( Demen ), which from then on formed the basic political unit. Ten of these demes were combined into a tribe, which was now defined by the place of residence and not by the actual or assumed descent. The tribe elected the phylarch (tribal chief), strategos and taxiarchos ( brigadier ), provided five warships for the fleet and elected 50 members for the council. These tribes, too, were assigned an eponymous hero for whose cult they were responsible.

In Rome gentes (Sg. Gens ) were also united to form a tribe ( tribus ). According to legend, Rome was founded by a Latin, a Sabellian and a “mixed” tribe, each of which consisted of a hundred gentes . Ten gentes each formed a curia (Pl. Curiae ), which is usually equated with the Greek phratry . The senate was composed of the heads of these 300 gentes . In the reform of Servius Tullius , new gentes were formed; here it becomes clear that these were political units that were still based on family relationships. In both cases, Kleisthenes' Phylenreform and the formation of the Curia, the tribal society was transformed into a state structure through reorganization .


In the second half of the 19th century a number of early standard works of anthropological literature appeared, including Das Mutterrecht in 1861 by Johann Jakob Bachofen and in 1877 by Lewis Henry Morgan Ancient Society (Urgesellschaft). The authors advocated an evolutionist model for which they searched for the origins of society. Although they came to quite different conclusions about the original forms of society in their conclusions, they all saw the beginning of social organization in the family. From this nucleus developed the more comprehensive structures, for the description of which they transferred terms borrowed from ancient society to the so-called primitive peoples. Regardless of whether an easily recognizable patrilinear or a matrilinear sequence of descent that can only be derived from inferences was found, the decisive factor was the assumption that a common unilinear descent formed the basis of the social organization.

In Theodor Mommsen ( Römische Geschichte, 1854–56), the Latin word gens still referred to a blood-related clan according to Roman family law , whose straight line of descent should lead to clear legal relationships. The gentes were in this sense, the basis for the definition of tribe. Only later did it become clear that in the Roman gentes often constructed traditions were passed on, which in the sum resulted in the model of a society. For Henry Sumner Maine ( Ancient Law , 1861) and others, the social structure that arose from kinship relationships did not necessarily have to be based on biological reproduction. He also recognized quasi-fictional relationships that were based only on a common historical myth . The authors believed that they could observe the original state before the introduction of the state order among the indigenous peoples and transfer the ancient vocabulary to them.

The development of the evolutionary model of descent coincided with European colonialism . In the areas under their rule, the colonial rulers used the method of indirect rule in many places . Existing power structures were used to entrust tribal elders and local chiefs with administrative tasks. Some of the colonial officials' contacts were given an unprecedented level of power as soon as they acted in the interests of central administration. The original cultural unity of the tribe has now been cemented as a form of political organization within the newly created colonial state structures.

The theories of multilinear evolution , which emerged in the middle of the 20th century, expand the notions of unilinear evolution by including economic and ecological influences as factors that shape culture. A decisive influence of the environment for social development raised Julian Steward (1902-1972) in his Cultural Ecology ( Culture Ecology forth). His pupil Elman Service ( Primitive Social Organization: An Evolutionary Perspective, 1962) classified evolution according to the old scheme, but with new arguments, according to its degree of political organization into the four levels: band society (unruly, little organized clan- sized groups), Tribe (formalized leadership structures, regular meetings of elders), chieftainship (hierarchical society shaped by family relationships) and state (centralized, hierarchical, highly organized).


Descent as the basis for the formation of a society remained as an anthropological conception, even if evolutionist theories were soon criticized and replaced in British functionalist anthropology with a model of simultaneous systems. The functionalists rejected the previous psychological interpretations and instead tried to derive general laws from individual observations. Its representatives included Bronisław Malinowski ( Argonauts of the Western Pacific , 1922), Alfred Radcliffe-Brown ( Andaman Islanders , 1922) and Edward E. Evans-Pritchard . In the introduction of the social anthropological classic African Political Systems (1940) , written together with Meyer Fortes , the latter compared two different social categories identified in Africa. Their basic assumption was no longer the historical sequence, but the simultaneous existence of centralized, organized and segmental societies based on a kinship system. Evans-Pritchard showed the integrative power of tribal units ( lineages ), who knew no overriding political structure, among the Sudanese Nuer and the Azande ; At the same time, his colleague Godfrey Lienhardt was doing research with the Dinka . The tribe was not viewed as a kinship group and without a uniform definition as a social unit that exercised sovereign power over a certain area. For Evans-Pritchard, the group cohesion of the pastoral peoples was primarily due to the economic necessity of having to assert oneself against other groups in the fight for pasture areas. Lienhardt emphasized the power of rituals in these disputes over natural resources. Both described the political role of the tribe as a fighting community demanding solidarity from its members.


The theory of the original bond (primordialism: “from the first order”) sees the individual as being unalterably connected to a group through certain “imprints” for ages. Regardless of the spatial and temporal environment, the static ethnic affiliation of the individual to a group should be recognizable when viewed from the outside. The connecting elements include family relationships, biological characteristics, and a common language and history. The ethnic classification is based on these objectively defined criteria, which are considered to be more or less natural. The main representatives of the strict sociobiological direction of primordialism include Pierre L. van de Berghe (* 1933) and Richard Dawkins (* 1941), who assume that the ethnic groups have a biological-genetic origin.

The American cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz , who conducted field research in the small Moroccan town of Sefrou in the 1960s and 1970s , also represents the original cultural-historical starting point of ethnicity . At the same time in Morocco, his opponent Ernest Gellner developed the model of a segmental tribal organization. Gellner attached little importance to the formative importance of unilinear descent (origin from a lineage); his theory is a further development of the concept of segmentation developed by Evans-Pritchard among the black African Nuer. It is pointed out that the ideology of the closed tribe is not an objective criterion, but only an artificial model conjured up by the tribe members themselves, which does not adequately correspond to the actual relationships.

Conceptual criticism

A fundamental point of criticism of the term tribal was related to the fuzzy definition and lack of demarcation from people, clan or kin . Morton Fried counted according to his first study of a Chinese society ( Fabric of Chinese Society. A Study of the Social Life of a Chinese county Seat, 1967) in The Notion of Tribe (1975) the previous use of the term as language group, kinship group, cultural, economic or political unity. As the furthest-reaching critic, he drew the conclusion that the tribal definitions were simply anthropologists' constructions for secondary social phenomena lying below government organizations. In addition, there would be the tribe as a romantic, myth-laden idea of ​​noble savages. Fried exposed the concept of tribal as useless in socio-political discourse, but without being able to offer an alternative.

From the mid-1960s, the confrontation between the traditional tribe and the modern state fell into disrepute; the tribe, as an anthropological term, was largely declared unusable and ideologically tainted. Occasionally another term (such as "tribal society") to describe the same issue filled the gap. In particular, the accompanying conception of Stamm as an original form of society met with rejection, because in it the evolutionary view of history was still handed down.

The social science criticism of the term included its use in a colonial context. In Africa in particular, the installation of local leaders has created tribal units that did not previously exist. Heads of a community who were traditionally limited in time, had little influence and were only partially influential, were given a power to act as contacts for the colonial administration, which could lead to structural shifts in power. One example is Morocco, which in 1912 came under French protectorate administration by treaty . The Berbers , who predominantly live in the mountains of the Atlas , were given a legal preference over the Arab majority population, which was confirmed again in 1930 with the dahir berbère ( Berber decree). This was intended to assimilate Berber tribes who had given up their resistance to French rule. The blame for the social problems of many independent African states was seen in the continued existence of pre-colonial tribal identities, the preservation of which was blamed on the colonial powers. The word “tribalism” summarized practically all undesirable developments.

From the Marxist point of view of Maurice Godelier in the 1970s, the fundamental problem was the importance attached to kinship relationships for the formation of societies. This would obscure the view of the structural relationships that are responsible for social relationships and that could be revealed by a neo- structuralist concept.

Overall, the "tribe" disappeared from the socio-political discussion, while the word continues to be used in the media in its old, prejudiced meaning as a catchy explanation for all types of economic crises and structural problems in third world countries, especially in connection with the Arab revolutions since the beginning of 2011.

Usefulness of the Tribal Term

In the anthropological discussion about the origin and stages of development of societies, the concept of tribal has proven to be of little use and ideologically afflicted; in addition, supposedly clear delimitations of social units have been recognized as problematic. However, the concept of ethnicity also has a similar lack of definition . In both cases, the boundaries drawn by the group itself and the claimed collective identity are examined together with the external attribution (external perception). Ethnicity describes the cultural peculiarities as a development process within the respective tradition that forms the specific framework.

The description of certain local forms of society as tribes still has a largely undisputed significance in specialist circles. It makes sense to use the term “tribal” for Islamic societies in North Africa and the Middle East , for South Asia and for the Indians of North America . The word “tribe” in the sense of demarcated social groups, which mostly refer to a common ancestor in patrilineal descent, is translated from the languages ​​of the region: Arabic qabīla or ʿašīra , Turkish aşiret and Kurdish eşiret , Turkish / Persian il, as well the several Turkic occurring tayfa . People describe themselves as members of a tribe to which they feel connected in cultural, religious and political terms in addition to identification via a lineage. In order to understand the historical development of how states can arise and disintegrate again in a social form of life organized by tribes, theoretical explanatory models that go beyond the tribal self-attribution are required.

The tribes have existed for centuries and use clearly named criteria to define their collective identity. The power of the tribes can go so far that they have reduced the influence of the state to a minimum within their territory and the state cooperates with the tribal elders according to the principle of indirect rule . The Pakistani province of Balochistan is a prime example of tribal rule. In the Kurdish areas of Turkey and Iraq, the influence of tribal leaders has increased since the 1980s despite simultaneous urbanization .

In North Africa and the Middle East, with a predominantly Islamic population, it is in most cases Muslims who identify with tribal units, while the Christian minorities are split up into numerous sects, which create social cohesion for their members. The universal religious and political claim to leadership raised by Islam is ideologically incompatible with the tribal striving for political self-determination. Nevertheless, even strictly Islamic communities such as the Pashtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan see themselves in a position to combine their tribal identity with the demands of their religion. In the case law, common law and Sharia must be agreed. In other areas of society too, it is important to adapt the universal belief system to local conditions. In many cases, Islam proves to be absorbing, pragmatic and flexible.


  • Friedrich Engels : The origin of the family, private property and the state . In: Marx-Engels works . Volume 21. Berlin 1973, pp. 25–173 (original: Zurich 1884).
  • Morton Herbert Fried: The notion of tribe. Cummings, Menlo Park 1975 (English).
  • Jonathan Friedman: Tribes, States, and Transformations. In: Maurice Bloch (Ed.): Marxist Analyzes and Social Anthropology (= Association of Social Anthropologists Studies. Volume 3). Wiley, New York 1975 (English).
  • SC Humphreys: Anthropology and the Greeks. London 1978 (English; especially Chapter 8).
  • Wolfgang Kraus: Islamic tribal societies: Tribal identities in the Middle East from a social anthropological perspective. Böhlau, Vienna a. a. 2004, ISBN 3-205-77186-9 ( PDF download available from ).
  • Bruno Krüger: Tribe and tribal association among the Teutons in Central Europe. In: Journal of Archeology. Vol. 20, No. 1, 1986, pp. 27-37.
  • Adam Kuper: The invention of primitive society: Transformations of an illusion. Routledge, London 1988 (English).
  • Reinhard Wenskus : Tribal formation and constitution: the development of the early medieval gentes. Böhlau, Cologne / Graz 1961.

See also

Web links

Commons : tribes (tribes)  - collection of media files
Wiktionary: Volksstamm  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Tribe  - Quotes

Individual evidence

  • ( k ) Wolfgang Kraus: Islamic tribal societies. Tribal identities in the Middle East from a social anthropological perspective. Böhlau, Vienna / Cologne / Weimar 2004, ISBN 3-205-77186-9 ( PDF download on ).
  1. pp. 28-31.
  2. pp. 34-36.
  3. P. 138/139 and 143/144.
  4. pp. 19 and 371.
  5. pp. 38-42.
  6. pp. 42 and 371.
  7. pp. 43/44 and 48/49.
  • Other documents
  1. s. Roy Richard Grinker: Houses in the Rainforest: Ethnicity and Inequality Among Farmers and Foragers in Central Africa, University of California Press 1994, p. 12: “There is already a vast and critical literature on the theoretical and methodological problems of 'tribe' and 'tribalism' ... and the replacement of these terms with 'ethnic group' and 'ethnicity'. " In summary, for example: Wolfgang Kraus: Islamic Tribal Societies: Tribal Identities in the Middle East from a social anthropological perspective. Böhlau, Vienna a. a. 2004, p. 27 ff.
  2. ^ For example Colin Renfrew , Paul G. Bahn: Archeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. Thames and Hudson, New York 2008, pp. ?? (English).
  3. ^ For example, Malcolm Todd: The Early Germans. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell 2004, p. ?? (English).
  4. Wolfgang Kraus: On the concept of Deszendenz: A selective overview. In: Anthropos. Volume 92, Issue 1/3, 1997, pp. 139-163.
  5. Jukka Jari Korpela: "Nations" and "Tribes" in Medieval Eastern Europe: Their Significance for the Constitution of a National Consciousness in the 19th Century. In: Karl Kaser, Dagmar Gramshammer-Hohl u. a. (Ed.): Wieser Encyclopedia of the European East. Volume 12. Wieser, Klagenfurt 2002, pp. 696–761 ( PDF: 507 kB, 66 pages on
  6. ^ Walter Hirschberg (Ed.): Dictionary of Ethnology (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 205). Kröner, Stuttgart 1965, DNB 455735204 , p. 416.
  7. Christian Flatz: Culture as a new model of the world order: Or the contingency of cultures. Lit Verlag, Münster 1999, ISBN 978-3-8258-4257-4 , pp. 83/84.
  8. ^ Wilhelm Milke: The functionalism in the ethnology. In: Carl August Schmitz (Ed.): Culture. (Academic series. Selection of representative original texts.) Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, Frankfurt / Main 1963, pp. 95–114, here p. 98 (first published in 1937).
  9. Christian Sigrist: Regulated Anarchy: Investigations into the absence and emergence of political rule in segmentary societies in Africa (= cultural identity and political self-determination in world society, volume 12). Lit, Münster 2005, ISBN 978-3-8258-3513-2 , p. 83.
  10. Denis Gruber: At home in Estonia? A study on the social integration of ethnic Russians on the external border of the European Union. Lit, Münster 2008, ISBN 978-3-8258-1396-3 , pp. 30-32.
  11. ^ Wolfgang Kraus: Contestable Identities: Tribal Structures in the Moroccan High Atlas. In: The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Volume 4, No. 1, March 1998, pp. 1-22, here p. 2 (English).
  12. Peter T. Suzuki: Tribe: Chimeric or Polymorphic? In: Stud. Tribe Tribals. Volume 2, No. 2, 2004, pp. 113–118, here p. 114 ( PDF: 33 kB, 6 pages on
  13. ^ Ingrid Thurner: The resurrection of Karl May in the Arab Spring. In: . September 7, 2011, accessed January 14, 2020.
  14. Wolfgang Kraus: Segmented Society and Segmentary Theory: Structural and cultural foundations of tribal identity in the Middle East. In: Sociologus, New Series / New Series. Volume 45, No. 1, 1995, pp. 1-25, here p. 2.
  15. Boris Wilke: Governance and violence. An investigation into the governance crisis in Pakistan based on the case of Balochistan. SFB - Governance Working Paper Series, No. 22, November 2009, p. 20 ( PDF: 731 kB, 56 pages ( Memento from December 22, 2009 in the Internet Archive )).
  16. Martin van Bruinessen : Inner Kurdish power relations: tribes and religious brotherhoods. epd documentation. In: Evangelical press service. July 2003, pp. 9–14, here p. ?? ( ISSN  0935-5111 ; PDF: 80 kB, 9 pages on
  17. ^ Clifford Geertz : Religious Developments in Islam. Observed in Morocco and Indonesia. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt / Main 1988, p. 34.