In the introduction to this special issue, we discuss recent trends in anthropological research on and in theorizing the state. We show how these have given rise to an analytical gap between state images, on the one hand, and practices, on the other. Based on this analysis, we propose a relational approach that we call 'stategraphy' as a way to tie together state practices and representations. This ethnographically grounded approach focuses on relational modalities, boundary work, and forms of embeddedness of actors as constitutive factors. These avenues of analyses enable a nuanced understanding and comparative investigation of change and continuity as well as of mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion.
Toward a Relational Anthropology of the State
Tatjana Thelen, Larissa Vetters and Keebet von Benda-Beckmann
Tatjana Thelen, Andre Thiemann and Duška Roth
In this article, we analyze processes of kinning within state-initiated programs of elder care in Serbia in order to explore how images of the state as an entity are cast as distinct from the domain of the family. We present data from the fieldwork we conducted in two settlements, in northern and central Serbia respectively. Contrary to the findings of many anthropological studies of the state, state actors in these cases surpass the expectations of citizens. Nevertheless, within complex processes of kinning between state-paid care workers and their clients, dominant images of an absent state as well as state-kinship boundaries are (re)produced. Placing this boundary work within the evolving relations at the center of the analysis underlines the merits of rethinking the interconnections between kinship and the state with a relational focus.
Lebanon’s Leviathan and Peace Expertise
The sizable amount of academic and policy-oriented literature on socio-political violence in Lebanon could be said to have rendered the country a 'prestige zone' for theorizing on the powerful image of the Leviathan, the Hobbesian idea that a secular social order is achievable only within a strong sovereign state. Building on the insights of the anthropology of the state, this article argues for the necessity of a critical assessment of contemporary expert discourses of 'state failure'. Based on archival research and anthropological fieldwork, the article addresses the metaphor of the failed Leviathan as an empirical question. Overall, it seeks to explore its productivity as an applied expert category and to highlight both the conditions of its construction and dissemination, as well as some of its particular effects.
Administrative Lists, European Union Food Aid, and the Local Practices of Distribution in Rural Romania
Ştefan Dorondel and Mihai Popa
In this article we analyze local distribution practices within an EU food aid program in Romania. We show that an understanding of this program's implementation can contribute to our understanding of how the state works in present-day Romania and, more generally, to the anthropology of the state. We examine the ways in which local-level bureaucrats gain discretion and exercise it when implementing the program. By securing greater control over a scarce transnational resource, local officials are able to shape national policy according to local distributive models. The described distribution process is conducive to community building, although in very different ways in the two rural settings being studied. We argue for a relational analysis of the workings of the state that explores the embeddedness of local actors and their participation in historically shaped power relations.
Affective States—Entanglements, Suspensions, Suspicions
Mateusz Laszczkowski and Madeleine Reeves
The aim of this special issue is to bring a critical discussion of affect into debate with the anthropology of the state as a way of working toward a more coherent, ethnographically grounded exploration of affect in political life. We consider how the state becomes a 'social subject' in daily life, attending both to the subjective experience of state power and to the affective intensities through which the state is reproduced in the everyday. We argue that the state should be understood not as a 'fiction' to be deconstructed, but as constituted and sustained relationally through the claims, avoidances, and appeals that are made toward it and the emotional registers that these invoke. This article situates these arguments theoretically and introduces the subsequent ethnographic essays.
Revisiting Abrams in times of crisis in Turkey and EU-Europe
Philip Abrams’s notion of the “state-idea” has been of immense influence in the anthropology of the state. This article suggests a contrary reading of Abrams’s “Notes on the difficulty of studying the state” (1988) that focuses instead on his notion of “politically organized subjection,” which allows us to examine contemporary statehood in crisis where political practice increasingly seems “unmasked.” The article examines such strategies of politically organizing subjection in the contexts of current EU-Europe and Turkey. It highlights the role of hegemony-building strategies that do not so much mask political practice as openly promote polarization in society, directing ideological and material efforts at strengthening leadership over the own class alliance and using both overt and structural coercion to suppress political projects opposed to neoliberal authoritarianism.
Critical Reflections on Daniel M. Goldstein’s Outlawed
Benjamin O. L. Bowles
Goldstein, D. M. (2012), Outlawed: Between Security and Rights in a Bolivian City (Durham: Duke University Press), 344 pp., 9 photographs, 1 map, ISBN: 978-0-8223-5311-9 (paperback).
Daniel M. Goldstein’s Outlawed: Between Security and Rights in a Bolivian City (2012) is a thickly described and richly detailed ethnography of uncertainty in the barrios of Cochabamba, Bolivia. It holds important insights for legal anthropology, particularly where the sub-discipline intersects with the anthropology of the state and the anthropology of human rights. The ethnographic detail is exemplary, with the work here having serious implications for anthropological theory and opening up several avenues for further investigation. That it opens new debates more than it offers cohesive answers – as is, admittedly, possibly fitting for the ‘uncertain anthropology’ that Goldstein advocates – both is the prime strength of the work and can be offered as a gentle critique. I consider this to be because of the ambitious breadth of the work to the extent that directions that were implied were ultimately left somewhat unexplored. This review article is an attempt to consider the prime contributions of Outlawed and to tentatively map some of these implied connections.