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Introduction to Stategraphy

Toward a Relational Anthropology of the State

Tatjana Thelen, Larissa Vetters and Keebet von Benda-Beckmann

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.

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Creating the State Locally through Welfare Provision

Two Mayors, Two Welfare Regimes in Rural Hungary

Gyöngyi Schwarcz and Alexandra Szőke

This article examines the ways in which decentralized welfare provision is utilized by local state officials, particularly mayors, to (re)create local belonging along notions of deservingness. Comparing the organization of three forms of benefits in two villages, we demonstrate that local practices of welfare embody different state images that are created and negotiated both through the regulatory power of local state actors and through their various interactions and embeddedness in local social relations. Our empirical material highlights that the specificities of positions held by elected local officials and their accorded responsibilities, in addition to the position of their locality in the broader socio-spatial landscape of the country, are of great importance. All these largely influence the ways in which state images are formed and materialize in redistributive practice.

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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.