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This panel aims to engage critically with the anthropology of the state literature by focusing on relational aspects of the state. Thinking of the state relationally allows us to explore the state in less normative ways and capture the boundary work needed to set the state apart from other entities.
Phil Abrams and Tim Mitchells' seminal interventions, introducing a Foucauldian perspective to the study of the state, transformed political anthropology profoundly. This approach produced important and necessary insights but, at times, also reified the power of the state as a particular, almost universal instantiation of power, and more recently, neoliberalism. This panel aims to engage critically with the anthropology of the state literature by focusing on the relational aspects of the state as a way to explore the state in less normative ways. Thinking of the state relationally also draws our attention to the continuous elaboration of boundaries that sets the state apart from other entities, or, in contrast, may work to downplay such distinctions. It helps us see how, in multiple contexts, the state manifests itself as one formation among and in relation to others. Care, for example is often viewed through the lens of disciplinary power, but questions about who cares and how state officials care as representatives of the state opens up a different set of questions about affective investments and entanglements, and boundary work. Focusing on exchange relations between citizens and states and within the state itself beyond the aberration of corruption likewise opens up for thinking differently about the state. Similarly, exploring how brokerage is central to the working of states also foregrounds a relational perspective. This panel invites contributions that in these and other ways engage critically with the literature on the anthropology of the state by focusing on the relationality of state formation.