EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling

(P131)
Anthropologies of the State: Critical Interventions, New Directions [Roundtable]
Location
Date and Start Time [TBD] at [TBD]
Sessions [TBD]

Convenors

  • Anouk de Koning (Radboud University Nijmegen) email
  • Morten Koch Andersen (Danish Institute Against Torture) email
  • Steffen Jensen (Aalborg University) email

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Short abstract

This roundtable aims to explore future directions in the anthropology of the state. What new directions are emergent and what interventions are necessary in anthropological engagements with the state?

Long abstract

This roundtable aims to explore future directions in the anthropology of the state. What new directions are emergent and what interventions are necessary in anthropological engagements with the state?

Over the past decades, anthropology has offered its ethnographically informed perspective on the state. It has questioned the nature and effects of the State Idea and sovereignty, examining how individuals and institutions come to stand in for that entity and with what effects. Anthropologists have also examined the state's disciplinary operation and the way subject populations have engaged with such disciplinary mechanisms. While the state has often appeared as inherently repressive, recently, several anthropologists have called for an understanding of policy practice and bureaucracy in terms of the state's utopian aspirations to produce the public good, and have drawn attention to the moral and affective dimensions of people's engagement with the state. Yet other anthropologists have examined governmental assemblages that include a range of actors, from active citizens to corporations, and have asked what forms of citizenship emerge as a result. And how does mobility impact various forms of statecraft? What relations do states develop with populations in flux?

This roundtable invites scholars to reflect on the state of the art in anthropological engagements with the state. What kind of cases and foci have been central to that state of the art, and which have been absent? What kind of interventions may help push the field further?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The state as exchange relations

Author: Steffen Jensen (Aalborg University) email
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Short abstract

This intervention explores the consequences of understanding s a set of exchange relations rather than as articulations of sovereignty

Long abstract

'What happens to our understanding of the state if we begin to approach is through the lens of exchange relations, that is, from analytical lenses normally associated with economic anthropology? In this presentation I suggest that while political anthropology and a focus on sovereignty and everyday state formation has brought important new insights, we would do well in considering the state from the point of view of exchange relations. To make this point, I draw on material from fieldwork in slum areas in the Philippines and in South Africa'.

For a dialectical and ethnographic approach to stateness

Author: Thomas Bierschenk (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Mainz) email
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Short abstract

I will argue for a dialectical approach to stateness which epistemologically takes the agency of state employees serious, and which does not measure real stateness against an idealized version of European states.

Long abstract

Since the late 1990s, an anthropology of the contemporary state has emerged as a distinct subfield within the discipline. Contributions to this area of study, however, have been produced largely within networks distinguished and, in some cases, divided by regional orientations, thematic choices, theoretical inspirations, and political or moral standpoints. In my contribution, I will argue for three perspectives: First, anthropologists of the state should take a dialectical approach to the state and recognize its double face: as a force for oppression and exclusion as well as for liberation and inclusion. Second, while much of the anthropology of the state is mainly interested in the margins, and not the institutional core of the state, I propose that we should not forget public services and their actors ('bureaucrats'), with their respective agency, as objects worthy of ethnographic study. Anthropologists should not only be interested in what it means to 'see like a state', but particularly also what is it like to 'see like a state-agent'. Thirdly, a category that carries particularly powerful implications regarding the perceived legitimacy and normativity of particular states is that of 'the South'. States of the (European or Global) South should not be studied in their perceived 'otherness', but for what they reveal about states in general, in a spirit of reciprocal comparison where it is not one variant (e.g. an - often idealized -- version of the Northern state) which sets the model for all the others.

The tentative state of social welfare

Authors: Anouk de Koning (Radboud University Nijmegen) email
Anick Vollebergh (UvA/Radboud University) email
Milena Marchesi (University of Massachusetts Amherst) email
Milena Marchesi (University of Massachusetts Amherst) email
Milena Marchesi (University of Massachusetts Amherst) email
Milena Marchesi (University of Massachusetts Amherst) email
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Short abstract

Drawing on ethnographies of social work in three European cities, we argue that the social domain shows us a tentative, at times even vulnerable state that is constituted through intensive relational work and is deeply entangled with the social it wishes to govern.

Long abstract

This intervention draws on ethnographic fieldwork in the broad governmental domain of the social in Amsterdam, Milan, and Paris. Pierre Bourdieu (1998: 2) described this domain as 'the left hand' of the state, which is made up of 'social workers' in the broad sense of the term, from youth workers to teachers and family counselors, and from state-employed professionals to volunteers, 'who are sent into the front line to perform so-called 'social' work to compensate for the most flagrant inadequacies of the logic of the market, without being given the means to really do their job' (Bourdieu 1998: 3).

Our ethnographies reveal a heavily relational and affective form of government at work. In the assemblage of public, private, nonprofit, and activated citizens, and through the investment of affective labor, we see the state emerge, and position itself, as one actor among others in a heterogeneous assemblage meant to stimulate and redirect energies and re-generate the public good. We argue that, alongside the forceful, interventionist and repressive state familiar from critical studies of the welfare state in Europe today, the social domain shows us a tentative, at times even vulnerable state that is constituted through intensive relational work and is deeply entangled with the social it wishes to govern.

Exploring the Intrastate: analysing the state from within

Author: Tessa Diphoorn (Utrecht University) email
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Short abstract

This paper argues that the intrastate dimension between state officials and bodies has not yet been fully developed to understanding how the state is produced and enacted in anthropology.

Long abstract

The growing sub-discipline of the 'anthropology of the state' has outlined the numerous ways in which the state is shaped, produced, represented, imagined, and enacted. This bulk of work has highlighted the fragmented and hybrid forms of statehood (particularly in the post-colonial world), and has emphasises that even in societies where the state is perceived to be failing or weak, it continues to play a dominant role in defining citizens' lives. In this presentation, I argue that we should focus on a perspective that is often overlooked in this anthropological analysis on the state, namely the intrastate dimension. This refers to the numerous ways in which state officials and bodies interact (or do not interact) with each other, internally, to co-produce the 'state'. Although this dimension has been explored in criminology and public administration, an anthropological focus on the intrastate remains to be developed. To exemplify my point, I will draw from qualitative data collected in Kenya between 2017-2018 about several referral mechanisms that have been developed between different state institutions to deal with complaints against public officers. These mechanisms are aimed at enhancing relationships between institutions in order to provide better public services. Through this example, I aim to show that the intrastate feature is crucial to understanding how the state operates, how state authority is enacted, and how the state can act as the custodian of its citizens.

How ambivalence matters: new critical approach to anthropological engagements with the state

Author: Deana Jovanovic (Manchester Univeristy ) email
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Short abstract

I introduce importance of studying ambivalence in anthropological study of the state. The paper pushes the debates on affective states and hopes for the state by showing how new complexities emerge from studying conflicting dispositions with reference to future, which did not receive much attention.

Long abstract

Inspired by Gramsci and Foucault, anthropology of the state to a large extent started to privilege studying subjects who resist, oppose or evade state/state-craft (cf. Scott 1985; Clastre 1977). Such focus left aside studying people's investments in statecraft and their hopes for the state, the approaches which recently emerged (Jansen 2015). In this paper I critically build upon this debate to introduce a fresh angle to anthropological engagements with the state: I introduce importance of studying ambivalence, while approaching the state from the perspective of everyday concerns of the people who would be its subjects. I base this argument on my ethnographic research in a Serbian copper-processing town, where I focused on people's affective and practical investments in ordering statecraft through industrial company (the state's proxy).

I suggest that the focus on conflicting dispositions with reference to future entails an advantaged domain for the anthropological study of the state especially because people's encounters with the state (and the 'state effects') consist of encounters with the social, political, and economic conditions on which people depend on, and which more often than not "work against" them. Such interplay produces ambivalence which impacts particular forms of statecraft. My research on ambivalence pushes the debates on affective states and "hopes for the state" by showing new complexities that emerge from studying, so far unexplored, notion of ambivalence. I argue that, rather than hope alone, ambivalence, which entails hope and various conflicting dispositions, is involved in the production of the state.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.