Orfalea Center Thematic Research Cluster


The Anthropology of the State



Course Description:


This class investigates notions and ideas of “the state” through an ethnographic and anthropological approach. We pose the questions: What is the state? How can one think of the state: as an abstract reality, an institution, a process/mode of governance, or a cultural formation? How does it govern, regulate, or relate to its citizens and subjects? What are its powers and limitations? To what extent can we speak of “it” as a clearly formed entity? Why types of relations, constructions, routines, and subjects do we speak of in discussions of the state? What alternatives can we imagine beyond the state? How do people speak or relate to the state in their day to day lives? In this class, we will contemplate and rethink conceptions of the state. We will think through how formations of the state intersect with class, race, gender, religion, ethnicity, and even the body. By reading different anthropological, humanities, and other social science texts, we will address colonial and post-colonial states, everyday perceptions of the state, the state’s borderlands, notions of a “failed state,” and how perceptions and practices of the state seep into people’s everyday lives and struggles.

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