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  • Series: Elgar Handbooks in Political Science x
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Harald Wydra and Bjørn Thomassen

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Arpad Szakolczai

This chapter explores the foundations of political anthropology as tools for understanding our contemporary predicament. The chapter delivers two key messages. First, it argues that political anthropology must identify the problems of the specifically ‘humanist’ vision of the modern world, including the all-encompassing emancipation and empowerment that entailed profound uprootedness and disempowerment of many living beings on the planet. Second, by drawing on a contemporary reading of the work of Plato and some of its most recent interpreters such as Eric Voegelin, Jan Pato_ka and Michel Foucault who took up the concern or care for the meaningful order of the soul or the self, Szakolczai claims that power ultimately lies with the concrete human person, and not outside of it.

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Roberto Farneti

Mimetic perspectives in the social sciences comprise attitudes and insights derived from mimetic theory, a novel attempt to reframe the terms of our discourse on the nature and facts of human sociability. These perspectives help reframing a number of canonical problems in the social sciences, such as the nature of social bonds and the reasons or causes of conflict. They affect the ways we build historical sequences and lines of developments, for each innovation promotes efforts to find the hidden premises to current standards. And finally, mimetic insights disturb the relations among disciplines, which in the social sciences are clumped together in hierarchical systems that have never really been challenged. This article reviews the impact of mimetic explanations on this discourse, on the assumption that this impact may help animate a political anthropology that straddles realms and discourses, and provides a new conceptual horizon for the study of political phenomena.

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Agnes Horvath

This chapter distinguishes two forms of power. Taking a critical look at Weberian or Foucauldian conceptions of power, which either describe institutionalized domination or omnipresent and all-pervasive metapower, Horvath distinguishes ‘first’ from ‘second’ power. Whilst second power has become dominant in modernity, first power is about the centrality of power inside every human being. This chapter therefore shifts attention from the focus on external forces of power, which are a product of necessity or automatic diffusion, towards a focus on power as relying on inner, personal coherence, rooted in a rich and full personality. The chapter’s ultimate claim is that power is a result of the perfect freedom of will, which is capable of giving without the need to receive back. The possession of power centers not only on keeping its borders intact but also on resisting every external intrusion and maintaining its own form.

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Paul Rabinow and Anthony Stavrianakis

This chapter claims the need for a contemporary ethos that helps us respond to a confusing and inchoate present. With the decline of meta-narratives and post-modernism, the authors identify the contemporary ethos in a new, ‘third’ movement of Kant’s original question: ‘What is Enlightenment?’ We must still ‘dare to think’, but need to go beyond Kant’s pact with the reigning powers with its separation of spheres of the public and the private or Foucault’s History of the Present, designed to undermine the seeming solidity of prior formations. In the current political conjuncture, ‘to dare to know’ can be identified in the need for different publics to emerge. Such publics can only emerge in relation to specific problems, which in turn require inquiry and concept work. Political anthropology must therefore proceed by inquiry and concept work in order to conceive of the relation between anthropology and the political stakes of practices.

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Gabriele De Anna and Christian Illies

This chapter distinguishes two anthropological sources of human action and normativity: whilst the ‘classical’ paradigm claimed teleological, value-centred visions of the human, the ‘modern’ anthropological paradigm finds support in evolutionary theory and the naturalism of Scientific Darwinism. The authors argue that evolutionary theory is not bound to an evolutionary outlook but can actually integrate elements of normativity typical of the classical paradigm. Although evolutionary theory lacks sources of normativity, it is nevertheless compatible with a teleological interpretation of the biosphere and humans. If our evolved cognitive abilities – as claimed by the modern paradigm – allow us freedom to choose, one potentiality is to choose the classical paradigm as a normative ideal. Our evolved nature can help us see that our potentialities can be realized in a good way and that the classical paradigm is a suitable alternative to deal with the problems of the modern world that we face as individuals and as societies.

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Michael Herzfeld

This chapter focuses on the performative and affective foundations of the informal ways in which social actors defend the inner spaces of institutional life. States and societies cannot consistently conform to the formal standards required by their institutions, norms, and laws; consequently, their citizens practice and experiment with locally recognizable political styles. An anthropology of politics must therefore recognize that collusion depends heavily on the intimate winks and nods that signal shared recognition of long-familiar but well-concealed possibilities for what may ultimately prove to be transformative action. Concepts such as phatic communion and cultural intimacy, conjoined in a comparative framework resting on several different cultural spheres (especially those of Thailand, Italy, Greece, and the US), allow us to tease out the multiple ways, some of them at odds with the prescriptions of the bureaucratic nation-state, in which social actors play with the conventions of civility, and to explore the effects they thereby achieve.

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Paul Dumouchel

This chapter argues that the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ violence, which legitimates monopolies of violence in territorial states, is not based on meaning or fear but on the role of the sacred in the management of violence. The irruption of religious violence in politics is not so much a return to a form of pre-secular forms of the sacred, but rather indicates that the self-organizing mechanism of violence that gave rise to the sacred has become ineffective. In the individualist modern world violence has increasingly lost its capacity to give rise to new institutions, to new religions or new forms of social organization. The progressive disappearance of the sacred in its protective function that the state has developed to protect us against our own violence is not only an institutional challenge but also requires re-thinking the relations between citizens, states, and ethics in an increasingly borderless world.

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Finn Stepputat and Monique Nuijten

This chapter provides an inventory of ‘the anthropology of the state’. It starts from the insight that the anthropology of the state drew considerably more on scholars of political science, political philosophy and sociology than on political anthropology. The ‘theoretical genealogies’ of the field challenged the taken-for-grantedness of the state as a ‘distinct, fixed and unitary entity’ operating outside and above society. The chapter concludes that the state as an idea of transcendental political authority and a centralizing organizational practice is not withering away, as observers in the 1990s suggested, but rather is transforming. The strongest contribution of political anthropology in grasping the manifold transformative processes is to combine rich ethnographic studies of this blurriness and the fragmentation of states with analyses of underlying rationales.

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Maria Mälksoo

This chapter addresses transitions in world politics through the lens of the concept of liminality. Liminality refers to the middle stage and consequent positioning of subjects in transition between socially established categories. Comparative Politics and International Relations (IR) tend to focus on states in transit, generally understanding politics through an institutionalist lens and thus lacking the depth of the internal meanings of transition as experienced by the communities and people in question. Taking a critical stance on the narrow transition paradigm in the study of international politics, the optic of liminality helps reorient the thinking of politics in the moment of transition via two examples, namely, transitional justice and the transformation of contemporary warfare. Russia’s idiosyncratic policies of reckoning with the violent legacies of its predecessor, the USSR, and its ongoing engagement in the war in Ukraine serve as illustrations of both lines of inquiry pursued here.