Handbook of Political Anthropology
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Handbook of Political Anthropology

Edited by Harald Wydra and Bjørn Thomassen

This Handbook engages the reader in the major debates, approaches, methodologies, and explanatory frames within political anthropology. Examining the shifting borders of a moving field of enquiry, it illustrates disciplinary paradigm shifts, the role of humans in political structures, ethnographies of the political, and global processes. Reflecting the variety of directions that surround political anthropology today, this volume will be essential reading to understanding the interactions of humans within political frames in a globalising world.
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Chapter 6: Cultural intimacy and the politics of civility

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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