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 17: Postdemocracy and a politics of prefiguration

Nicholas J. Long


This chapter explores how political anthropology can contribute to understanding, and challenging, the multiple forms of postdemocracy that have arisen in recent decades. Ethnographic research demonstrates how postdemocratic governance can be immensely harmful, as it is frequently underpinned by dynamics quite different to the beneficent principles it purports to embody. This discovery in itself can empower anthropologists to make important critical interventions. But political anthropology also clarifies how postdemocratic arrangements actually arise. It moves us beyond simplistic portraits of postdemocracy as grounded in ‘economic power’ or ‘a turn to expertise’, instead illuminating the complex processes by which different private (and public) interests gain leverage in both policy-making processes and citizens’ political aspirations. These insights do not just make for better causal explanations of political transformations. They are also a vital resource for activism, enabling us to explore alternatives to postdemocracy that are responsive to the concerns of the people we work with, rather than—or perhaps as well as—our own. The chapter illustrates these arguments with examples drawn from Brazil, the United States, and the author’s own research in Indonesia.

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