Anthropology of the State

The anthropology of the state deals with statehood as a bundle of social practices. One of its central concerns is to avoid the temptation to conceptually simplify such diversity by conducting deficit analyses that derive from privileging specific (ideal or historical) forms and notions of political organisation. Rather, the anthropology of the state understands the heterogeneous forms of statehood as the result of structured interactions of diverse actors within a world society that is characterized by asymmetric relations. The concrete realization, reproduction and transformation of statehood in local contexts is to a large extent shaped by international and transnational relations and interdependencies.

The anthropology of the state problematizes the idea of “the” state as a coherent unit which is clearly differentiated from society. Instead, it approaches the state as a product of practices, in particular, of representational practices. Therefore, a major interest within the anthropology of the state concerns the various demarcations between state and civil society and, connected to that, the different and changing delineations of “private sphere” and “public sphere”.

Research within the field of anthropology of the state studies the everyday practices of state actors. It deals with how administrative and bureaucratic practice is generated and with how state-sanctioned rights and duties as well as criteria for inclusion and exclusion are negotiated, for example, in public administrations, school systems, courts, and the everyday lives of citizens.

These theoretical and approaches constitute a central focus in the master program “Anthropology of Transnationalism and the State” (ATS).