Anthropology and the enigma of the state

Stepputat, Finn; Nuijten, M.C.M.


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.