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2018 Morgan Lecture


Michael Herzfeld

Wednesday, October 10, 2018
7 p.m.–9 p.m.
Rm 1400 Wegmans Hall

Michael Herzfeld, Harvard University

"What is a Polity? Subversive Archaism and the Bureaucratic Nation-State"



Herzfeld’s lectures will primarily draw on his fieldwork in Greece and Thailand (and secondarily on his Italian work). In this project, he attempts to move beyond conventional notions of “resistance,” “traditionalism,” and “tribalism,” to understand how and why earlier substrates of political organization – many of them much older than the European-inspired territorial nation-state and associated ideas of national culture – reappear at critical moments and shape the forms taken by acts of protest and collective self-assertion.  To achieve this goal, he accords the concept of “polity” a more central role than it has previously enjoyed in anthropology, using it to encompass both the bureaucratic nation-state and certain communities that challenge the state’s standing as the ultimate source of cultural identity.  In particular, he shows that sometime surprisingly conservative and nationalistic communities represent the greatest threat to the state’s legitimacy.  These communities deploy what he calls “subversive archaism” to question the legitimacy of the bureaucratic nation-state – often, however, with calamitous consequences that in their sheer overkill reveal the state’s fear of these minuscule communities’ potentially huge moral authority.