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Anthropology in the Margins

Comparative Ethnographies

Edited by Veena Das and Deborah Poole

Publication Year: 2004

Drawing on fieldwork in Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Peru, Guatemala, India, Chad, Colombia, and South Africa, the contributors examine official documentary practices and their forms and falsifications; the problems that highly mobile mercenaries, currency, goods, arms, and diamonds pose to the state; emerging non-state regulatory authorities; and the role language plays as cultures struggle to articulate their situation. These case studies provide wide-ranging analyses of the relationship between states and peoples on the edges of state power's effective reign.

Published by: SAR Press


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pp. 1-5

Title Page

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p. 6-6


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p. 7-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-13

It is a pleasure to offer our thanks to the staff of the School of American Research, Santa Fe, and especially Leslie Shipman, for their marvelous hospitality during the advanced seminar in which these papers were discussed. Our colleagues and students at Johns Hopkins University continue to provide a stimulating intellectual environment— we thank them for the many discussions that have seeped into ...

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1. State and Its Margins: Comparative Ethnographies

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pp. 3-33

This book is about margins, the places from which we seek to understand what counts as the study of the state in anthropology. The chapters collected here began as part of a School of American Research advanced seminar. There, we asked anthropologists working on different regions to reflect on what would constitute the ethnography ...

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2. Between Threat and Guarantee: Justice and Community in the Margins

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pp. 35-65

When I first began working in the Andean highlands of Peru in the early 1980s, peasants (and anthropologists) moved from place to place in the backs of large, open, uncomfortable cargo trucks piled high with all sorts of agricultural products, consumer goods, and construction materials. Truck drivers wrote passengers’ names and identity-card numbers on pastel-colored forms ...

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3. Checkpoint: Anthropology, Identity, and the State

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pp. 67-80

On January 31, 1995, cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), arguably one of the most sophisticated militant groups in the world, exploded a massive bomb in the heart of Colombo’s financial district. Hundreds died, and nearly a thousand people were injured. Several steel and glass towers were reduced to blackened shells. The direct consequences ...

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4. Deterritorialized Citizenship and the Resonances of the Sierra Leonean State

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pp. 81-115

Since the 1990s, political theorists of the state have had a field day in Africa—a continent that has been the setting for scholarship on the collapsed, privatized (Hibou 1999), criminalized (Bayart, Ellis, and Hibou 1997), shadow (Reno 1995, 1998), and even forgerer state, or state as agent of deception (l’état falsificateur).1 The more innovative contributions have sought to depathologize scholarly discourse on ...

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5. Anthropologist Discovers Legendary Two-Faced Indian!: Margins, the State, and Duplicity in Postwar Guatemala

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pp. 117-140

In December 1996 the Guatemalan state and the URNG (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity) guerrillas signed a peace treaty ending thirty-five years of civil war. The official end of the war unleashed an explosion of organizing around Mayan rights, reincorporation of refugees, women’s issues, environmental concerns, and historical ...

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6. AIDS as Witchcraft in Post-Apartheid South Africa

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pp. 141-163

In 1999, in a scene replayed tens of thousands of times in recent years in South Africa, a relative appeared at the Khanyile family’s door in the shack settlement of Snake Park on the outskirts of Soweto to inform them of a funeral. A cousin in a town not far off had passed away. He was a young man, in his late twenties or early thirties, and had been sick for some time. In their message announcing the funeral, the ...

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7. Operability: Surgery at the Margin of the State

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pp. 165-190

This sentence, which I discovered while writing this chapter, oddly evokes the stakes for citizens I engage here. Its specific referent was a 2001 decision by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to include sexchange operations as health benefits for city employees (Associated Press 2001). Here I would only foreground the indexicality of the comment, the way “the operation” in its ...

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8. Productivity in the Margins: The Reconstitution of State Power in the Chad Basin

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pp. 191-224

How is it that when one travels to the edge of the desert in the midst of austerity, one finds a stronghold of movement and mobility? How is it that the recent history of deregulation and privatization in this no-man’s-land created by long-standing political neglect and ongoing factional fighting has not decimated the possibilities for livelihood? ...

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9. The Signature of the State The Paradox of Illegibility

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pp. 225-252

Recent formulations on the genealogies of the state have taken inspiration from Benjamin’s ([1978] 1986) discussion on the oscillation between the founding and maintaining violence of law, and especially his insight into the ways the legal form detaches itself from what it is supposed to “represent.” While this approach has been extremely ...

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10. Contesting Displacement in Colombia: Citizenship and State Sovereignty at the Margins

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pp. 253-277

On my first trip to Colombia in October 2000, I visited Barrancabermeja in the department of Santander in the region referred to as Magdalena Medio—a lush, green river valley located in the hills east of Antioquia, west of Venezuela and north of Bogotá. Barranca, with a population of some 300,000, is an urban center. It also forms one of the many internal frontiers where we can see how the mechanisms of state ...

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11. Where Are the Margins of the State?

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pp. 279-288

In their thoughtful introduction to this rich collection of essays, Veena Das and Deborah Poole question the definition of the state in terms of centralized control over a determinate territory, and they propose that we explore the state’s “margins”—that is, the places where state law and order continually have to be reestablished. For state power, they insist, is always unstable, something best seen when one ...


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pp. 289-320


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pp. 321-330

Other Works in the Series

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pp. 342-344


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pp. 345-346

E-ISBN-13: 9781934691656
E-ISBN-10: 1934691658
Print-ISBN-13: 9781930618411
Print-ISBN-10: 1930618417

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2004

Edition: 1