States of imagination/Imagined states. Performing the political within and beyond the state

Convenors: (University of Oxford – Université libre de Bruxelles) & (University of Zurich)

Political anthropology has succesfully defended the idea that government (as the conduct of conduct) cannot and never has been the monopoly of an executive, unitary state. Instead it raises awareness about the marginal spaces, where de facto public authority is constantly constituted, performed and reproduced. Within this realm, ethnograpy has arisen as the method of choice to actively engage with the ways such public rule is qualified and established –by demarcating, imagining and mediating the contours of contemporary citizenship, for example, but also to investigate how fieldwork itself can be performative of the state and its constituent fields of power. By immersing ourselves into the states of imagination, the values and symbolism that underpin political legitimacy in a given time and space, we are able to track down the social processes that help to constitute, transform and resist public authority beyond mere assertions of (violent) sovereign rule.

In this panel, we are interested in exploring more in-depth the use(fulness) of ethnographic method to investigate government practice from a broad perspective of institutional and spatial multiplicity. Domains of interest include both the grounded analysis of social relations and discourses that shape public authority –from either a practice-oriented or governmentality perspective, as well as more performative investigations into the repetitive, ritualized acts that write the possibility of a securable state. Priority will be given to contributions that actively engage with the issue of scale, i.e. the question how political knowledge is mediated and taking shape through a network of interconnected technologies, actors and instutions.

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