• Class Number 4218
  • Term Code 2930
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 6 units
  • Mode of Delivery In Person
    • Prof Francesca Merlan
    • Prof Francesca Merlan
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 25/02/2019
  • Class End Date 31/05/2019
  • Census Date 31/03/2019
  • Last Date to Enrol 04/03/2019
SELT Survey Results

This course asks: How can we conceptualize `states’?  And how can one study ethnographically something as vast and difficult to grasp as a `state’? These are two different but related aspects of our approach to `states’ in this course: conceptual and ethnographic, both necessary and important to relate to each other. We will examine concepts, and look at examples of practices and processes in a number of significant domains, in order to comprehend states, in their variety, in a distinctively anthropological manner. Most of our central readings are by anthropologists, and involve the relating to each other of concepts and ethnography. Central topics through which we will look at this conjunction will include everyday practices; culture and state ritual; law and regulation; personhood and agency; hidden and overt mechanisms of power; and persistent structures and emergent forms. Along the way we look at examples of some of the rubrics currently most often applied to states: the `stable’ state; the `would-be’ state (`Islamic state’?), the `failed’ state. Ethnographically, we will especially (but not exclusively) focus on what are considered developing states, by which is meant here: those which offer fewer entitlements and have penetrated less completely into the daily lives of their citizens, than is customary in the state systems of better-off countries. Thus the course is for students of the social sciences and related areas of practice such as development studies and social research.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will have the knowledge and skills to:
  1. Discuss different understandings of the concept ‘state’ from anthropology and cognate disciplines
  2. Understand the nature of institutions regularly considered definitive of (if not always exclusive to) states, such as ‘legitimate violence’, citizenship, bureaucracy, census, taxation, education, security and sovereignty
  3. Analyse the effects in everyday life, of specific examples of state processes and practices.
  4. Interpret and evaluate a sample of major theoretical debates in anthropology in terms of which state practices and processes have been examined.
  5. Identify, locate and evaluate primary sources relating to a particular instance of state practice/process, or issues arising around it.

Research-Led Teaching

We will sometimes consider `current events' articles or other

material for what it can tell us about states, activities and

influences exercised in the name of state; or class members

will be asked to research and bring such material to tutorials.

Reference works (online and in 2-hour reference)

Some of the tutorial readings come from the references below; others are suggested in case you want further material

Hansen, Thomas Blom and Finn Stepputat 2005 Sovereign bodies: citizens, migrants and states in the postcolonial world. Princeton, N.J. Princeton University Press. [online]

Krohn-Hansen, Christian and Knut G. Nustad

Title: State formation : anthropological perspectives

London, Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto [online]

M?ller, B., L Andersen and F. Stepputat 2007. Fragile States and Insecure People: Violence, Security, and Statehood in the Twenty-First Century. Palgrave Macmillan. [online]

Nugent, David and Joan Vincent eds. 2004, 2007

Title: A companion to the anthropology of politics

Blackwell Publishing.  [online]

Sharma, Aradhana and Akhil Gupta 2006

Title: The anthropology of the state : a reader

Blackwell Publishing. [in 2-hour ref]

Stepputat, Finn 2001. States of imagination : ethnographic explorations of the postcolonial state  Durham, NC : Duke University Press. [2-hour ref]

Staff Feedback

Students will be given feedback in the following forms in this course:

in class discussion

on quizzes, with brief comment and mark

on short and long essay, online, with comment and mark

Student Feedback

ANU is committed to the demonstration of educational excellence and regularly seeks feedback from students. Students are encouraged to offer feedback directly to their Course Convener or through their College and Course representatives (if applicable). The feedback given in these surveys is anonymous and provides the Colleges, University Education Committee and Academic Board with opportunities to recognise excellent teaching, and opportunities for improvement. The Surveys and Evaluation website provides more information on student surveys at ANU and reports on the feedback provided on ANU courses.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 What is a State? What do we mean by state, how do we live in relation to states? Anthropology is often thought of as dealing with pre-state societies. Anthropology began with research undertaken largely in such places (and/or in places under colonial rule). What perspectives did that produce? Subsequently anthropologists have done research in all sorts of societies. Although we may tend to have the European `nation-state’ in our minds as as the model of the state, we need to recognize that there is a great diversity of states.We also now talk a lot about `stateless’ societies, `stateless nations', and also, `stateless people'. There are societies that have never had a state system, but more often today, ones where state-building has been incomplete or has collapsed. Discussion of both `pre-state’ and `stateless’ situations will help clarify the meaning of `state’. We will contrast the idea of living in a `stateless’ situation with one that involves relations to some kind of state. Then we will look at ideas of statelessness, and make reference to `strong’, `weak’, failed and other similar characterizations which have gained ground. We will use this week's article (by an historian) to talk about concepts including: state, development, nation, nation-building, legibility, dams.The example is of Afghanistan, before us in the news on a regular basis (but probably a context we don't know very well). Readings ?Cullather, Nick 2002. Damming Afghanistan: Modernization in a Buffer State. The Journal of American History 89(2): 512-37.
2 State Effects This week we will develop our discussion of anthropological approaches to states (for which the Krohn-Hansen and Nustad reading is central) and examine an example of an ethnographic approach to state road-building in Peru which illustrates how people experience `state effects’. What do they mean by that, and what does it imply about views of states? This week should convey a view of how anthropologists have treated the topic of states, in broad terms, and give a view of what is meant by an ethnographic approach. Readings Krohn-Hansen and Kurt Nustad 2007. Introduction. Harvey, Penelope 2007. The Materiality of State Effects: An Ethnography of a Road in the Peruvian Andes. In Krohn-Hansen and Nustad eds.
3 States: History and Power This week’s lecture and readings provide perspectives on the history and diversity of state and other forms. We will not go through a lengthy `history of state-building’. The following paper by Barry Hindess, through centrally about citizenship and the `creation of subjects’ (and the concept of `nation’-states), gives a very brief account of state formation in the European context. There are many questions around the kinds of powers states can exercise. We will look at this through the article by Dolovich on `exclusion and control', the exercise of state power in removing people from society and the upswing of the carceral state. A supplementary article by van Creveld also considers the state form with respect to the exercise of violence. Do (some) states achieve monopolies of power? If so, how? And how is power distributed in a range of state and organizational forms? Readings Hindess, Barry 2005. Citizenship. In Hansen and Stepputat. Dolovich, Sharon 2011. Exclusion and Control in the Carceral State, 16 Berkeley J. Crim. L. 259. van Creveld, Martin 1999. The Rise and Decline of the State. CUP. (last chapter, The Decline of the State).
4 Colonialism and Postcolonial States While engaging in forms of state-building at home, European powers reached outward and at colonialism’s apogee, had colonized something like 85% of the globe. Colonialism is (for the colonized) often the very opposite of state-building;it is more typically an exploitative form of trusteeship and in the end (at decolonization) spins off a range of new nation-states of varying capacities.The articles by Stoler, Anderson and Bourdieu consider different modes of operation of colonizing states. QUIZ 1 in Tutorials Readings Stoler, Ann 1989. Rethinking Colonial Categories: European Communities and the Boundaries of Rule. Comparative Studies in Society and History 31(1):134-61. Anderson, Warwick 2006. States of Hygiene: Race "Improvement" and Bio-Medical Citizenship in Australia and the Colonial Philippines. Pp. 94-115 in Stoler, Ann ed., Haunted by Empire. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Bourdieu, Pierre 2003. Colonialism and Ethnography. Anthropology Today 19(2).
5 Sovereignty, Law, the Nation-State The imagined nation-state is said to be `sovereign’. What does this mean? How absolute or otherwise is `sovereignty’? What is the history of this concept? What are the effects of sovereignty that people experience? We will illustrate the notion of sovereignty as final and completed by discussion of the concept of native title which has developed out of the Mabo case of 1992, and by discussing a general article. Readings Silverstein, Ben (2013). Native Title within a History of Incorporation. In Evans, Julie, Ann Genovese, Alexander Reilly and Patrick Wolfe (eds), Sovereignty: Frontiers of Possibility. Honolulu:Hawaii, pp. 60-85. Hansen and Stepputat (2006). Sovereignty Revisited. Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 2006. 35: 295–315.
6 Bureaucracy and Power Bureaucracy is not only associated with state structures and processes; it is a pervasive form which implies forms of hierarchy, procedure and proceduralism, and expertise. We will review the `classic’ Weberian model of the state as a centralized entity that taxes, conscripts, and monopolizes legitimate violence within a given territory , and his conception of `rational’ bureaucratic states as standing above society. Then we will compare some recent views consonant in some ways with Weber (Scott 1998) as well as alternative views that question the unity of the state and other aspects of the classical model. How is bureaucracy linked to the exercise of power? We will survey some anthropological perspectives on bureaucracy – Michael Herzfeld, Arthur Kleinman, Veena Das, Margaret Lock. Readings Weber, Max [1968]. Bureaucracy. Pp. 956-1005 from G. Roth and C. Wittich, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, trans. E. Fischoff. H. Gerth, A.M. Henderson, F. Kolegar, C. Wright Mills, T. Parsons, M. Rheinstein, G. Roth, F. Shils, and C. Wittch. New York: Bedminster Press. [parts to concentrate on will be identified] Scott, James C. 1998. Cities, People and Language. Pp. 53-83 and 369-76 from James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press. Gupta, Akhil 2012. (selections from) Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India. Duke University Press.
7 Gender and Power How and at what levels is gender difference relevant in state processes; what, according to Wendy Brown, are the masculinist powers of the state? She examines four distinct modalities of US state power: its liberal dimension, capitalist dimension, prerogative dimension and its bureaucratic dimension. What view do you take of her saying, `the state replaces the man for many women’? An older piece by Silverblatt reviews some of the classic formulations of `women in states', gender inequality and especially in state contexts -- a context-setting piece useful to follow up the large literature on this subject. Readings Brown, Wendy 1992. Finding the Man in the State. Feminist Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 7-34. Silverblatt, Irene 1988. Women in States. Annual Review of Anthropology 17:427-60.
8 Citizens and non-Citizens, Migration and its Consequences ?This week we return to take up the question of citizenship raised in week 3 and look at the consequences for increasingly mobile workers, refugees and others who do not fit into normative `citizenship’ categories. QUIZ 2 in Tutorials Readings Van der Veer, Peter 2005. Virtual India: Indian IT Labor and the Nation-State. In Hansen and Stepputat 2005. Turner, Simon 2005. Suspended Spaces: Contesting Governments in a Refugee Camp. In Hansen and Stepputat 2005.
9 Liberalism, `Advanced Liberalism’?, Neoliberalism and the State ?What is `neoliberalism’, and what is its relation to state practices? And how does Donna Perry explain the emergence of a new kind of (female) creditor in rural Senegal? In what way does paper provide an ethnographic perspective on and instance of `neoliberalism’? Readings Ferguson, James 2010. The Uses of Neoliberalism. Antipode 41:166-84. Perry, Donna 2002. Microcredit and Women Moneylenders: The Shifting Terrain of Microcredit in Rural Senegal. Human Organization 61(1): 30-40.
10 Security and the State ?In weeks 1 and 3 we opened the question of the organization of violence by the state and other people and organizational forms. This week we consider further the provision of security by the state and a range of non-state actors. There is a general introduction; issues in Somalia; and an article which looks at a variety of forms of vigilantism in South African townships and considers ways in which they aim to replicate state forms. Readings Stepputat, Andersen and Møller (2007). Introduction: Security Arrangements in Fragile States. In Fragile States and Insecure People: Violence, Security, and Statehood in Fragile States in the Twenty-First Century. Palgrave Macmillan. Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed (2009). The Strategic Challenge of Somalia’s Al-Shabaab. Middle East Quarterly 16.4: 25-36. Buur, Lars 2006. Reordering Society: Vigilantism and Expressions of Sovereignty in Port Elizabeth’s Townships. Development and Change 37(4): 735-57.
11 States as Objects of Desire, or Hate ?Some people think states are too intrusive in their lives – think of the US John Birch society, or the kind of `rolling back’ of the state and regulation that we see going on in the US. Also refer back to Penny Harvey’s (week 2) mention of the state as an `object of desire’ – some people want more state intervention in their lives. Where do we find the latter to be the case? Readings Macintyre, Martha and Simon Foale (2004). Global Imperatives and Local Desires: Competing Economic and Environmental Interests in Melanesian Communities. Vl Lockwood (ed), Globalisation in the Pacific. Judis, John B (2009), Anti-Statism in America. New Republic. Online Artice. Retrieved 22nd of Februrary 2017 from https://newrepublic.com/article/71077/anti-statism-america
12 The Past and Future of States Many theorists have held that the state will `wither away’, that it is withering away, and will be replaced by alternative forms, transnational associations (or, in some extreme views, by nothing – we will go back to localism). How real or imagina/tive/ary are these alternative views? Readings Nash, June (2007). Transnational Civil Society. In David Nugent and Joan Vincent (eds), A Companion to the Anthropology of Politics. Blackwell Publishing, 2007, pp. 437-447.

Tutorial Registration

See on Wattle site

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Due Date Return of assessment Learning Outcomes
Tutorial Quiz 1 10 % 18/03/2019 25/03/2019 1
Tutorial Quiz 2 10 % 29/04/2019 07/05/2019 1
Short Essay 30 % 31/05/2019 30/06/2019
Long Essay 40 % 31/05/2019 30/06/2019
Participation 10 % 31/05/2019 30/06/2019

* If the Due Date and Return of Assessment date are blank, see the Assessment Tab for specific Assessment Task details


ANU has educational policies, procedures and guidelines, which are designed to ensure that staff and students are aware of the University’s academic standards, and implement them. Students are expected to have read the Academic Misconduct Rule before the commencement of their course. Other key policies and guidelines include:

Assessment Requirements

The ANU is using Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website. Students may choose not to submit assessment items through Turnitin. In this instance you will be required to submit, alongside the assessment item itself, hard copies of all references included in the assessment item.

Moderation of Assessment

Marks that are allocated during Semester are to be considered provisional until formalised by the College examiners meeting at the end of each Semester. If appropriate, some moderation of marks might be applied prior to final results being released.

Assessment Task 1

Value: 10 %
Due Date: 18/03/2019
Return of Assessment: 25/03/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1

Tutorial Quiz 1

The quiz will be given during the first part of the tutorial in week four (15-20 minutes). It will be short answer and based on the readings of the previous weeks before the quiz, including the powerpoints posted weekly relating to the lectures.

The first quiz will be on the readings for weeks 1-4 inclusive.

Assessment Task 2

Value: 10 %
Due Date: 29/04/2019
Return of Assessment: 07/05/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1

Tutorial Quiz 2

The quiz will be given during the first part of the tutorial in week eight (15-20 minutes). It will be short answer and based on the readings of the previous weeks before the quiz, including the powerpoints posted weekly relating to the lectures.

Quiz 2 will be on the readings for weeks 5-8 inclusive.

Assessment Task 3

Value: 30 %
Due Date: 31/05/2019
Return of Assessment: 30/06/2019
Learning Outcomes: 

Short Essay

The short essay is 2000 words (not counting references and notes).

Proposed short essay topics will be put up under Assignment tabs on the front page. 

Assessment Task 4

Value: 40 %
Due Date: 31/05/2019
Return of Assessment: 30/06/2019
Learning Outcomes: 

Long Essay

The long essay is 3000 words (not counting references and notes).

Proposed long essay topics will be put up under Assignment tabs on the front page.

Assessment Task 5

Value: 10 %
Due Date: 31/05/2019
Return of Assessment: 30/06/2019
Learning Outcomes: 


Students must attend (at least) 7 tutorials to qualify for the 10%. Beyond that, the character of participation counts.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of our culture as a community of scholars. At its heart, academic integrity is about behaving ethically. This means that all members of the community commit to honest and responsible scholarly practice and to upholding these values with respect and fairness. The Australian National University commits to embedding the values of academic integrity in our teaching and learning. We ensure that all members of our community understand how to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support academic integrity. The ANU expects staff and students to uphold high standards of academic integrity and act ethically and honestly, to ensure the quality and value of the qualification that you will graduate with. The University has policies and procedures in place to promote academic integrity and manage academic misconduct. Visit the following Academic honesty & plagiarism website for more information about academic integrity and what the ANU considers academic misconduct. The ANU offers a number of services to assist students with their assignments, examinations, and other learning activities. The Academic Skills and Learning Centre offers a number of workshops and seminars that you may find useful for your studies.

Online Submission

You will be required to electronically sign a declaration as part of the submission of your assignment. Please keep a copy of the assignment for your records. Unless an exemption has been approved by the Associate Dean (Education) as submission must be through Turnitin.

Short paper and essay submissions should be made electronically. There is also space for uploading papers on which you rely, since questions will ask you to do some research and source location of your own, beyond papers supplied. 

Hardcopy Submission

For some forms of assessment (hand written assignments, art works, laboratory notes, etc.) hard copy submission is appropriate when approved by the Associate Dean (Education). Hard copy submissions must utilise the Assignment Cover Sheet. Please keep a copy of tasks completed for your records.

Late Submission

Late submission of assessment tasks without an extension are penalised at the rate of 5% of the possible marks available per working day or part thereof. Late submission of assessment tasks is not accepted after 10 working days after the due date, or on or after the date specified in the course outline for the return of the assessment item. Late submission is not accepted for take-home examinations.

Referencing Requirements

Accepted academic practice for referencing sources that you use in presentations can be found via the links on the Wattle site, under the file named “ANU and College Policies, Program Information, Student Support Services and Assessment”. Alternatively, you can seek help through the Students Learning Development website.

Extensions and Penalties

Extensions and late submission of assessment pieces are covered by the Student Assessment (Coursework) Policy and Procedure. The Course Convener may grant extensions for assessment pieces that are not examinations or take-home examinations. If you need an extension, you must request an extension in writing on or before the due date. If you have documented and appropriate medical evidence that demonstrates you were not able to request an extension on or before the due date, you may be able to request it after the due date.

Privacy Notice

The ANU has made a number of third party, online, databases available for students to use. Use of each online database is conditional on student end users first agreeing to the database licensor’s terms of service and/or privacy policy. Students should read these carefully. In some cases student end users will be required to register an account with the database licensor and submit personal information, including their: first name; last name; ANU email address; and other information.
In cases where student end users are asked to submit ‘content’ to a database, such as an assignment or short answers, the database licensor may only use the student’s ‘content’ in accordance with the terms of service – including any (copyright) licence the student grants to the database licensor. Any personal information or content a student submits may be stored by the licensor, potentially offshore, and will be used to process the database service in accordance with the licensors terms of service and/or privacy policy.
If any student chooses not to agree to the database licensor’s terms of service or privacy policy, the student will not be able to access and use the database. In these circumstances students should contact their lecturer to enquire about alternative arrangements that are available.

Distribution of grades policy

Academic Quality Assurance Committee monitors the performance of students, including attrition, further study and employment rates and grade distribution, and College reports on quality assurance processes for assessment activities, including alignment with national and international disciplinary and interdisciplinary standards, as well as qualification type learning outcomes.

Since first semester 1994, ANU uses a grading scale for all courses. This grading scale is used by all academic areas of the University.

Support for students

The University offers students support through several different services. You may contact the services listed below directly or seek advice from your Course Convener, Student Administrators, or your College and Course representatives (if applicable).

Prof Francesca Merlan

Research Interests

Prof Francesca Merlan

Monday 14:00 16:00
Monday 14:00 16:00
Prof Francesca Merlan

Research Interests

Prof Francesca Merlan

Monday 14:00 16:00
Monday 14:00 16:00

Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions