State, Sovereignty, and The Law

The anthropology of the state, sovereignty and the law applies a critical eye to the way that power operates in a range of contexts from the institutional to the intimate and attends to the relationships mediated between political actors and the structures that frame them. In the contemporary world, democracy is often celebrated as the ideal state formation, but in many places democratic states are in failure or retreat, while in others, they legitimize exclusions based upon race, ethnicity, gender and class. Anthropologists use ethnographic material gathered from studying bureaucrats, political factions, actors, movements and stateless subjects to draw attention to practices of power, providing crucial insights as to how power and social life intersect, manifest and become mobile. Current areas of research include: citizenship, crime and policing, contemporary legal systems, governance, language and the law, ritual violence and state organization, sovereignty, state formation, socialism and post-socialism.

Gary  Urton

Gary Urton

Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian Studies
Department Chair


Research and Teaching Interests: South American archaeology, ethnohistory and ethnology; ancient accounting and...

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Peabody Museum 557A
21 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138

Chair Business Contact:
(617) 495-5820 | Peabody Museum 30A
p: (617) 496-8534
Michael  Herzfeld

Michael Herzfeld

Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences
Director, Thai Studies Program, Asia Center
On Leave Spring 2018


Research and Teaching Interests: Social theory, history of Anthropology, social poetics, politics of history;...

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Tozzer Anthropology Building 311
21 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
p: (617) 496-5190
Jean  Comaroff

Jean Comaroff

Alfred North Whitehead Professor of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology
Oppenheimer Research Fellow


Research and Teaching Interests: Theory and method; embodiment and commodification; ritual and religion;...

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Department of African and African American Studies
257 Barker Center
12 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138