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56959-01 - Forschungsseminar: Anthropology's Love Affair with Anarchy 3 KP

Semester Frühjahrsemester 2020
Angebotsmuster einmalig
Dozierende Till Förster (till.foerster@unibas.ch, BeurteilerIn)
Inhalt Anarchy and anarchic societies have been a recurrent strand of anthropological theory since the very beginning of the discipline in the late 19th century. At times, it was indi-rectly related to anarchist political theories in Europe, known as anarchism, but it soon emancipated from the political programmes aiming at challenging basic presumptions of politics in Europe and North America.
The Greek ἀναρχία, anarchía means “without domination” or “without government”, from the root ἀρχία, archía‚ “domination, rule, command, leadership” and the negating prefix an_. Speaking in general, anarchy is the state of a society without centralised po-litical organisation or authority. As a concept, anarchy made its way into anthropology in the 20th century where it was both frowned upon and idealised. In particular famous became acephalous societies (ἀκέφαλος, “headless”, Greek), a prominent concept of modern British anthropology. Edward Evans-Pritchard’s work on the Nuer and Meyer Fortes’ on the Tallensi had introduced the idea to anthropology. At the time, foraging societies were known as having no central political organisation, presumably repre-senting the ‘oldest strata of human history’. However, most colonial officers assumed that pastoralists as the Nuer and agriculturalists as the Tallensi would unavoidably have headmen, chiefs or some other form of centralised social organisation. That big settlements and large areas were ‘ungoverned’ and ‘acephalous’ challenged colonial thinking.
As a concept of political anthropology, ‘acephalous’ became a tremendous success. From anthropology, it moved into disciplines such as political science, sociology and archaeology. It seemed to provide a reliable analytical framework to study systems of checks and balances that kept conflicts and eventually violence at bay. That these checks and balances were stable was taken for granted – and their stability was often projected on the past, assuming that acephalous societies had existed in precolonial times as they had been described and analysed in the 20th century: If you know what an acephalous society is, then you also know what it is to have an acephalous society under colonial domination.
However, the land of the Nuer – Evans Pritchard’s famous example of an cephalous society – became one of the most brutal battlefields that the African continent has ever seen. One may deduce from this assessment that such systems of checks and balances owed their stability more to the overarching power of the colonial state than to their own capacities to settle conflicts. And the Tallensi may still be a peaceful acephalous society because the Ghanaian state is comparatively strong and able to sustain their social organisation from above. So, what is the concept of acephalous societies good for? And what does the fate of acephalous social orders tell us about the longue durée in Africa and elsewhere? These are the central questions of the seminar.
Within this framework, the seminar raises four questions:
• How are acephalous societies integrated?
• Can anarchic societies persist in a world dominated by states?
• Is anarchy still useful as a concept that informs empirical research?
• What can we learn from anarchic societies for political theory?
The seminar is organised in four parts along these questions. The first two parts will be taught in Basel, Switzerland on May 8 and 9, the other two parts will be the subject of May 15 and 16 in Freiburg i.Brsg. Germany.
Reading material for the seminar will be accessible on the seminar’s workspace on Ad-am, the online resources system of the University of Basel. All students are expected to start with the excerpts accessible on Adam, but are also expected to search themselves for further publications in the field.


Teilnahmebedingungen The number of participants is limited to 30 people. The places are assigned according to date of enrollment and subject of study. Priority will be given to the subjects listed under "modules".
Unterrichtssprache Englisch
Einsatz digitaler Medien kein spezifischer Einsatz


Intervall Block
Datum 08.05.2020 – 16.05.2020
Zeit Siehe Detailangaben

08. und 09. Mai in Basel
15. und 16. Mai in Freiburg i. Br.

Datum Zeit Raum
Freitag 08.05.2020 08.30-18.00 Uhr Online class
Samstag 09.05.2020 08.30-18.00 Uhr Online class
Freitag 15.05.2020 08.30-18.00 Uhr Online class
Samstag 16.05.2020 08.30-18.00 Uhr Online class
Module Doktorat Ethnologie: Empfehlungen (Promotionsfach Ethnologie)
Modul: Research Skills in Social and Cultural Anthropology (Master Studienfach Anthropology)
Leistungsüberprüfung Lehrveranst.-begleitend
Hinweise zur Leistungsüberprüfung All students who want to write a seminar paper should do a presentation of about 45 to 60min., followed by a discussion of 30 to 45min. It is expected that the presenters writing a seminar paper will complement their reading of relevant literature after the presentation, based on the discussions in class. Papers should be c 8000 words long (approx. 20 to 25 pages, 12pt, 1.5 line spacing). Registration for papers is open until May 31, 2020. They are due on June 31 for those who will need the credits this semes-ter. All others may submit their papers until the beginning of the fall term 2020, i.e. by September 15, 2020. All papers should be submitted as word- or pdf-files via e-mail to till.foerster@unibas.ch.
An-/Abmeldung zur Leistungsüberprüfung Anmelden: Belegen; Abmelden: nicht erforderlich
Wiederholungsprüfung keine Wiederholungsprüfung
Skala Pass / Fail
Wiederholtes Belegen nicht wiederholbar
Zuständige Fakultät Philosophisch-Historische Fakultät, studadmin-philhist@unibas.ch
Anbietende Organisationseinheit Fachbereich Ethnologie