Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Wither, Baby, Wither!

Clifford Geertz made the following comments in the current issue of Current Anthropology. He discusses the historicity of the nation and the state and the peculiarity to Europe.

Whatever directions what is called (in my opinion, miscalled) "nation-building" may take in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, or Latin America, a mere retracing without the wanderings, the divisions, the breakdowns, and the bloodshed of earlier cases–England, France, or Germany, Russia, the United States, or Japan–is not in the cards, nor is the end in compact and comprehensive political entities, hypostatized peoples. History not only does not repeat itself, it does not normalize itself, or straighten its course either. The three centuries of struggle and upheaval that it took for Europe to get from the late medieval checkerboard of Westphalia to the marching nationalities of World War II will almost certainly be more than matched both for surprise and originality and for frustration by the course of things in–what should we call them now? emerging forces? the postcolonial? the awkward adolescents? the developing world?–in the decades and tens of decades ahead.

And a little critique of the anthropologists who are still looking for nations:
... most of the work we [anthropologists] have carried out since beginning our journey into history ... has been directed toward searching through the scramble and commotion that the new states present for the faint, premonitory signs of a movement toward (or falling away from) a more recognizable and regular, standardized shape: the homogeneous color on the disjuncitve map, the well-formed self in the well-pictured self-rule.


At 2:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan Dresner said...

This is brilliant stuff. So clearly written, too....

What he doesn't address here, though, is that the error he points out is fundamental to anthropology (and history) as social sciences: the inductive assumption that past models are valid.

The other problem I see is that the emergence of nation states is kind of important in our current international legal framework...


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