Publications 2018

In Stategraphy: Toward a Relational Anthropology of the State, edited by Tatjana Thelen, Larissa Vetters and Keebet von Benda-Beckmann. New York/Oxford: Berghahn, 38-55 (republished from Social Analysis 58 (3), 2014, 38-55).

This article focuses on the means by which the state controls welfare recipients in France. The paradox of these actions, which are made in the name of legal rigor but are characterized by ambivalence and the discretionary power of grassroots agents, reveals the broader functioning of a government over the poor. These actions are based on the combination of a multitude of individual relationships, which, although unevenly coordinated, derive from the structural rationale of the post-welfare era. Individualization and uncertainty signal not so much a disaggregation of the state as a consistent mode of governance in which discretion and leeway accorded to street-level bureaucrats are necessary for the state to exert power over citizens’ behaviors.

Vincent Dubois

Ellmer, Anna. Doing and undoing difference through childcare: A case from a Viennese kindergarten.

= Vienna Working Papers in Ethnography no. 8.

In recent years, both ‘integration’ and ‘diversity’ have become catchwords of policies and expert discourses concerning daycare institutions in Austria. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this working paper examines how kindergarten staff translate competing invocations of equality and difference into pedagogical practices within a largely state-financed kindergarten in Vienna, Austria. By tracing how the staff’s perception of a five-year-old boy changed in association with their idea that his sister was forced into marriage, my analysis illustrates how ethnic and religious labels are situationally foregrounded and silenced. In this process, constructions of cultural difference both merge and compete with other categories like age, gender and race, as well as ideals of professionalism and psychologically informed conceptions of crisis. While the paper reflects how ascriptions of difference change over time, it also shows how hierarchies are reproduced throughout this process, continuously normalising a child’s experiences of marginalisation. It illustrates that an approach to care practices as morally charged and potentially ambivalent processes of ‘doing’ and ‘undoing differences’ contributes productively to a perspective on care as social organisation.

Anna Ellmer

Lammer, Christof. Distancing the Regulating State: Corruption, Transparency and the Puzzle of Personal Relatedness in a Food Network in Sichuan.

Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development 47 (3-4): 396-406.

During fieldwork in a network of peasant cooperatives and consumer associations in China, I observed that images of personal relations are nurturing both urban middle-class consumers’ distrust in the state’s regulatory capacity regarding organic food and their hope in a civic alternative. To understand these ambivalent interpretations of personal relatedness as either inducing corruption or enabling transparency, the article suggests an analytical focus on performative boundary work. It shows how positive evaluations of personal relatedness emerge as state officials and other citizens in a food network distance ‘the state.’

Christof Lammer

Book cover - Stategraphy, toward a relational anthropology of the state

Thelen, Tatjana, Vetters, Larissa, and Benda-Beckmann, Keebet von. Stategraphy: Toward a Relational Anthropology of the State.

New York: Berghahn Books.

Stategraphy – the ethnographic exploration of relational modes, boundary work, and forms of embeddedness of actors – offers crucial analytical avenues for researching the state. The contributors explore state transformations in relation to social security through interactions and negotiations in a variety of localities. Fusing grounded empirical studies with rigorous theorizing, the volume provides new perspectives to broader related debates in social research and political analysis.

Tatjana Thelen

Thelen, Tatjana, Thiemann, André, and Roth, Duška. State Kinning and Kinning the State in Serbian Elder Care Programs.

In Stategraphy: Toward a Relational Anthropology of the State, edited by Tatjana Thelen, Larissa Vetters and Keebet von Benda-Beckmann. New York/Oxford: Berghahn Press, 107-123 (republished from Social Analysis 58 (3), 2014, 107-123).

In this article, we analyze processes of kinning within state-initiated programs of elder care in Serbia in order to explore how images of the state as an entity are cast as distinct from the domain of the family. We present data from the fieldwork we conducted in two settlements, in northern and central Serbia respectively. Contrary to the findings of many anthropological studies of the state, state actors in these cases surpass the expectations of citizens. Nevertheless, within complex processes of kinning between state-paid care workers and their clients, dominant images of an absent state as well as state-kinship boundaries are (re)produced. Placing this boundary work within the evolving relations at the center of the analysis underlines the merits of rethinking the interconnections between kinship and the state with a relational focus.

Tatjana Thelen

André Thiemann

Thiemann, André. Underimplementing the Law: Social Work, Bureaucratic Error, and the Politics of Distribution in Postsocialist Serbia.

In From the Midwife’s Bag to the Patient’s File: Public Health in Eastern Europe, edited by Heike Karge, Friederike Kind-Kovács and Sara Bernasconi. CEU University Press Studies in the History of Medicine. Budapest: CEU Press, 293-313.

This chapter details how urban social workers in postsocialist Serbia negotiate a longtime welfare relation with a rural family. In this case study of street-level bureaucratic agency, I analyze the history and effects of a post-Yugoslav relational modality of social work: inclusive distribution for families in need. This relational modality is pioneered through intentional bureaucratic error during the translation of consecutive laws. The intention of the social law of 1991 was to support the poor during the transformation to capitalism. In subsequent editions the letter of the law became more restricted. According to their professional ethics, the social workers ‘under-implemented’ these new paragraphs. Overall, I argue that where paperwork becomes ubiquitous, its value for professional local state actors decreases, especially in relation to increasing social issues and diminishing social policy responsiveness.

André Thiemann

Vetters, Larissa. Contingent Statehood: clientelism and civic engagement as relational modalities in contemporary Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In Stategraphy: Toward a Relational Anthropology of the State, edited by Tatjana Thelen, Larissa Vetters and Keebet von Benda-Beckmann. New York/Oxford: Berghahn Press, 20-37 (republished from Social Analysis 58 (3), 2014, 20-37).

Larissa Vetters

Vetters, Larissa, Eggers, Judith, and Hahn, Lisa: Migration and the Transformation of German Administrative Law: An Interdisciplinary Research Agenda.

Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Paper No. 188.

Larissa Vetters

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