The Headless State: Aristocratic Orders, Kinship Society, & Misrepresentations of Nomadic Inner Asia

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Columbia University Press, 2007 - History - 273 pages
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In this groundbreaking work, social anthropologist David Sneath aggressively dispels the myths surrounding the history of steppe societies and proposes a new understanding of the nature and formation of the state. Since the colonial era, representations of Inner Asia have been dominated by images of fierce nomads organized into clans and tribes--but as Sneath reveals, these representations have no sound basis in historical fact. Rather, they are the product of nineteenth-century evolutionist social theory, which saw kinship as the organizing principle in a nonstate society.

Sneath argues that aristocratic power and statelike processes of administration were the true organizers of life on the steppe. Rethinking the traditional dichotomy between state and nonstate societies, Sneath conceives of a "headless state" in which a configuration of statelike power was formed by the horizontal relations among power holders and was reproduced with or without an overarching ruler or central "head." In other words, almost all of the operations of state power existed at the local level, virtually independent of central bureaucratic authority.

Sneath's research gives rise to an alternative picture of steppe life in which aristocrats determined the size, scale, and degree of centralization of political power. His history of the region shows no clear distinction between a highly centralized, stratified "state" society and an egalitarian, kin-based "tribal" society. Drawing on his extensive anthropological fieldwork in the region, Sneath persuasively challenges the legitimacy of the tribal model, which continues to distort scholarship on the history of Inner Asia.

  

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Review: The Headless State: Aristocratic Orders, Kinship Society, & Misrepresentations of Nomadic Inner Asia

User Review  - Bryn Hammond - Goodreads

The devil's advocate. Steppe politics - nobody understands it. This wants to overturn everything you think you know. Tribal egalitarianism? - out the window. Liberty, equality - a fantasy of the ... Read full review

Contents

Introduction
1
The Myth of the Kinship Society Evolutionism and the Anthropological Imagination
39
The Imaginary Tribe Colonial and Imperial Orders and the Peripheral Polity
65
The State Construction of the Clan The Unilineal Descent Group and the Ordering of State Subjects
93
The Essentialized Nomad Neocolonial and Soviet Models
121
Creating Peoples Nationstate History and the Notion of Identity
157
The Headless State Aristocratic Orders and the Substrata of Power
181
NOTES
205
REFERENCES
239
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
263
INDEX
265
Copyright

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About the author (2007)

David Sneath is director of the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit at Cambridge University and a lecturer in social anthropology. He conducted doctoral research in Inner Mongolia in the 1980s and since then has carried out research in Mongolia and other parts of Inner Asia.

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