Bazaar Politics: Power and Pottery in an Afghan Market Town

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Stanford University Press, Sep 28, 2011 - History - 254 pages
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After the fall of the Taliban, instability reigned across Afghanistan. However, in the small town of Istalif, located a little over an hour north of Kabul and not far from Bagram on the Shomali Plain, local politics remained relatively violence-free. Bazaar Politics examines this seemingly paradoxical situation, exploring how the town's local politics maintained peace despite a long, violent history in a country dealing with a growing insurgency.

At the heart of this story are the Istalifi potters, skilled craftsmen trained over generations. With workshops organized around extended families and competition between workshops strong, kinship relations become political and subtle negotiations over power and authority underscore most interactions. Starting from this microcosm, Noah Coburn then investigates power and relationships at various levels, from the potters' families; to the local officials, religious figures, and former warlords; and ultimately to the international community and NGO workers.

Offering the first long-term on-the-ground study since the arrival of allied forces in 2001, Noah Coburn introduces readers to daily life in Afghanistan through portraits of local residents and stories of his own experiences. He reveals the ways in which the international community has misunderstood the forces driving local conflict and the insurgency, misunderstandings that have ultimately contributed to the political unrest rather than resolved it. Though on first blush the potters of Istalif may seem far removed from international affairs, it is only through understanding politics, power, and culture on the local level that we can then shed new light on Afghanistan's difficult search for peace.

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A Rocky Road
1 Groups and Violence
Ethnography and Suspicion
2 Social Organization in Istalif
Making Pots
3 How Making Pots Bound People Together
The Art of Finding a Bargain
4 How Selling Pots Tore People Apart
6 Cultural Definitions of Power in Istalif
Election Day
The Politics of Stagnation
The Director of Intelligence
8 The Afghan State as a Useful Fiction
PaktyaEighteen Months Later
9 Thinking About Violence Social Organization and International Intervention

Telling Stories
5 Leadership Descent and Marriage

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About the author (2011)

Noah Coburn has worked as a specialist for the United States Institute of Peace in Kabul, Afghanistan, as well as a researcher for the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Between 2006 and 2008, he spent eighteen months doing research in an Afghan village on the Shomali Plain. He holds a PhD in anthropology from Boston University, and has taught at the University of Michigan, Boston University, and Skidmore College.

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