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The Headless State


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Table of Contents

Maps 1. Introduction 2. The Myth of the Kinship Society: Evolutionism and the Anthropological Imagination 3. The Imaginary Tribe: Colonial and Imperial Orders and the Peripheral Polity 4. The State Construction of the Clan: The Unilineal Descent Group and the Ordering of State Subjects 5. The Essentialized Nomad: Neocolonial and Soviet Models 6. Creating Peoples: Nation-state History and the Notion of Identity 7. The Headless State: Aristocratic Orders and the Substrata of Power Notes References Acknowledgments Index

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David Sneath's The Headless State is a long-overdue challenge to the conventional picture of Inner Asian nomads divided up into kin-based 'tribes' and 'clans.' Classic histories and ethnographies are given a provocative new reading via an incisive history of social anthropological doctrines and dogmas. What emerges is both the centrality of the state in Inner Asia and the analytic dangers implicit in the state-society dichotomy. Boldly argued, The Headless State will place Inner Asia at the center of writing on state formation. -- Christopher P. Atwood, chair, Central Eurasian Studies Department, Indiana University In this provocative book, David Sneath provides a scrupulous and erudite critique of concepts such as pastoralism, kinship societies, tribalism, and the state as used in the analysis of Inner Asian polities. He argues instead for the presence of an aristocratic order; the existence of rulers and ruled as distinct social strata; and the presence of 'state relations' in societies that do not seem to match the older models of the centralized state. An important work that will be of interest to anthropologists and political theorists regardless of their regional specialization. -- Signe Howell, professor of social anthropology, University of Oslo

About the Author

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.


A study rich in both historical fact and linguistic analysis... Highly recommended. Choice The author presents intelligent, clearly writtenarguments, disagreement with which should callfor serious reflection. -- Daniel Prior Journal of the Royal Anthropological institute

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