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Social Anthropology

Making a space for the non-political in the anthropology of politics


Anthropology’s extremely successful efforts to expand the category of “the political” has left anthropologists with a reticence when it comes to the definition of the political itself. The political is left intentionally open-ended so as to enable critical engagement with an increasing range of topics, but this often entails an abandonment of the political as an ethnographic category. What, for instance, are we to make of claims by bilingual schoolteachers in Corsica that “education” and “politics” should—in some instances at least—be kept separate? This article starts from an ethnographic exploration of the boundary between the “political” and the “non-political” in Corsican bilingual education, suggesting that there is more to it than straightforward antipolitics on the part of the French state. Drawing on the one hand on ethnographic evidence of the potentially productive and enabling effects of boundaries drawn between the political and the non-political and on the other hand on Jacques Rancie`re’s performative definition of the political, this article suggests that anthro- pology might benefit from an explicit rethinking of what we mean by “the political”—and where, if at all, and with what effects we might imagine it to “end.”

Candea, M. 2011. "Our division of the universe": a space for the non-political in the anthropology of politics. Current Anthropology 52:309-334.

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