Subversive Archaism: When Local Communities Exceed State Traditionalism – and Suffer the Consequences

Drawing on fieldwork in Thailand and Greece, and on comparative examples from other parts of the world, the speaker will address what happens when local communities adopt the rhetoric of heritage promotion or traditional lifestyle and find themselves under attack by nation-state authorities as a result.  The speaker will argue that officials, whose task is usually taken to be a demonstration of their modernity, fear being painted as successors to a colonial past and consequently lacking in sensitivity to national traditions.  Their response may be violent, although the “subversive archaism” of the local communities is usually not the sole cause of such violence.  The way in which such conflicts play out must thus be contextualized within a range of contributory causes.  These include the vagaries of political patronage and the differences between democratic and authoritarian political institutions.

Michael Herzfeld is the Ernest E. Monrad Research Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, where he founded and served as the first Director of the Asia Center’s Thai Studies Program; he currently also holds visiting or honorary appointments at Melbourne, Leiden, Rome (La Sapienza), and Thammasat Universities and at Shanghai International Studies University.  He serves as Senior Advisor on Critical Heritage Studies to the International Institute of Asian Studies in Leiden, The Netherlands; he is also a former editor of American Ethnologist.  Author of eleven books and producer of two ethnographic films, he has done field research in Greece, Italy, and Thailand.  He holds honorary doctorates from the Universities of Crete and Macedonia and the Université Libre de Bruxelles. In 2018 he delivered the Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures.

No events are currently scheduled. Details of future events will be posted as they become available.

Date & time

Wed 07 Aug 2019, 11.30am–12.30pm


Sir Roland Wilson Building, ANU 2.02


Prof. Michael Herzfeld, Harvard University



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