Sovereignty, the Modern State and Biopolitics

In the last two decades, the anthropological study of political authority has moved away from its historical focus on kingship and big man systems towards a focus on the historical formation of modern forms of sovereignty, state authority and the modern government of bodies and populations through languages of science, health and security. Anthropologists have paid particular attention to how colonial forms of government left lasting marks on how political power has been performed and legitimized outside of Europe and America. The modern nation-state may be the dominant form of political authority and imagination today but it has taken many and specific forms across the world without completely removing or superseding older languages of power and public authority. James Ferguson has explored developmental rationalities in Lesotho, the anthropology of the state and the form of the state in Africa; Thomas Blom Hansen has written on the anthropology of the modern state and sovereignty as well as performance and perceptions of public authority and the state in India and South Africa; Kabir Tambar explores how the secular state in Turkey governs history and religious identities; and Matthew Kohrman is exploring how the Chinese state intervenes in population health and works on individual bodies.