The headless state: aristocratic orders, kinship society, & misrepresentations of nomadic inner Asia
In this groundbreaking work, social anthropologist David Sneath aggressively dispels the myths surrounding the history of steppe societies and proposes a new understanding of the nature and formation of the state. Since the colonial era, representations of Inner Asia have been dominated by images of fierce nomads organized into clans and tribes-but as Sneath reveals, these representations have no sound basis in historical fact. Rather, they are the product of nineteenth-century evolutionist social theory, which saw kinship as the organizing principle in a nonstate society. Sneath argues that aristocratic power and statelike processes of administration were the true organizers of life on the steppe. Rethinking the traditional dichotomy between state and nonstate societies, Sneath conceives of a "headless state" in which a configuration of statelike power was formed by the horizontal relations among power holders and was reproduced with or without an overarching ruler or central "head." In other words, almost all of the operations of state power existed at the local level, virtually independent of central bureaucratic authority. Sneath's research gives rise to an alternative picture of steppe life in which aristocrats determined the size, scale, and degree of centralization of political power. His history of the region shows no clear distinction between a highly centralized, stratified "state" society and an egalitarian, kin-based "tribal" society. Drawing on his extensive anthropological fieldwork in the region, Sneath persuasively challenges the legitimacy of the tribal model, which continues to distort scholarship on the history of Inner Asia.
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Colonial and Imperial Orders
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administrative ancestor anthropological aristocracy aristocratic orders Atwood Bakhtiari became Borjigin central century chiefdom China Chinese Chinggis Khan Chinggis Khan's Chinggisid colonial common descent concept Deleuze descent groups described dominant dynasty egalitarian elite emperor empire example families feudalism Geiss genealogical herds hereditary Horde households imperial Inner Asia Inner Mongolia Irons Jurchen Kazakh Khan khanate Khazanov khoshuu kinship society Kirghiz Kitan Kyrgyz Levchine livestock lords manap Manchu Marxist military minggan mobile pastoralism Mongol Mongolian names nobility nobles nomadic society notes notion obog Oirat organization original Pashtun pastoral nomadic pastoralists patrilineal political primitive Qing region relations Rouran ruled rulers Russian Scythian Secret History sedentary seems segmentary kinship segmentary lineage social Soviet steppe steppe polities steppe societies stratification subjects sultans term territory theory tion tradition translated tribal model tribal society tribe tsarist Turkic Turkmen Uighur ulus units Wittfogel and Feng Xianbei Xiongnu Yomut