June 21, 2010

SARR looks at Andes politics

An international conference organized by a group of Emory professors could possibly help shape the way we think about local politics from a global perspective.

The Department of Anthropology’s David Nugent and Christopher Krupa, under the direction of Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor Bruce Knauft, hosted “Off-Centered States:  Political Formation and Deformation in the Andes” in Quito, Ecuador. It is part of Emory’s States at Regional Risk (SARR) project.

The purpose? To take a look at political rule in the Andes region, says Krupa.

“The conference grew out of the urgent need to rethink the ways that political life is organized, how governance is carried out, by whom, and to what effects,” he says. “We were specifically interested in questioning the role of the state in all of this, particularly its claim to centralizing the field of the political around itself.”

SARR addresses the causes and remedies of state instability and civil strife within four world areas: West Africa, East Africa, Inner Asia and the Himalayas, and the northern Andes in South America.

This conference was the first time a meeting of this kind was held in South America, Knauft says.

The conference, Krupa says, was timely not just for the Andes region, but also this country as well.

“Such a conference like this one questions what we believe ‘the state’ to be,” he says. “Other actors, like corporations, warlords, paramilitaries, illegal commodities runners, NGOs and so on, seem to be doing much of the work of governance in various parts of the world.”

The Andes was the best place to launch this critical investigation because of the rapid and radical transformations of state systems currently under way in the Andean region, he says.

The conference, co-hosted by FLASCO Sede-Ecuador, helped them to take a look at how people’s daily lives are affected and what may be expected.

“It really expanded our understanding of how state governments work in general,” Knauft says. “In a time when leaders are being elected from groups that are not the elite, there is a much richer picture happening in the Andes.”

The Quito conference was the third in a series of four SARR project initiatives, according to Knauft. Prior conferences have been held in Liberia and Burundi.

Next is Mongolia in Central Asia, says Knauft. “After that, we plan to bring it all together here at Emory.”

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