Accepted paper:

Life in the 'pockets of state' as a response to continuous change


Klavs Sedlenieks (Riga Stradins University)

Paper short abstract:

On the basis of field material from Latvia I will explore the concept of 'the pockets of state' ,i.e., geographic and/or institutional areas inside a state where there is (almost) no state. I argue that this is an adaptation to a situation when the state itself is too uncertain to rely upon.

Paper long abstract:

With this paper I want to bring home the ideas that James Scott and Pierre Clastres applied to distant 'areas of refuge', i.e., that there are groups of people who defy the idea of inevitability of the state by voluntarily withdrawing from it. I use material from Latvia - a country which on the one hand had been incorporated in various state-like formations for at least 1000 years but on the other hand has experienced a great instability of the institution of state. Despite the uniformity that is suggested by the idea of the territory of a state, I argue that the 'intensity' of a state may fluctuate significantly inside its borders. In order to demonstrate such fluctuations I describe how people in Latvia react to unpredictability of the state by emphasising their need to stay 'independent' of the state - by organising their own informal economic world and avoiding other state institutions when possible. I conceptualise these areas (geographic or institutional) where the presence of the state can hardly be felt as the pockets of state. The pockets of the state are not necessarily criminal organisations (although may be treated as such by the state representatives) but rather mundane life of people (mostly but not exclusively) in distant rural areas of contemporary Latvia. I argue that this is an adaptation to a situation when the state itself is too uncertain to rely upon. (This presentation is based on author's work in interdisciplinary project "Development Strategies and Changing Cultural Spaces of Latvia's Rural Residents" (University of Latvia / European Social Fund 2009/0222/1DP/ VIAA /087).

panel W057
"The Other" and the de-fetishization of the state