Outwitting the State
A characteristic response to the imposition of state power by the conquered, oppressed, and powerless is a pattern that Skalnick calls "outwitting the state." This collection of essays, the latest in the distinguished series in Political Anthropology, challenges the widespread view that the state is a natural holder of authority in society.
Using examples of confrontations between European states and polities outside Europe, the authors show that the power model is not universally applicable. Traditional or neo-traditional polities are founded on authority derived from a high degree of overlap between the interest of rulers and their subjects. In these contexts, power based on physical coercion is not the source of authority. When these archaic polities are subjected to an imported state power, they respond by finding ways to outwit state power and preserve their political and cultural identity.
Examples from Africa, Oceania, Asia, and North America support this radically different conception of politics. The authors argue that this less confrontational approach to state power is not only possible but desirable. The "powerless" may be unable to confront state power by violence or the threat of violence, but they outwit it by ingenious techniques. Their own power derives from their use of knowledge, experience, consensus, compromise, and other qualities broadly shared by the population as well as their rulers. The new and different approach gives ordinary people a chance to achieve political goals without looking to the state.
This collection will be of interest to anthropologists and political scientists, and others interested in state power and the struggle to achieve political goals by those who have no access to power.
“An important collection of essays that focus on the limitations of state power, on how people at the local level attempt to maintain their own societies and cultures despite these being in conflict with notions held by state rulers, and on how people counter state power with other forms of power… The volume adds to our understanding of the notions of power, authority, legitimacy, and the state.”
—L. Beck, Choice