Michael Herzfeld, Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University

Crypto-Colonialism and the Challenge of Comparison: Reflections on a Penumbra

The Western colonial project has a far more extensive range than a map of its worldwide dominions would suggest. Among its further effects is what the speaker calls “crypto-colonialism”: a form of indirect cultural management, achieved through subtle economic and political pressures, cartography, and the selective management of cultural forms and histories. Starting from an unexpectedly suggestive comparison between Greece and Thailand, countries in which he has done extensive research, the speaker will explore ethnographic and historical sources to suggest how this extension of colonial control works to influence daily life in places as ostensibly different as Iran, Afghanistan, Iceland, and Turkey, and will also raise the question of whether post-Soviet states can be considered within the same framework.

Michael Herzfeld is Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, where has taught since 1991. He is also IIAS Visiting Professor of Critical Heritage Studies at the University of Leiden (and Senior Advisor to the Critical Heritage Studies Initiative of the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden); Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne; and Visiting Professor and Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) Scholar at Shanghai International Studies University (2015-17). The author of eleven books -- including Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State (1997; 3rd edition, 2016), The Body Impolitic: Artisans and Artifice in the Global Hierarchy of Value (2004), Evicted from Eternity: The Restructuring of Modern Rome (2009), and Siege of the Spirits: Community and Polity in Bangkok (2016) -- and numerous articles and reviews, he has also produced two ethnographic films (Monti Moments [2007] and Roman Restaurant Rhythms [2011]). He has served as editor of American Ethnologist (1995-98) and is currently editor-at-large (responsible for “Polyglot Perspectives”) at Anthropological Quarterly. He is also a member of the editorial boards of several other journals, including International Journal of Heritage Studies, Anthropology Today, and South East Asia Research. An advocate for “engaged anthropology,” he has conducted research in Greece, Italy, and Thailand on, inter alia, the social and political impact of historic conservation and gentrification, the discourses and practices of crypto-colonialism, social poetics, the dynamics of nationalism and bureaucracy, and the ethnography of knowledge among artisans and intellectuals. 

All seminars in the series.