Michael Herzfeld

Michael Herzfeld
Harvard University | Harvard · Department of Anthropology

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153
Publications
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3,339
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Publications

Publications (153)
Chapter
In eleven sharp essays, the contributors to Decay attend to the processes and experiences of symbolic and material decay in a variety of sociopolitical contexts across the globe. They examine decay in its myriad manifestations—biological, physical, organizational, moral, political, personal, and social and in numerous contexts, including colonialis...
Article
Food avoidance is a negotiated and changeable compromise among religious prescriptions, social pressures, and personal predilections. Just as the formal rules reflect the structures of social and political authority, moreover, the culturally intimate space of personal practice may reflect contextual changes leading to sometimes agonized re-assessme...
Chapter
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The ground of mutual understanding between locals and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea emerges through the performance of ritual activities. These should be distinguished from the formalistic or incantatory sense of “ritualism.” They include the socially engaged practices of hospitality—a virtuous tradition that governments, even as they claim it...
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In this article I address the role now being played by libertarian attacks on the enforcement of health regulations such as the wearing of masks. I suggest that a kind of cultural intimacy now emerging may take the form of guilty but willful complicity in a libertarian stance, not for reasons of social solidarity or collective freedom but for a NIM...
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It may transgress convention to compare Mikis Theodorakis, better known for his songs than for his operatic work, with the Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi. Both, however, in very different national contexts, were engaged in political activity through their music – which often faced severe censorship – and their parliamentary activity. Both dr...
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This Afterword provides an opportunity to consider the contribution of the assembled articles to our understanding of the expansion and exposure of culturally intimate information in the age of social media and uncivil populism. The new international style of bully politics creates special problems for anthropological ethics, in which anthropologis...
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This special issue addresses both the changes and the continuities that have marked the recent evolution of anthropological research on the circum-Mediterranean peoples. The authors demonstrate how a growing self-consciousness of the region's people as ‘Mediterranean’ produces new configurations, including official (government) but also nostalgic (...
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By adopting a “weak” version of cultural relativism, we can manage our own ethical discomfort without disrespecting those whose culinary values and practices we do not share. This entails recognizing the contextual and performative aspects of all gastronomic rhetoric, including claims of expertise over questions of culinary authenticity and standar...
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The present parochialism of Thai studies, although partial, suggests parallels with the situation of Modern Greek studies in the early 1970s. The cultural and political conditions attendant on both in the respective time periods—especially the prudery, emphasis on bourgeois notions of respectability, and restrictions on the scope and content of sch...
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Anthropology is a realist discipline. In this article, I draw a sharp distinction between realism and scientism, or objectivism, arguing that realism requires the recognition of the contexts and contingency of all knowledge, including ethnography, whereas scientism – a rhetoric that invokes science as its source of authority – paradoxically occlude...
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‘Beautification’ is often invoked as a justification for forms of urban reorganization that threaten existing ways of life and ignore the aesthetic values and social needs of poorer residents. The case of Bangkok, dramatically exemplified by the official campaign to evict the community of Pom Mahakan, shows how little attention is paid either to th...
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Referenda can be sad affairs. This time last year, I was in Greece discussing with friends their referendum. It was a difficult visit with many painful conversations. Most were about what the EU meant, what might Grexit have meant, and the way material security was rapidly vanishing: having a decent salary, a job, money in the bank, valuables in ba...
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In responding to van der Veer's magisterially broad analysis, I urge greater emphasis on those aspects of religion in the city that reflect the more intimate concerns of its citizens, especially where their religiosity appears in the form of domestic spatial organization and of everyday sin and its recognition, rather than of strict doctrinal pract...
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A sign of anthropology's Greek coming-of-age is the inevitability of omitting significant contributions from this account. In the 1970s, omission would have been perceived as an insult. Today it is the happy effect of a proliferation that makes it impossible to represent the entire spectrum in one short overview. Anthropology's most substantive con...
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In the current debt crisis, Greeks often stand accused of irresponsible borrowing, corruption, and laziness. In this article, I argue that the patently unfair way in which these stereotypes have framed the ongoing tensions between Greece and the other European countries is deeply grounded in the dynamics of "crypto-colonialism." German fascination...
Book
In the third edition of this important and influential book, Michael Herzfeld revisits the idea of 'cultural intimacy'. The chapters examine a range of topics touching on the relationship between state and citizen, and the notion of 'national character'. Herzfeld provides a developed theoretical framework and additional clarification of core concep...
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In the current debt crisis, Greeks often stand accused of irresponsible borrowing, corruption, and laziness. In this article, I argue that the patently unfair way in which these stereotypes have framed the ongoing tensions between Greece and the other European countries is deeply grounded in the dynamics of “crypto-colonialism.” German fascination...
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Full-text available
Partendo principalmente dal confronto fra due contesti nazionali – Grecia e Italia – l’autore analizza ruoli e significati dell’artigiano. Mentre in Grecia l’artigiano non si distingue sempre con chiarezza dall’artista, in Italia, invece, l’uso variabile di questa distinzione in parte riflette una complessa gerarchia risalente alle strutture social...
Chapter
Nationalism, especially in the form that links national identity and statehood, is in its present form a relatively recent but highly successful and pervasive invention. Grounded in metaphors of shared blood and collective inheritance (including the idea of national culture as patrimony or heritage), it still displays unexpected staying power despi...
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The contested concept of heritage has increasingly been used by powerful and privileged actors-the state, the wealthy, corporations, and even universities-to justify their expropriation of inner-city areas. Appealing to an alltoo-often ignorant version of “high culture,” they have increasingly excluded the poor, ethnic minorities, and other suppose...
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Saigon's Edge: On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City. By Erik Harms. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. xiv, 294 pp. $75.00 (cloth), $25.00 (paper). - Volume 74 Issue 2 - Michael Herzfeld
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Common sense is not uniform across all sociocultural groups. Anthropologists typically confront the differences among "common senses" at the very start of ethnographic fieldwork; their informants treat as self-evident actions and other phenomena that to the anthropologists are opaque and sometimes even absurd. From anthropology's relativist and emp...
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Much of what anthropologists explore is discounted by other observers as obvious and as “mere” detail. This perceived lack of importance, compounded by the inherent indistinctness of many of the processes anthropologists observe, suggests how invisibility serves the interests of power—of the big picture, in short, that the discipline's detractors a...
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Nation-states’ investment in heritage supports Benedict Anderson’s thesis that nationalism offers collective immortality in the face of individual mortality. By the same token, however, corruption – a metaphor based on the impermanence of the flesh – corrodes the official face of heritage, offering more covert and carnal understandings of urban lif...
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A Bangkok community that has successfully warded off the threat of collective eviction for over 20 years, Pom Mahakan – located in the symbolically dense historic old dynastic city, next to the wall associated with the latter's foundation – has aimed at a plan of accommodation between housing rights and historic conservation that deserves serious c...
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The Mediterranean region, with its long history of religious conflict and its more recent history of aggressive nation-building, today presents a post-modern sensibility defined by a strong emphasis on the preservation of national heritage in individual nation-states. Despite notable differences among the various kinds of heritage in question, as w...
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Thai political life is caught in a tension, sometimes temporally rendered as an oscillation, between extremes of democracy and egalitarianism on the one hand and authoritarian relics of older structures on the other. The confrontation between Red and Yellow Shirts leading up to the 2014 coup might seem to suggest a binary model of Thai political id...
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The intention of the author of this article is to worry away at the limits of the concept of intangible culture. In pursuing this line of critique, he wonders how an international organization such as UNESCO, which is not only composed of nation-states but depends on their cooperation to get its work done, can address the status of cultural practic...
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Full-text available
Il 24 gennaio del 2003 agli abitanti di Pom Mahakan (Mahakan Fort) è stato intimato di abbandonare le proprie case entro tre mesi al massimo. La loro comunità si cela dietro il perimetro fortificato delle mura all’incrocio tra Rajadamnoen Avenue e Mahachai Street a ridosso del tempio di Golden Mount e di fronte al molo e al ponte di Paan Fa, import...
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We present a critique of a paper written by two economists, Quamrul Ashraf and Oded Galor, which is forthcoming in the American Economic Review and which was uncritically highlighted in Science magazine. Their paper claims there is a causal effect of genetic diversity on economic success, positing that too much or too little genetic diversity const...
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Full-text available
This short reply summarizes the concerns of the anthropological community about Ashraf and Galor's (Forthcoming) article in the American Economic Review.
Article
In accepting the hospitable invitation to respond to this collection, I draw out the themes of ambiguity and potential danger that hospitality entails for all parties. The vast cultural range of case studies, extending even to the role of mosquitoes in human habitations, perhaps owes something to the capacity of hospitality to enable translation am...
Article
Las limitaciones que existen sobre la evidencia en la interpretación arqueológica ejempli!can el rigor metodológico que se requiere para explorar los signi!cados que tienen los sitios históricos y los artefactos para sus habitantes. Diversas temporalidades, aunque disponibles para todas las sociedades, se ven !ltradas por supuestos culturales difer...
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Assailed by mounting debt and increasing economic distress, Greece today is also the target of media representations that emphasize violence and disorder. Michael Herzfeld – who was mugged and tear-gassed in Athens this past July – argues that these representations are misleading and indeed are part of the problem they seek to explain. The structur...
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The exciting convergence between historical analysis and ethnographic actuality that Jenkins achieves in this remarkable study of Béarn arises from three major factors. First, he has conducted extensive field and archival research there. Second, access to notaries' files (rather than official promulgations of decisions already taken) has given him...
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These four books focalize the links between sociocultural anthropology and the national or cultural identities of its theoreticians and empirical practitioners. Historically caught between the forces of nationalism and colonialism, the subdiscipline has largely transcended its now rejected past, of which significant traces nonetheless remain embedd...
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Drawing primarily on fieldwork in Greece, Italy, and Thailand, I examine the use of historic conservation to justify gentrification. This commoditization of history expands into urban design a classification that serves the goals of neoliberal modernity. By thus refocusing the classic anthropological concern with taxonomy on the analysis of the bur...
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Social and cultural anthropology has developed into a pragmatic discipline, rejecting both the colonial and nationalist power paradigms with which it shares a common history and the extremes of a morally isolationist cultural relativism. It has instead developed into a pragmatic critique of universalist ideology, especially insofar as that ideology...
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This discussion, which introduces the first of two issues of the ISSJ devoted to social and cultural anthropology, focuses on the expansion of anthropological methods and concerns beyond what can be written or visually apprehended, and addresses the paradoxical but substantive advantages of the discipline's intensively localized focus in field rese...
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Six Views of a Greek Village Everyday is not a Feast Day (1980, color, 110 minutes; video sale, $150) Thread of the Needle (1982, color, 22 minutes; video sale, $50) Let's Get Married! (1985, color, 35 minutes; video sale, $60) My Family and Me (1986, color, 65 minutes; video sale, $100) A Hard Life (1988, color, 55 minutes; video sale, $90) Charco...
Article
1. Cornelia Mayer Herzfeld's participation in the fieldwork in Crete, and her observations on the problem documented here, provided impetus and insight for the present analysis. 2. In the particular case observed in Glendi, the woman was already pregnant at the time of the church ritual and split celebration, and it was her condition which in fact...
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Marchand’s book has no subtitle. He makes no extravagant claims to theoretical innovation or global comparison. Like the straw-hatted mason whose focused body adorns the stunning cover, he delivers to us a text that displays confident artisanship and aesthetics, but he does not expatiate much on the larger implications of his handiwork. He has alre...
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In this issue, we inaugurate a new section that we hope will make an important and lasting contribution to the exchange of anthropological knowledge: Polyglot Perspectives. In our new feature, launched in this issue of Anthropological Quarterly by Editor-at-Large, Michael Herzfeld, of Harvard University, we present essays on books written in langua...
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Reversing common assumptions about the unidirectional flow of theoretical insight from social anthropology to archaeology, the author takes the evidential constraints on the latter as a source of methodological rigour in establishing the meanings of antiquities and their modern imitations in the lives of residents of historic sites. In particular,...
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Secrecy, paradoxically, is a social fact; as such, it must be performed in order to be realized. This article is a programmatic attempt to explore the semiotics of secrecy as revealed through the interaction of architectonics, spatiality, and social interaction. Gestural secretiveness reproduces socially sanctioned patterns of concealment also embo...
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■ Ethnographers enter the field as legible signs of otherness to their interlocutors. In this article, I explore the ramifications of my personal experience of being variously `read' in the course of encounters in Bangkok, Thailand, to show how a gradual process of bodily inculcation can reduce the sense of difference and partially overcome the exp...
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It seems appropriate to launch Polyglot Perspectives with a book about alterity written by Greeks in and about Greece. Greece's interest for anthropology lies partly in its combination of political marginality and ideological centrality to the construction of "the West"—the home, with all its professional intimations of colonial shame, of our disci...
Article
Modern Rome is a city rife with contradictions. Once the seat of ancient glory, it is now often the object of national contempt. It plays a significant part on the world stage, but the concerns of its residents are often deeply parochial. And while they live in the seat of a world religion, Romans can be vehemently anticlerical. These tensions betw...
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Ethnographie research conducted in Europe could exercise a significandy increased influence on the renewal of anthropological theory. Recalling the problems involved in the invention of a "Mediterranean cultural area", the author discusses the taxonomie dangers that the creation of a European "geo-body" (to use Thai historian Thongchai Winichakul's...
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Poetics of Conduct: Oral Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town. By PrasadLeela. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. xv, 291 pp. $75.50 (cloth); $25.50 (paper). - Volume 67 Issue 3 - Michael Herzfeld
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In Seeing Like a State (1998), James Scott provides a comprehensive understanding of the optics of state power. He also shows how the bureaucratic logic of high-modernist official planning occludes the social and cultural worlds both of marginalized citizenries and of the bureaucrats themselves, and accurately pinpoints the pernicious reductionism...
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Out of Our Minds: Reason and Madness in the Exploration of Central Africa. Johannes Fabian. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. 320 pp.Anthropology with an Attitude: Critical Essays. Johannes Fabian. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. 356 pp.
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Symbolism is not absent from modernity. Rather, the absence of an anthropological awareness of its presence favours semiotic manipulations that serve the interests of global domination, often in the name of populist policies. Within a framework broadly circumscribed by "Western" values, local and nationalist politicians exploit models of intimacy,...
Article
Kinship has cast such a long shadow over anthropological analysis that students who have never confronted its more technical aspects still profess boredom with the topic and relief that they do not have to deal with it. But deal with it, surprisingly, they do—in a technically less demanding guise, to be sure—through the more fashionable medium of o...
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Globalisation is not only about commercial goods. It is also about the migration from centres of cultural authority of increasingly standardised but locally inflected forms of racism and other varieties of prejudice. It is often marked by disclaimers that, while appearing to mask racist attitudes with reason and etiquette, actually accentuate their...
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Literacy in Greek allowed the turn-of-the-century Cretan authorities to regulate property transfers with increasing precision in the specification of value and location. Against the resulting official logic, however, everyday practices and knowledge came to symbolise the highly valued pleasures of social intimacy. This article thus illustrates the...
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This article comprises preliminary remarks about spatiality and power, with a particular focus on field data from Greece and Thailand (with secondary materials from Italy). I suggest that the creation of large open spaces in city contexts, generating a marked contrast with local tolerance of crowding, represents the intrusive presence of regimentat...
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Democracy and National Identity in Thailand. By ConnorsMichael Kelly. New York and London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. ix, 271 pp. $114.50; £70.00 (cloth). - Volume 64 Issue 4 - Michael Herzfeld
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Archaeologists have ‘discovered’ memory, drawing on historical and anthropological insights into commemoration and interrogating the contexts of archaeological exploration in ways that sometimes produce evidence of specific understandings of the past by ancient populations. Analogy is sometimes suggestive, as, notably, when archaeology's own histor...

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