Cris Shore: "The Crown as Metonym for the State? Opening up the ‘Black Box’ of Constitutional Monarchy in Postcolonial Societies"

Departmental Seminar Series features Professor Cris Shore, Department of Anthropology, University of Auckland.

The seminar is followed by informal gathering, at which refreshments are served. All are welcome!

Copyright: University of Auckland


Despite its centrality to the constitutions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, the ‘Crown’ is enigmatic and elusive concept, typically misunderstood and notoriously difficult to define. Is it the government, the state, the Queen, a ‘corporation sole’ or aggregate, a medieval relic, a metaphor, or a mask for executive power? This paper explores the Crown’s shapeshifing nature and the implications of its ambiguity. I argue that while the Crown is often treated as a metonym for the state, these concepts do not map the same terrain. I bring together legal and social scientific approaches to open up the ‘black box’ of constitutional monarchy as a system of government and form of statehood. Moving beyond the ontological question of what the Crown is, I suggest we focus instead on what the Crown does, and what it makes possible politically and constitutionally. Maitland famously described the state as the ‘greatest of artificial persons’ and called the Crown a convenient fiction and cover for ignorance: I ask, for whom is the Crown convenient, and what kind of ‘person’ is it? Using examples from New Zealand, I show why the personification of the state in the figure of a monarch is both problematic yet expedient, particularly in postcolonial societies.

Research profile

Professor Cris Shore is one of the few anthropologists who have been studying “the makings of politics”. He has put forward creative bridges connecting anthropology, political science, organisational studies and sociology.

His main research interests include the anthropology of policy and the study of organisations, governance and power. He has conducted fieldwork in Italy (on Italian Communism), Belgium (on EU bureaucracy), Britain and New Zealand (on politics, ‘audit culture’, and higher education reform).

Europe’s inter-nationalist project has been a strong presence in Shore’s work since "The Anthropology of Europe: Identities and Boundaries in Conflict" was published in 1994 (edited with Victoria Goddard and Josep Llobera, Berg). He is currently completing two books: one entitled The Shapeshifting Crown: Locating the State in Post-Colonial New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the UK (Cambridge University Press, online version 2019), the other called Audit Culture: How Rankings, Indicators and Numbers Re-order the World (Pluto Press).

Published May 30, 2018 3:30 PM - Last modified Apr. 23, 2019 1:14 PM