Hans Steinmüller: "Sovereignty as Care: Patronage and Protection in the Wa State of Myanmar"

Departmental Seminar Series features Hans Steinmüller, Assistant Professor, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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

Image may contain: spokesperson, news, businessperson.

Photo: Anthropology, LSE


Sovereignty always relies on a double movement of violence and care: it requires both the power to exercise violence, as well as the power to care, protect, and nourish. In the footsteps of Foucault and Agamben, numerous scholars have rediscovered the same paradox in philosophical and legal texts. Anthropologists writing about informal and practical sovereignty pay attention to violence, but sometimes ignore the importance of care for the exercise of sovereignty. Against such tendencies to focus on texts and on violence, this presentation deals with sovereignty as care. The concrete examples are the relationships of care between commanders, soldiers, and villagers in the Wa State, a de-facto state governed by an insurgent army. In the absence of an effective government bureaucracy, the de-facto sovereignty of this military state relies on a particular logic of personal relations, in which care is central. Relations of care are made possible by new networks of acquaintances and patronage, as well as by anonymity and rejection. The presentation thus describes the logic of personal relations that allows for the exercise of sovereignty as care in the Wa State (and possibly elsewhere).

Research Profile

Hans Steinmüller is Assistant Professor at the Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has conducted long-term fieldwork in the Enshi region of Hubei Province in Central China. He is a specialist in the anthropology of China his focus is on family, work, ritual, and the local state. The main object of his research is the ethics of everyday life in rural China, but he has also written on topics such as gambling, rural development, and Chinese geomancy (fengshui). Steinmüller is the convenor of the MSc programme 'China in Comparative Perspective'. Further information


Published Aug. 5, 2019 4:29 PM - Last modified Oct. 21, 2019 6:09 PM