Anthropology of the State: Analysis, Critique and Contestation

Course content

What roles does the state play in the lives of its citizens? How do the discourses, practices and affective attachments of citizens reproduce and reify state power? And what are some of the ways in which citizens try to circumvent, contest or revolt against the state? These are some of the questions explored in this course. We take as our point of departure some of the foundational anthropological and social scientific literature on the state. From there we move through the institutional corridors of the state; investigate the affective registers – e.g. fear, desire, suspicion or cynicism – through which people relate to the state; and discuss different repertoires of protest spanning from foot-dragging and sarcasm though queer activism to ful-fledged revolution. Alongside the readings, the course includes an ethnographic experiment. Through short fieldtrips in small groups, we shall try to map ethnographically the different manifestations of the Danish state, both those in which state power is reproduced and those in which it is unsettled.


The teaching in spring 2021 will be online until the 1. of April due to the Covid19 situation.

As soon as it is permitted and justifiable, it is up to the individual lecturer whether to transition to a blended format or wish to continue with full online teaching for the rest of the semester.

The individual lecturer will inform you of the above choice in the Absalon room for each course.

Courses with oral exams will be held online if the relevant restrictions have not been lifted at least four weeks before the individual exam. This will be notified in Absalon.

Courses with written exams will not experience any changes in relation to the normal exam form.

Learning outcome


At the end of the course students are expected to

  • Describe key questions and debates within the anthropology of the state
  • Understand how the anthropological approach to the state relates to and differs from that of other social scientific disciplines



At the end of the course students are expected to:

  • Compare and discuss different anthropological approaches to the state power and resistance
  • Design a small ethnographic fieldwork focused on different manifestations of the Danish state and discuss the findings in the light of relevant literature. 



At the end of the course students must be able to

  • Critically reflect upon the role of anthropological knowledge in the reproduction and/or contestation of state power   

The course consists of 14 three-hour weekly seminars involving brief lectures, presentations, group discussions, field trips and feedback.


The teaching is on campus during autumn semester 2020. However, due to the covid19 situation all classes are available online too for students who are not able to attend classes on campus because of their covid-19 risk.

Always remember to check Absalon for the latest updates.

BSc students and MSc students: 500 pages obligatory literature.

The teacher will publish 200-300 pages of supplementary literature.

Course literature will be available through Absalon.

The lectures will provide ongoing verbal feedback regarding essay questions and approaches and summative feedback on the final essay in the form of written comments (in addition to the grade).

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Essay length: 21.600–26.400 keystrokes for an individual submission. 6.750–8.250 keystrokes per extra member for group submissions. The maximum number of students who can write an essay in a group is four. For groups writing together it must be clearly indicated which parts of the assignment each of the students has written.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

See description of learning outcome. Formalities for Written Works must be fulfilled, read more: MSc Students/ BA students (in Danish)/ exchange and credit students

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • Preparation
  • 113
  • Field Work
  • 20
  • Exam Preparation
  • 35
  • English
  • 210