Crisis attack: Impromptu ethnography in the Greek maelstom (Respond to this article at


  • Michael Herzfeld

    1. Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University. A veteran of field research in Greece, he has more recently worked in Italy and Thailand. His current research deals principally with conflicts between heritage conservation and housing rights.
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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 structural violence of an insistent barrage of negative media coverage as well as that of international financial pressures undermines a previously stable and relatively crime-free country, encouraging new forms – including police and popular racism, physical violence at demonstrations, and acts of petty crime – of what had once been a largely codified and ritualized idiom of aggression. While many Greeks do feel that debts should be paid, increasing economic desperation fuels a different view, and one that can best be interpreted in light of the social values that anthropologists have long studied in Greece: that the country's creditors are violating their own obligations toward Greece and thus deserve to face both default on the massive debt and the public hostility of the Greek people.