American Ethnologist

Spatializing States: Toward an Ethnography of Neoliberal Governmentality



In this exploratory article, we ask how states come to be understood as entities with particular spatial characteristics, and how changing relations between practices of government and national territories may be challenging long-established modes of state spatiality. In the first part of this article, we seek to identify two principles that are key to state spatialization: vertically (the state is "above"society) and encompassment (the state "encompasses" its localities). We use ethnographic evidence from a maternal health project in India to illustrate our argument that perceptions of verticality and encompassment are produced through routine bureaucratic practices. In the second part, we develop a concept of transnational governmentality as a way of grasping how new practices of government and new forms of "grassroots" politics may call into question the principles of vertical ity and encompassment that have long helped to legitimate and naturalize states' authority over "the local." [states, space, governmentality, globalization, neoliberalism, India, Africa]