State encounters

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Much has been made in recent years of the need to promote anthropological understandings of ‘the state’. Work in this area has tended to focus on either (1) the peopled aspects of state bureaucracies or (2) the effect of ‘the state’ on the everyday lives of its citizens. Some authors have also begun to move beyond these concerns by examining the ways in which the actions of state agents can affect the everyday lives of citizens and how citizens can reach back to influence the peopled qualities of ‘the state’. My aim in this paper is to examine the sociospatial encounters between what may be considered as state agents and citizens. In doing so I seek to: undermine the idea that there is a fixed boundary between what is considered to be ‘the state’ and what is viewed as civil society; illustrate how the identities of state agents and citizens are forged in relation to one another; show how these peopled encounters can be used by state elites as a means of promoting neoliberal agendas. As a way of grounding these conceptual concerns, I draw on some recent empirical work that I have conducted on Citizens Advice, the organisation that has worked since 1939 as a provider of all manner of welfare advice to the citizens of the UK. I conclude by emphasising that states—commonly conceived of as stable and enduring organisations that structure everyday life—are, in fact, in a continual state of emergence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)805-821
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • anthropology of the state
  • Citizens Advice
  • everyday state


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