Bryn Hammond's Reviews > The Headless State: Aristocratic Orders, Kinship Society, & Misrepresentations of Nomadic Inner Asia

The Headless State by David Sneath
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Jan 10, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: steppe-history, website-widget

Thoughts under revision until I finish a second read. At the moment I'm asking, doesn't he make one type of steppe politics blanket? There were headless states and aristocratic orders. There were also other social structures and ideas, in different times and places. As per Isenbike Togan's Flexibility and Limitation in Steppe Formations: The Kerait Khanate and Chinggis Khan, which seeks to recover political & ideological conflicts or alternatives (her aim is to restore complexity to what we have seen as a primitive, undifferentiated tribal world).

I have to note its curmudgeonly, agenda-driven tone, that does not disagree graciously with other scholars. Several of whom I'm not ready to ditch for the new dogma in this book. I find comfort in a review by David Durand-Guédy who characterizes it as a 'polemical pamphlet': https://www.academia.edu/1788230/Davi...

I like much of his deconstruction work on tribes & clans & lineages: that genealogies are not an original feature but part of regulation by a state. But the steppe was not aristocratic orders across time, through history, no more than it was a kinship society of either European or Chinese dodgy ethnography. This is a narrow book that sees other work in the field narrowly: if you read only this, you'd have a caricatured view of the ideas that are out there.

Nevertheless, to balance the review I link above, here's a positive one from Johan Elverskog (whose book on the Mongols and the Qing I found fantastic): http://cces.snu.ac.kr/article/jces1_7...
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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Ron (new)

Ron Fritsch Bryn, I enjoyed reading your comments on this book. It's so difficult to prove what our ancestors thought. We can only know partially what they did, and, more recently, when writing and history began, said. I doubt we'll ever know for sure how they lived. I'm persuaded, though, by the argument that they were the same humans we are. Their lives might seem exotic to us, but how different, when you get to the heart of it, could they have been? Our conversations on these matters please me.


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