Continuities and Comparisons

The Role of Hierarchy in Modern Democracies and their Lien on Ancient Pasts – Greece and Thailand in Transgressive Perspective 

with Michael Herzfeld (Harvard and Leiden Universities) 

Date: Wednesday, March 10
Time: 2:00pm ET

Part of the Comparatism Seminar Series, this talk addresses the ways in which connections to the ancient past have been treated selectively by nation-states, with a particular focus on Greece and Thailand and a glance toward the United States and China. The dynamics of historical imagination, the speaker will argue, are direct but substantially differentiated reflections of the role of Western colonialism, and the selectivity of the respective historiographies is distinctive to each. Asking what principles underlay the creation of particular orderings allows us to see how countries with vastly different cultural histories and with notably contrasted ideas about hierarchy and equality can use a common rhetoric about “democracy” and its roots in the classical Attic polis to defend remarkably particularistic notions and practices of governance. The speaker will argue that in Thailand the peculiar blend of powerful political and class hierarchy and social egalitarianism, mediated by karmic ideas of predestination, explains differences in the response to authoritarian rule in Greece during the military regimes of 1967-74 and in Thailand today.

Michael Herzfeld (D.Phil., Oxford, 1976; D.Litt., Birmingham, 1989) is Ernest E. Monrad Research Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, IIAS Professor of Critical Heritage Studies Emeritus at Leiden University, and Chang Jiang Scholar at Shanghai International Studies University. A social anthropologist who has worked extensively in Greece, Italy, and Thailand, he is the author of twelve monographs and numerous shorter publications. Holder of honorary doctorates from the Free University of Brussels and the Universities of Crete and Macedonia, winner of the 1994 J.I Staley Prize and 1994 Rivers Memorial Medal, and founding and first director of the Harvard University Asia Center Thai Studies Program, he has served as the Editor of American Ethnologist and currently co-directs the series “New Anthropologies of Europe” (Berghahn Books) and “Asian Heritages” (Amsterdam University Press). His research addresses such topics as housing, eviction, and gentrification; artisanship; critical heritage issues; the politics of knowledge; nationalism and bureaucracy; and social aspects of semiotic processes.

This event is part of the Comparatism Seminar Series, organized by Lisa Raphals (University of California, Riverside and the Center for Hellenic Studies) and hosted by the Center for Hellenic Studies.