Compromise and closure: a theory
of social dynamics
This chapter introduces the main conceptual framework that will allow an analysis of modern state formation and the politicisation of ethnicity 'from the outside', i.e. without using a terminology already coloured by the basic principles of the contemporary world divided into nation-states. Anthropological theory might be the best starting point to develop such a 'view from afar', because its main focus has traditionally been state-less and pre-modern societies.
This is not to say that anthropological theory has not been deeply influenced by the master narrative of nationalism or by modes of thinking about statehood derived from experiences with the nation-state. In fact, anthropology's terminological totem, the concept of culture, bears a family resemblance to the idea of nation as a culturally homogeneous, clearly bound unit persisting over time (Wimmer 1996a). But still, the close acquaintance with non-modern forms of identity politics has made it easier for anthropology to move away from such essentialising and reifying notions of culture and gradually to develop a theoretical framework within which another reading of social processes became possible. In what follows, I will first discuss the traditional anthropological notion of culture, then go on to briefly describe its main analytical problems, and finally outline a theory of cultural and social processes based on the new consensus that has emerged in post-classical anthropology over the last two decades.
Anthropology's traditional notion of culture as a complex, integrated whole has never been more popular outside the academic world than at present. Samuel Huntington's (1993) well-known vision of a 'clash of civilisations' after the end of the Cold War is just one best-selling book that relies on a popularised version of the classical notion of culture. Another bestseller from America is Fukuyama's (1995) Trust. The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity. He tries to show that certain cultures,