The concept of “political subjectivity” would appear to be characterized by a contradictio in adjecto since it evokes an individual viewpoint or perhaps an individualistic one in contrast with the idea of polis as well as its derivatives, such as politics for example, which instead presuppose the existence of a collectivity, i.e. a group. More in general, subjectivity is a concept of philosophical origin that is too indefinite thus difficult to operate with, i.e. make it serviceable in purely anthropological researches of an empirical nature.

This contribution aims to show that specific societies, often incorrectly regarded as particularly individualistic and which may be held to be characterized by a specific “political subjectivity”, display informal coalitions consisting of highly personalized networks that infiltrate formal public structures and undermine the efficiency of the state’s institutions.

Contrary to what social sciences often naively and ethnocentrically uphold, we shall bring to the fore, instead, how in many societies, especially those divided along class and ethnicity lines but considered modern, thus characterized by formal organizational institutions and based on organic solidarity, these formal institutions are infiltrated or replaced by vast informal networks, which the actors themselves consider meaningful thus legitimate, albeit often illegal, and rationally suitable for specific situations.

We shall also highlight what type of historical experiences played a substantial role in the emergence of these societies, which may be defined as public mistrust societies, where the State has the monopoly on legality but lacks legitimacy in the eyes of its individual citizens.

Keywords: political subjectivity, voluntarism, individualism, mistrust, informality, personalized networks, coalitions, patronage, clientelism, legality, legitimacy  


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About Christian Giordano

Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Doctor Honoris Causa from University of Timisoara and from Ilya University Tbilisi (Georgia), Permanent Guest Professor: Universities of Bucharest, Murcia, Bydgoszcz, University Sains Malaysia at Penang.
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