Associate Professor of Anthropology
Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2000
Office: McGraw 204
Research Interests: historical and political anthropology, autonomy and dependence, ethnicity and ethnonymy in interethnic relations, cultural heritage, archaeology, museums and modernity, China, East and Southeast Asia
My current research concerns ethnic relations and ideas of civilization, in particular Chinese civilizing ideals casting minorities or barbarians in supportive roles, and with notions of sovereignty, citizenship, and state organization thrown in the mix. My research relates to some of the classical anthropological debates regarding the history and dynamics of center-periphery and ethnic relations, especially in the China-Burma borderlands, where I conducted ethnographic and historical research during the 1990s, and most recently in 2006. My ethnographic research has mainly concerned Wa cultural areas (the Wa are Mon-Khmer speaking people, living at the "edge of empire"), the conditions of their historical autonomy, and the place of sacrifice and religion in local and regional history and economy. Other aspects of my research involve ethnic minorities and majority-minority relations in other parts of China, including the Southern Great Wall in Hunan-Guizhou, and in neighboring Southeast Asian nations, especially Burma, Laos, and Thailand.
My interests in so-called barbarians, slaves, and similar "limit figures" that often define political entities also go beyond Asia. I have written on Scandinavian outlaws, and a recent pamphlet addressed sovereign power more generally, through a discussion of the annual ritualized U.S. presidential pardon granted to one Thanksgiving turkey.
I also have closely related interests in the archaeology of East and Southeast Asia, especially regarding the history of the coming into being of early kingdoms and states. One of my articles on ancient China, based on oracle records and archaeological remains, discussed the hunting rituals of bronze age Chinese kings as a symbolic lever of state power. I have also taken part in archaeological field research in Thailand, Japan, etc.Moreover, following on a previous career as a public museum director, I am interested in the anthropology of museums as social institutions, including modern-era representations of Asia constructed in European and American museums (some of which I contributed to myself, at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, 2000-05). Importantly, this also relates closely to my engagement in the global debates regarding the history and contemporary politics of cultural heritage (including the looting of antiquities), as in the recent book co-authored with a Chinese colleague, China Before China, which treats the 1920s beginnings of Chinese archaeology as a part of modern nationalist history in a global setting.(Photo: Magnus Fiskesjö with Wa friends and teachers, in Ximeng Autonomous Wa County, Yunnan Province, China, 2006
Selected Books & Edited Volumes
- China Before China: Johan Gunnar Andersson, Ding Wenjiang, and the Discovery of China's Prehistory. Bilingual in English and Chinese; with Dr Chen Xingcan. Stockholm: Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities monographs no. 15, 2004.
- The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon, The Death of Teddy's Bear, and the Sovereign Exception of Guantanamo. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003. (A Turkish-language short version was published by the Istanbul-based BIANet, as "Bağışlama ve Mutlak İktidarın Gizi." [The President's Pardon and the Hidden Rituals of Sovereign Power], http://www.bianet.org/2003/04/18/18308.htm).
Selected Articles & Book Chapters
- "Slavery as the commodification of people: Wa 'slaves' and their Chinese 'sisters.'" Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 59 (2011), 3-18.
- "The reluctant sovereign: New adventures of the US presidential Thanksgiving turkey." Anthropology Today 26.5 (2010), 13-17.
- "Mining, history, and the anti-state Wa: The politics of autonomy between Burma and China." Journal of Global History 5.2 (2010), 241-64.
- "Participant intoxication and self-other dynamics in the Wa context." The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 11.2 (2010), 111-27.
- "The politics of cultural heritage." In Lee, Ching Kwan and Hsing, You-tien, eds. Reclaiming Chinese Society: The New Social Activism. London: Routledge, 2010, Chapter 12, 225-45.
- “The autonomy of naming: Kinship, power and ethnonymy in the Wa lands of the Southeast Asia-China frontiers.” In Charles Macdonald & Yangwen Zheng, eds. Personal Names in Asia: History, Culture and Identity. Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2009, 150-74.
- "Rescuing the Empire: Chinese Nation-Building in the Twentieth Century." European Journal of East Asian Studies 5.2 (2006), 15-44 (Special issue on "Nation-building and ethnic minorities in East and Southeast Asia").
- "A Foreign Bird in a Golden Cage: Sweden's Asia Collections." Res Publica 65 (2005), 68-80. (In Swedish).
- "Giorgio Agamben: Philosophy now," and "The Barbarians and the Outlaws: A Critique of Homo sacer," in Res Publica (Stockholm), special Agamben issue guest edited by M. Fiskesjö, vol. 62/63 (2004), 4-12, 107-25. (In Swedish).
- "Who Will Take Responsibility For World Cultural Heritage? The Views of a Western Museum Director," Zhongguo wenwu bao (Beijing), February 14, 2003, front page. (In Chinese) "Lost Civilizations, Lost Choices." Dushu (Beijing) 4 (2003), 72-75. (In Chinese).
- "The Barbarian Borderland and the Chinese Imagination -- Travellers in Wa Country," Inner Asia 4.1 (2002), 81-99.
- "Rising From Blood-Stained Fields: Royal Hunting and State Formation in Shang China," Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 73 (2001), 48-192.
- "On the 'Raw' and the 'Cooked' Barbarians of Imperial China," Inner Asia 1.2 (1999), 139-68.
- People and Forests: A Human-Ecological History of Swidden Agriculture in Yunnan, by the Chinese anthropologist Yin Shaoting. Translation from the Chinese. (Kunming, China: Yunnan Education, 2001).