Actions Panel

Registrations are closed

There are no more seats available.

KEYNOTE J. Comaroff ONLY (May 20, 2021) - Vigilantism Resurrected

Anthropological Explorations of Violent Transfigurations of State, Crime and Politics across Contexts.

When and where

Date and time



About this event

Registrations only for the KEYNOTE by Jean Comaroff on the DAY I (May 20, 2021).

May 20-22, 2021

Keynote Speech by

Prof Jean Comaroff (Harvard University)


Across the globe, we are witnessing collective dissent against police violence and (abusive) state practices alongside a resurrection of vigilante activities, that is citizens’ attempts to take law into their own hands to punish alleged criminals. While the perceived targets of these vigilante endeavours vary in different contexts – ranging from communities who are deemed illegal to those who are considered immoral-indecent and from those who slaughter cattle to elected members of parliaments – vigilante groups, by and large, act in defense of historically embedded structures and relations as well as moral orders.

While some scholarly explorations underline how vigilante groups strive to re-assert “law and order” independently of the state power (Johnston 1996; Moncanda 2017), scholars often tend to associate vigilantism with the “dysfunctioning” societal orders and “failed” statehood of the non-western settings (Kuˇcera and Mareš 2015). Critical anthropological approaches, on the other hand, demonstrate how the interrelationship between vigilante groups, statecraft, and the law may present a much more complicated picture that blurs the boundaries between crime and policing. These studies underline that vigilantism cannot be seen “just as a result of a state failure” (Arias 2013). Vigilantism, they show, does not solely emerge in the absence of an effective and non-corrupt judiciary and police structures, but may very well be incorporated into state security practices and frequently occurs in collusion with the state (Abrahams, 1998; Barker 2006; Buur, 2006; Goldstein, 2003; Schubert, 2013). Our research, similarly, indicates that vigilante violence may well augment and strengthen the state through its shouldering of stately responsibilities and (extralegal) violence against alleged criminals and the “enemies within.” Recent outbursts of vigilante violence in Russia, Latin America, India, Turkey, the UK, and the US, we argue, invite us to rethink its localized reconfigurations in relation to haunting legacies of colonialism, racism, economic inequalities, religious tensions, oppressive gendered structures, and post-Cold War polarizations.

Attending to the recent resurrection of vigilantism and its socio-political reverberations across the globe, this workshop explores vigilantism as a symptom that invites us to attend the complex and uneasy relationship between crime and policing as well as legal and extralegal forms of law enforcement, criminality, impunity, politics, and statecraft.


DAY I (May 20, 2021, Thursday)


Prof Jean Comaroff, Harvard University“Vigilantism and the Practices of Popular Sovereignty”