The Performance of Power

An Ethnographic Analysis of ‘the State’ within Edinburgh’s Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Court

  • Chloe Hay Downing The university of Edinburgh


Throughout the development of anthropological thought, the concept of ‘power’ has dynamically evolved theoretically and ethnographically. As preliminary explored within works of anthropologists such as; Radcliffe-Brown, Fortes and Evans-Pritchard in predominately the 1940s, anthropologists have consequently debated the origins and foundational context of power in society. As suggested by Radcliffe-Brown (1940); ‘the State, in this sense, does not exist in the phenomenal world; it is a fiction of the philosophers’ (Radcliffe-Brown, in Fortes et al., 1940:23). Although the anthropology of the state remains underpinned by vast ethnographical predicaments of location, scale, variability and access – intrinsically conceptualising the state and power remains contestably debated and valued within contemporary anthropology. Therefore, this essay will seek to discuss the works of Foucault (1977), Rock (1991), Mitchell (1991) and Weeden (2003) in addressing the theoretical and ethnographical debate of power. Fundamentally, this essay will seek to analyse how the power of the state is performed and enforced through an ethnographic lens of the Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court of Edinburgh.

How to Cite
Downing, C. (2018). The Performance of Power. Re:Think - a Journal of Creative Ethnography, 1(1), 19-24. Retrieved from
Academic Essays