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In I went to university to study history and politics. That was what I was interested in then — and I guess I am still, which probably explains my interest in things like the anthropology of policy and bureaucracy. Politics is a really fascinating subject but somehow they managed to kill it.

But my brother had just died in an accident and there were other complicated things going on in my life at that time which made it hard for me to study. So I dropped out of Birmingham University and I worked for a year driving vehicles, working in pubs and doing manual jobs. But I knew I wanted to go back to university at some point. So I studied anthropology and geography and got completely hooked on them in my second year. After finishing my BA Honours I started to apply for jobs. For my final-year dissertation I had spent the summer doing fieldwork on a small island in the lagoon of Venice and had written my thesis about ideological conflict in a small face-to-face community.

I became fascinated by the anthropology of the Mediterranean. But I was interested in left-wing politics, especially debates around Communism and Euro-communism. I had planned to do fieldwork in Poland studying the relationship between the Communist Party and the Catholic Church. I was all ready to leave and had sorted out somewhere to stay in Warsaw for my pre-fieldwork reconnaissance visit. But this was , just when the Solidarnosc strike had began in the shipyards of Gdansk and General Jaruzelski had declared martial law.

So Poland was off the agenda. But with the move towards peasant societies, the Mediterranean and Latin America thinks started to change quite dramatically. What interested me was urban anthropology and topics like ideology, conflict, organisations and institutions, trade unions and political parties. I wanted to do fieldwork in a European city. Eventually I wrote a book from my thesis. I found it too difficult to be based in both camps simultaneously, especially given the antagonism between them. My ethnography explored the party from the bottom upwards. Firstly, doing anthropology in a European city context and working with political activists and middle-class intellectuals was quite novel at that time.

Second, no one, as far as I know, had ever done an ethnography of a major political party, and certainly not a communist party. I was interested in the way party organisation and ideology intersected with issues of identity and culture. Within the anthropology of the Mediterranean, several people were doing work on social movements like Anarchism in Spain. But most of this work was still based on small communities and villages. That Mediterranean ethnography had a major influence on my own intellectual formation. But I combined it with a real interest in politics, political theory, debates around nationalism, nation-state formation and identity, political organisation, and even organisational theories.

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During my undergraduate years, I was also influenced a lot by one of my lecturers who had worked in Greece. She had a big influence on me, sparking my interest in anthropology and encouraging me towards further study.

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I really do believe, quite passionately, in the value of teaching. I like teaching and am very aware of its importance in forming us. My other main subject at that time was urban geography and I had some wonderful teachers at Oxford Brookes who introduced us to debates in philosophy. Geography was an eclectic subject and introduced me to some fantastic debates: we studied environmentalism but also Liberalism, Marxism, Anarchism, phenomenology and the history and philosophy of science. And that had a big influence as well: this bringing together of politics, geography and philosophy with the methods and concerns of social anthropology.

And I say social anthropology; I see myself very much as a social, not a cultural anthropologist, in the North-American sense. If you ask me what the main influences were, I think the answer is social theory in general: Weber, Durkheim, Marx and their legacies. We all pick up certain values from our parents and like my parents I thought academia was not really engaged enough with the world. The professions or jobs that they valued were things like doctor, politician, lawyer, and journalist: something where you were actively engaged in an influential public-sector role.

I was in a hurry to finish my PhD, get a job and get on with life. I finished my PhD in just three-and-a-half years, which is fast for social anthropology. That left only six months of funding to write up my thesis after returned from fieldwork. So I had to get a job somewhere and found one teaching geography and anthropology. At that time, I really wanted to work for the trade union movement.

My ideal job would be one where you could work on forming policy or providing documents or research that would help the trade union movement or help in terms of political thinking about government or whatever. I applied for a lot of jobs very much on spec and sent out letters to about forty unions. I got called for interviews by about two or three, and one of them offered me a job, working for the Electrical Engineers Union, which is quite a big one in Britain.

But at the same time I also got an offer of a job back in Italy. A friend telephoned me to say that the university was looking for someone to teach in the Faculty of Political Science. It was a job that combined being an English language teacher and political science lecturer because they wanted someone who could teach second year and third year courses that combined political sciences with English language learning.

It was a dilemma: on the one had, the start of a serious political career working for the labour movement and on the other, a chance to return to the city where I had done my fieldwork. My partner was very interested in the prospect of living in Italy, so that sealed the decision. I think attitudes are different nowadays.

Students worry much more about jobs and job security. They really are very cautious and acutely aware of how much their education is costing them. When I was a student, we still had the privilege and the good fortune to be more relaxed about all that and to study a subject out of interest rather than as a kind of vocational training. I worked in Italy for about a year and found teaching in an Italian university enormously interesting and revealing, but also frustrating.

I think I discovered a lot of things about Italian culture and society that I had missed during my fieldwork. Being a public employee in the Italian state-sector, impiegato dello stato , I saw Italy from a new perspective. My friends used to say that Italy is a great country to live in if you are self-employed, on holiday, or have enough money to be free of all the webs of clientelism that dominate most spheres of work.

I sort of knew about this, being an anthropologist of the Mediterranean, but living it, experiencing it first-hand, was quite different. I will just give you one example. I started to get worried about this and with no money coming in, I was forced to offer private lessons just to eat and pay the bills. The very first article I ever wrote, in , was an analysis of corruption in the Italian university system. I was trying to make sense of how it all worked. But I did what they asked and disguised the location and the article, my first article, was published. I realised that life in Italy was going to be difficult for a foreigner no matter how integrated I had become.

There were all sorts of invisible barriers and accepted cultural practices that I found hard to accept. I really disliked the way patronage relations dominated the workplace. Having professional autonomy in my work is important to me. An outline of political economy: Political economy and Soviet economics.

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The Evolution of Political Society: An Essay in Political Anthropology

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