Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali is a 1980 book written by anthropologist Clifford Geertz. Geertz argues that the pre-colonial Balinese state was not a "hydraulic bureaucracy" nor an oriental despotism, but rather, an organized spectacle. The noble rulers of the island were less interested in administering the lives of the Balinese than in dramatizing their rank and hence political superiority through large public rituals and ceremonies. These cultural processes did not support the state, he argues, but were the state.
It is perhaps most clear in what was, after all, the master image of political life: kingship. The whole of the negara - court life, the traditions that organized it, the extractions that supported it, the privileges that accompanied it - was essentially directed toward defining what power was; and what power was what kings were. Particular kings came and went, 'poor passing facts' anonymized in titles, immobilized in ritual, and annihilated in bonfires. But what they represented, the model-and-copy conception of order, remained unaltered, at least over the period we know much about. The driving aim of higher politics was to construct a state by constructing a king. The more consummate the king, the more exemplary the centre. The more exemplary the centre, the more actual the realm.
Geertz used the Balinese case to develop an abstract model of the Theatre state applicable to all the South East Asian Indic polities. To succinctly summarize his theory, "Power served pomp, not pomp power." Other anthropologists have contested the ahistorical, static nature of the model. They point out that he has depoliticized a political institution by emphasizing culture while ignoring its material base.
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