SOAS University of London

Centre of Contemporary Central Asia & the Caucasus

Problems in Establishing Political Legitimacy in Afghanistan: 1500-2012

Thomas Barfield
Thomas Barfield (Boston University)

Date: 7 March 2012Time: 6:00 PM

Finishes: 7 March 2012Time: 8:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Lecture


Afghanistan has been the focus of world attention since the United States entered the country in 2001 and successfully expelled the Taliban, but over the past decade the international community has paid little heed to the country's culture and history in attempting restore political stability there. An examination of how some Afghan rulers have successfully established political legitimacy and maintained long periods of peace, while others have failed, still holds valuable lessons—particularly for transitions of political authority in the wake of foreign invasions. Afghan conceptions of what makes a government legitimate, what makes a leader effective, and what a government is expected to accomplish, are fundamental factors for bringing peace to this war torn land.


Thomas Barfield is an anthropologist who conducted ethnographic fieldwork with nomads in northern Afghanistan in the mid 1970s as well as shorter periods of research in Xinjiang, China, and post-Soviet Uzbekistan. He is author of The Central Asian Arabs of Afghanistan (1981), The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China (1989) and co-author of Afghanistan: An Atlas of Indigenous Domestic Architecture (1991). Professor of Anthropology at Boston University, Barfield is also President of the American Institute for Afghanistan Studies.

Since 2001 his research has focused on problems of law and political development in contemporary Afghanistan. In 2007 Barfield received a Guggenheim Fellowship that supported the completion of  research for his latest book, Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (Princeton,  2010).

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