This contribution to the special issue of ‘Arena Journal’ on the question of ‘humanity: surplus to requirements’ revisits the arguments of Pierre Clastres, a French anthropologist who studied with Claude Levi-Strauss and died prematurely at the age of forty-three in a car accident. Clastres worked in the subfield of political anthropology and his main contributions to the literature were through a series of essays, collected under the titles ‘Archaeology of Violence’ and ‘Society against the State’, which elaborated on the political formations of so-called ‘primitive societies’. The term might now resonate as problematic, so it is important to note that Clastres did not use ‘primitive societies’ pejoratively, nor did he assume that such societies ‘lack’ technology, productive capability, or complex social formation such as the state. Instead, he was concerned to probe implicit assumptions about such societies, and to understand them ethnographically and according to their own terms. Clastres’ insights, notably on surplus and society against the state, continue to be relevant to contemporary discussions on the global capitalist economy and the human condition.
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