Twenty-five years ago, drawing on her fieldwork among the Zapotec, the legal anthropologist Laura Nader proposed the term harmony ideology to characterize postcolonial systems of justice. She found outward social harmony to be the result of coercion, as people were denied access to legal means and were forced either into alternative dispute resolution or into autocoercion, in which marginalized people presented unity to outsiders to avoid state interference. This proposition constitutes a relevant advance in relation to previous approaches to conflict and harmony in the social sciences, but it falls short by failing to account for indigenous notions of and demands for harmony. Ethnographic data from rural Kyrgyzstan and the South Omo region of Ethiopia indicate that there are models of harmony active at various social levels and that harmony is a genuine concern of communities. Demands for harmony are performatively integrated into social practices. The authors argue that, rather than searching for a scale of sociality where harmony might be “organic,” it is necessary to critically assess proclamations of and demands for harmony as means of coercion even within small communities. A focus on social practice in such places reveals that the experience of community partly derives from acts of collectively condemning and sanctioning deviance.

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