Thomas Barfield

Professor, Anthropology
Director, Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies & Civilization

Expertise:
, , , ,
Education:

PhD Harvard University
MA Harvard University
BA University of Pennsylvania

Contact Info:

Return to Homepage…

Dr. Thomas Barfield’s current research focuses on problems of political development in Afghanistan, particularly on systems of local governance and dispute resolution. He has also published extensively on contemporary and historic nomadic pastoral societies in Eurasia with a particular emphasis on politics and economy. Dr. Barfield conducted ethnographic fieldwork in northern Afghanistan in the mid-1970s… Read more

Dr. Thomas Barfield’s current research focuses on problems of political development in Afghanistan, particularly on systems of local governance and dispute resolution. He has also published extensively on contemporary and historic nomadic pastoral societies in Eurasia with a particular emphasis on politics and economy.

Dr. Barfield conducted ethnographic fieldwork 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 The Nomadic Alternative (1993), co-author of Afghanistan: An Atlas of Indigenous Domestic Architecture (1991), and editor of Blackwell’s Dictionary of Anthropology(1997). Barfield received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006 that led to the publication of his newest book, Afghanistan: A Political and Cultural History (2010).

He is also director of Boston University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies & Civilization and currently serves as president of the American Institute for Afghanistan Studies.

In the Media

View All
  • As election looms, Afghanistan’s history offers lessons – and hope

    April 4, 2014

    Christian Science Monitor Thomas Barfield, College of Arts & Sciences As foreign troops draw down and a new president takes office, the sort of dealmaking among Afghans that could promote stability might actually grow easier. A triumphant Taliban march on Kabul – or even their old stronghold of Kandahar – is unlikely… Expert quote: “Gorbachev didn’t […]

  • Afghanistan After America: In Isolated Kabul, Power but Little Control

    February 19, 2014

    World Politics Review Thomas Barfield, College of Arts & Sciences In 2001, the Taliban were thought to be all but defeated with the fall of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, little more than a month after the U.S. launched its first airstrikes on the country… Expert quote: “Afghanistan is potentially set up for trouble with that kind […]

  • Afghanistan After America: Stability and Strongman Governance in Northern Afghanistan

    January 22, 2014

    World Politics Review Thomas Barfield, College of Arts & Sciences Northern Afghanistan, particularly the regional capital Mazar-i-Sharif in the province of Balkh, represents something of a success story… Expert quote: “This is not the kind of government you can easily pass on.” View full article

  • What is a loya jirga anyways?

    November 21, 2013

    Christian Science Monitor Thomas Barfield, College of Arts & Sciences A grand meeting of Afghan tribal figures and warlords, over 2,000 people in all, is debating the future of the US military presence in Afghanistan… Expert quote: “Only when (Khalilzaid) strong-armed the king into throwing his support behind Karzai did the leadership contest end. The obviously forced […]

  • Afghanistan’s Big Tent Politics: TIME Explains the Loya Jirga

    November 20, 2013

    Time Thomas Barfield, College of Arts & Sciences Thousands of tribal elders from across Afghanistan will gather in Kabul on Thursday for a Loya Jirga, which is Pashto for grand council… Expert quote: “There are no losers, that’s the essence of the Loya Jirga. It’s a consensus thing. It’s not a question of two-thirds majority; […]

  • Can Taliban Founder’s Release Spark Afghan Peace?

    October 2, 2013

    Defense One Thomas Barfield, College of Arts & Sciences Now that Pakistan has released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s deputy commander and founding member speculation is growing over whether Afghanistan’s most notable militant would finally come to the negotiating table for peace talks… Expert quote: “One of the problems is we don’t know where […]

  • Deconstructing Afghanistan

    January 23, 2013

    Foreign Policy Thomas Barfield, College of Arts & Sciences After more than a decade of nation-building in Afghanistan, with at best mixed results, perhaps it is time to take an opposite tack: “deconstructing” that sad land… View article

  • The best justice money can buy

    March 27, 2012

    Boston Globe Thomas Barfield, College of Arts and Sciences Last year, I stood on a dusty road outside Kandahar Air Base, alongside an old man with a face as gnarled as his walking stick, and a little boy, who held his hand… View article

View All Stories