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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



The Human Fossil Record, Craniodental Morphology of Early Hominids and Overview by Jeffrey H Schwartz, Ian Tattersall (The Human Fossil Record: Wiley-Liss) The Human Fossil Record series is the most authoritative and comprehensive documentation of the fossil evidence relevant to the study of our evolutionary past. It fills the critical need for a complete resource that provides detailed morphological descriptions based on uniformly applied protocols, along with all new photographs taken exclusively for the series. This fourth volume covers the craniodental remains of early hominids of the genera Australopithecus, Paranthropus, Orrorin, as well as providing a concluding survey of hominid craniodental morphologies.  More

Laser Ablation-ICP-MS in Archaeological Research edited by Robert J. Speakman, Hector Neff (University of New Mexico Press) These fifteen essays explore the archaeological applications of an exciting new field of research in materials science. Since the first archaeometric uses of inductively coupled plasma (ICP) in the early 1980s, most applications have required the processing of solid samples with heat and/or strong acids. This is time consuming, expensive, and sometimes dangerous.  More

Anthropology With an Attitude: Critical Essays by Johannes Fabian (Cultural Memory in the Present: Stanford University Press) collects published and unpublished work over the last dozen years by one of today's most distinguished and provocative anthropologists. Johannes Fabian is widely known outside of his discipline because his work so often overcomes traditional scholarly boundaries to bring fresh insight to central topics in philosophy, history, and cultural studies.

This book collects published and unpublished essays written over the last dozen years by one of today's most distinguished and provocative anthropologists. Johannes Fabian's work is widely known outside of his discipline because it often overcomes traditional scholarly boundaries to bring fresh insight to central topics in philosophy, history, and cultural studies. 

The first part of Anthropology With an Attitude addresses questions of current critical concern: Does it still make sense to search for objectivity in ethnography? What do we gain when we invoke "context" in our interpretations? How does literacy change the work of the ethnographer, and what are the boundaries between ethnology and history? This part ends with a plea for recuperating negativity in our thinking about culture. 

The second part extends the work of critique into the past by examining the beginning of modern ethnography in the exploration of Central Africa during the late nineteenth century: the justification of a scientific attitude, the collecting of ethnographic objects, the presentation of knowledge in narration, and the role of recognition‑given or denied‑in encounters with Africans. A final essay examines how the Congolese have returned the "imperial gaze" of Belgium by the work of critical memory in popular his­tory. The ten chapters are framed by two meditations on the relevance of theory and the irrelevance of the millennium.

Author Summary: Critical intent, as many have observed, makes us cast our writing in the form of essays ‑"attempts," or sometimes just exercises or experiments‑which, in my experience, are the pillars that support our more ambitious book‑length projects. Together, the essays assembled here do not describe a distinctive field of knowledge, let alone constitute a "textbook"; but they may well have their use as exemplary etudes in teaching and learning the craft of anthropology.

One does not expect a book like this to cover all major topics of current debate. If readers wonder why such hot issues as modernities (the plural is important), ethnicity, and globalization don't get much attention, I can only point out that almost all of the essays are occasional pieces; they reflect the expectations of my hosts who did not think of me as an expert in these matters. Rightly so. All three themes have occupied me at various times, especially when I struggled with the concept of popular culture. None of them imposed itself as a central, organizing perspective when I attempted to present results of field research conducted between the mid‑sixties and the mid‑eighties. That may change, however, if and when I finally get around to working on my field notes and recordings made during local manifestations in the Congo of the worldwide phenomenon of Catholic charismatic renewal.

I now briefly summarize the content of each piece, beginning with the Prelude, "With So Much Critique and Reflection Around, Who Needs Theory?" Here I argue, against a background of a‑ and antitheoretical tendencies in postmodern thought, for debating the need for theory by considering not so much its "place" in marking positions and territories but its "time" in the production of knowledge.

Chapter 1, "Ethnographic Objectivity: From Rigor to Vigor," starts with reminiscences of the critical sixties. Rejecting positivist notions that prevailed at the time, I adopted a view of ethnographic objectivity that stressed its grounding in intersubjectivity and language. Then follows an attempt to understand the eclipse of the objectivity question in anthropology during the decades that followed. The chapter ends on a hopeful note: there is enough energy and imagination left in ethnography to justify our concern for objectivity. Our conceptions of what makes up the ethnographic knowledge process have broadened, and give new vigor to our questioning of the conditions that make ethnography possible.

Chapter 2, "Ethnographic Misunderstanding and the Perils of Context," begins with the observation that misunderstanding, though common enough in ethnographic practice, is seldom discussed. Also common enough has been a tendency to invoke context as a means of avoiding or repairing misunderstanding, especially in language‑centered ethnography. Three exemplary cases of misunderstanding show that context is as likely to cause misunderstanding as it is to help avoid it. Following a dialectical approach to speaking and ethnography, further work should explore the conception of misunderstanding as not-­understanding, and hence as part of a process.

Chapter 3, "Keep Listening: Ethnography and Reading," is an inquiry into reading as a subject and a mode of ethnography. Some reasons that this topic was seldom addressed until recently are explored in a sketch of historical and theoretical developments in anthropological studies of literary. This is followed by a proposal to recast the problem of literary and ethnography by paying attention to reading as part of any literary practice, including that of ethnography. This is then illustrated in a report on two projects concerned with the production and presentation of texts. Reading such texts calls for an ability on the part of the ethnographer to "listen" to them, that is, to (re‑)enact oral performances that get documented in transcriptions of recordings as well in writings informed by "grassroots literacy."

In chapter 4, "Ethnology and History," I recall how a positivist heritage came to ethnology and African history from nineteenth‑century historical methodology, especially through the work of E. Bernheim. His has been a long shadow, from which historically oriented anthropologists only began to emerge since the seventies. But relations between anthropology and history continue to be debated. As an attempt to understand the current situation, a triadic model is proposed. Not only two disciplines but three practices confront each other: academic anthropology, academic historiography, and popular historiology.

In Chapter 5, "Culture with an Attitude," the issue is negative thought as a prerequisite of both viable culture and viable concepts of culture. The argument is built on evidence of negation in popular narratology and of resistance and survival in popular culture generally, and on philosophical insights regarding negativity (such as Adorno's "negative dialectic").

Chapter 6, "Hindsight," is the earliest piece in this collection. It was chosen because it provides some humorous relief from epistemological seriousness and makes a transition to the topics of Part II.

Chapter 7, "Curios and Curiosity," recalls an episode in the exploration of Africa. A comparative reading of reports by Emil Torday and Leo Frobenius leads to interesting insights on links between objects, markets, and politics, and on the role that collecting played in the emergence of professional ethnography.

Chapter 8, "Time, Narration, and the Exploration of Central Africa," deals with temporality and narrativity. All‑pervasive representations of time characterize a discourse that is condemned (or privileged) to tell stories; they have concerned and characterized anthropology even during its most "modern," that is, purportedly "synchronic" (or achronic) and systematic phases. This chapter brings together and further explores certain observations on the treatment of time in a number of travelogues reporting on exploration in Central Africa shortly before and during the famous "scramble" for the continent.

Chapter 9, "Remembering the Other: Knowledge and Recognition," addresses the question of memory and alterity. Based again on a reading of travelogues of African exploration, the argument takes its departure from, and develops, three connotations of the term "recognition" (Erkennen, cognition; Anerkennen, acknowledgment; Wiedererkennen, remembrance), concentrating on the role of remembrance in the production of knowledge about other cultures and societies. Must we, and if so, how can we, "remember" those who are strangers to us?

Chapter 10 "Africa's Belgium," returns Europe's "imperial gaze" on Africa with examples of Congolese views of colonization gleaned from popular historiology and ethnography that show how the Congolese intellectually appropriated their former colonizers. The focus is on the construction of critical memory.

The Coda is a reflection on the political and theoretical (though perhaps not practical) irrelevance of the millennium for the future of anthropology.


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