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


see ethnology, History of Anthropology

We Are Our Language: An Ethnography of Language Revitalization in a Northern Athabascan Community (First Peoples, New Directions in Indigenous Studies) by Barbra A. Meek (University of Arizona Press)

For many communities around the world, the revitalization or at least the preservation of an indigenous language is a pressing concern. Understanding the issue involves far more than compiling simple usage statistics or documenting the grammar of a tongue it requires examining the social practices and philosophies that affect indigenous language survival.
In presenting the case of Kaska, an endangered language in an Athapascan community in the Yukon, Barbra Meek, associate professor of anthropology and linguistics at the University of Michigan, asserts that language revitalization requires more than just linguistic rehabilitation; it demands a social transformation. The process must mend rips and tears in the social fabric of the language community that result from an enduring colonial history focused on termination. These disjunctures include government policies conflicting with community goals, widely varying teaching methods and generational viewpoints, and even clashing ideologies within the language community.
We Are Our Language provides the detailed investigation of language revitalization based on more than two years of active participation in local language renewal efforts. Each chapter focuses on a different dimension, such as spelling and expertise, conversation and social status, family practices, and bureaucratic involvement in local language choices. Each situation illustrates the balance between the desire for linguistic continuity and the reality of disruption.

It is the routinization of Kaska its continual transformation in relation to ideological and social changes in the sociolinguistic environment that is the focus of We Are Our Language. As Meek explains, in chapter 1 she presents the colonizing history of Watson Lake's Kaska community, through the eras of assimilation and reconciliation, through language suppression and language revitalization, highlighting key disjunctures pertinent to the current language situation. These disjunctures include economic and political disjunctures, segregation, disjunctures of identity, and, ultimately, sociolinguistic disjunctures. This chapter also describes the presence of aboriginal languages in everyday (adult) interactions and the emerging economy of aboriginal language in the Yukon territory. Disjunctures within this emerging linguistic marketplace are explored, and what becomes clear across different moments of interaction is the specialized nature of these languages and their association with specialized roles. These are the kinds of social factors easily overlooked by language planners, which have significant effects on the sociolinguistic field and contribute to language shift.

Chapter 2 of We Are Our Language details the theoretical framework of sociolinguistic disjuncture and the challenges of disjuncture for endangered languages and the pursuit of language revitalization. The chapter begins by discussing the various factors used to determine the vitality of an endangered language and appropriate measures for reversing shift. It then highlights the remaining conundrums affecting language revitalization and turns to linguistic anthropology for an answer. Research on language shift, language socialization, and language ideology in particular complicates our purview of endangerment and revitalization, providing arguments for a more socially grounded approach to language revitalization. This approach is then theorized through the concept of sociolinguistic disjuncture, that is, the moments of discontinuity between practices, between ideologies, within and across these social domains.

Chapter 3 carries along this theoretical trajectory, focusing on interactions with children and other Kaska language learners. To reveal the sociolinguistic disjunctures across these interactions, comparisons are made between institutionalized educational contexts and family settings. This shows that while some children are acquiring an indigenous language passively at home, the institutionalization of the language erases the grammatical and communicative diversity of these family interactions. Another way in which disjuncture emerges is through interlocutors' limits of awareness. Currently, most Dene children's experience with socially occurring, spoken Kaska comes from the home and other family settings, mainly provided by their grandparents. However, they also attend Kaska language classes at the local elementary school. In such institutional settings they experience Kaska in a very different way. Educators often present the language as an object of learning, as an artifact. Students learn lists of nouns, token expressions, and decontextualized scraps of cultural knowledge that serve only to fetishize the language. In the end, such educational events often interrupt, dislocate, or work against the goals of language revitalization by teaching children that their language is no longer a valid form of communication, even though their grandparents still converse in Kaska at home. Whether intentional or not, patterns of language use in the home, at school, and elsewhere have socializing consequences such that linguistic practices across different contexts can be contradictory or in conflict.

Another way in which language efforts can be at odds with the goals of revitalization is in the construction of language materials. Chapter 4 of We Are Our Language describes the ways in which indigenous languages are manufactured, by both experts (researchers, linguists, educators) and indigenous communities. Such experts are often concerned with documenting the grammatical knowledge of speakers before this knowledge is lost, along with the diversity it represents. They are also concerned with sharing these documents with the relevant communities. What many of these experts have not attended to are the ways in which they represent the indigenous language. Documentation also raises the question, By whom is literacy highly valued? And for those who value literacy, which materials are they using, and when are they using them? While many communities support the production of some kind of indigenous language media, they do not all agree on the kind of media used, nor do they all have access to these media and their linguistic content. So, why do indigenous communities participate in language revitalization at all, given the disparities between practice and plan?

The concern over production extends beyond the reversing of language shift; it is about asserting an aboriginal heritage and claiming the political power that comes with the recognition of this heritage by others. Chapter 5 of We Are Our Language focuses on the role of aboriginal language in government, noneducational institutions and other nation-building ventures, analyzing how aboriginal languages are represented across different programs and bureaucracies. For example, within bureaucratic rhetoric the commodification of language is downplayed in favor of depicting language as a feature of identity rather than an issue of property. In the Yukon this has resulted in disjuncture.

The final chapter of We Are Our Language links Meeks findings about disjuncture to broader theoretical and applied concerns. By approaching language revitalization as a sociolinguistic process, the multivalent ways in which endangered languages are being performed, entextualized, and imagined emerge. Meek focuses on the different interactional moments and linguistic experiences that mediate and are mediated by these reconfigurings and lead to disjuncture. It is in moments of breakdown between and across theories and practices that the sociolinguistic field is reconfigured and the course of language shift (re)directed, but also when opportunities for negotiating and containing disjuncture exist.

This is an important book. Anyone involved in language revitalization would gain a lot by reading it. Original, informative, and well written. Leanne Hinton, co-author of How to Keep Your Language Alive: A Commonsense Approach to One-on-One Language Learning

We Are Our Language reveals the subtle ways in which different conceptions and practices historical, material, and interactional can variably affect the state of an indigenous language, and it offers a critical step toward redefining success and achieving revitalization.

Human Institutions: A Theory of Societal Evolution by Jonathan H. Turner (Rowman & Littlefield) outlines the evolution of human institutions, with particular emphasis on their dynamic interchanges, expanding coverage in light of more recent literatures and with more attention to institutional interchanges. In Human Institutions Turner integrates these descriptions of human social institutions with a theory of macrodynamic processes. He argues that the original core human social institutions-economy, kinship, religion, polity, law, and education-are the outcome of macrolevel forces that have generated selection pressures on human populations; and out of people's efforts to meet these pressures, they have successively created kinship, economy, religion, polity, law, and education. The forces driving the formation of these institutions are population, production, reproduction, regulation, and distribution. Turner sees these as "forces" because they push individual and collective actors to organize in certain ways. These social forces thus explain how and why the social universe at the macro level of social organization reveals particular kinds of institutional systems.

Other forces drive the formation of the meso and micro levels of social reality, and so that each level of human social organization reveals its own distinctive forces causing the formation of structures unique to the micro, meso, and macro domains of the social universe. To be sure, meso structures are composed of micro encounters; and institutions are constructed from the corporate and categoric units of the meso level. Still, we cannot explain the macro level of social organization by those forces generating structures at the meso and micro levels of reality. Macro reality-that is, the universe of social institutions-requires explanation by forces operating primarily at this level.

The first two chapters of Human Institutions explains Turners theoretical position and enumerates the abstract laws of population, production, reproduction, regulation, and distribution. In developing these laws, Turner attempts to obviate problems of traditional functional analysis by viewing each force as a variable-that is, as a property of the social universe that varies by degree-rather than as a functional need or requisite. Variations in the valance of each force are, to some extent, explained by the other forces but also by additional properties of social organization. The relationships among these properties can be expressed in formal propositions that, Turner maintains, explain why and how institutions formed and, later, differentiated. Turner then defines the elements of each core institution and enumerates the selection pressures that have pushed humans to create various institutional systems. After which he examines the selection pressures generated by macrodynamic forces at four basic stages of human evolution: hunting and gathering, horticulture, agrarian, and industrial/post-industrial. Turner concludes by exploring the interchanges among institutional systems as they have become increasingly differentiated from each other during societal social evolution.

In sum, Human Institutions provides new conceptual and theoretical insights into the process of human social evolution over the last twenty thousand years. The materials are not new, but the way of analyzing them is. Indeed,  Turner attempts to revive "the Old Institutionalism" (i.e.., functionalism) because "the New Institutionalism" is more about mesolevel processes than macrodynamics. Sociology needs an analysis of institutions, per se, rather than a view of institutions as merely "environments" for organizations. The oldstyle functionalists were essentially correct in viewing long-term evolution as revolving around the differentiation of institutions. Unfortunately, their mode of analysis was flawed because they did not explain the forces driving the formation of institutional systems. In these pages, Turner tries to overcome this problem and, thereby, provide a theoretical explanation of why humans created the institutional core over the history of human evolution.

Human by Robert Winston, Don E. Wilson (DK Smithsonian Institution: DK Publishing Inc) A highly comprehensive and illustrated account of what makes us what we are: how we evolved, how our bodies work and develop, and how we think and behave, this unbelievable reference examines the qualities all humans share but also highlights the diversity of human society and culture. Profiling more than 250 peoples who inhabit the world and examining fascinating facts - from environmental and health issues to beliefs and customs - Human is the definitive illustrated guide to our species.

All-encompassing in scope and outstanding in the wealth of knowledge it provides, Human is the definitive visual guide to understanding who we are. No other book considers all aspects of our existence in such detail and depth, and with such authority. A team of expert writers and consultants led by author and broadcaster Robert Winston tells the complete story of our remarkable species.

This book is divided into seven main sections plus a main introduction and a section on the future. Each of these seven sections is represented on the right. The first section, Origins, introduces human evolution and history. Next are sections on Body and Mind, which are followed by Life Cycle, the story of human life from birth to death. There are also sections on Society, Culture (including belief and language), and on Peoples around the world.

Human is a panoramic exploration of our livesfrom the intricate workings of our bodies and the stages of life we all experience to the extraordinary power of our minds. Dramatic illustrations provide an astonishing insight into how the body works and help to explain how science is finally unravelling the mind's mysteries.

Robert Winston and his team examine the way we behave both as individuals and as members of complex societies, revealing the spectacular variety of human culture as expressed by our customs and rituals, art and beliefs, language and technology.

Fascinating and colorful profiles of more than 250 peoples across the globe, from North America to the Far East, reveal the immense diversity of our existence and offer a unique guide to how people live, work, dress, and express their identity.

Concluding with a thought-provoking look at what the future holds for us, Human is an unforgettable insight into every aspect of our incredible life.

The book begins with an introduction to humans as a species. The gulf between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom seems vast. Yet, from a biological viewpoint, the difference is quite small. This introduction  examines the features we share with animals and those that make us uniquely human, such as our large brains and capacity for language.

Based on what we are currently able to achieve, the section on the Future realistically examines human prospects for the next 50100 years. It addresses such issues as potential new medical technology, increased longevity, the limits of the human mind, and the changes we may see in societies.

Throughout the book, five types of thematic panels appear, highlighting topics of special interest. These color coded panels are headed Fact, Health, History, Issue, or Profile. Fact panels include intriguing facts on subjects such as Tibetan "sky burials." Health panels describe disorders or aspects of lifestyle that can affect our health History panels give a perspective on subjects such as ancient calendar systems. Profile panels include brief biographies of influential individuals such as Chinese poet Li Bo. Issue panels discuss some of the dilemmas we face in the 21st century.

Evolution of Human Societies: From Foraging Group to Agrarian State by Allen W. Johnson, Timothy Earle (Stanford University Press) (PAPERBACK) Written from a materialist perspective, the authors have developed an elegant thesis for explaining the "causes, mechanisms, and patterns of cultural evolution. " This book has become a standard in many anthropology classes.

Excerpt: Our purpose in this book is to describe and explain the evolution of human societies. Some societies are of small scale and flexible; others are large and highly structured; and still others fall in between those extremes. A central question of anthropology is how to understand the variability in human societies across space and time. But can the historical processes of human social evolution be explained? In some sense each society is unique, a product of its own history in a distinct environment, with its own characteristic technologies, economies, and cultural values. Yet this cultural relativism‑anthropology's effort to recognize and respect cultural integrity‑must coexist in a dynamic tension with the effort to identify and explain cross‑cultural patterns in the development and operation of human societies.

Our emphasis here is on the causes, mechanisms, and patterns of social evolution, which, despite taking many divergent paths, is explainable in terms of a coherent theory. As teachers of cross‑cultural economics and as field anthropologists‑one author being an ethnographer, the other an archaeologist‑we have sought a theoretical framework to help make sense both of the long‑term prehistoric cultural sequences now available to us and of the diversity of present‑day societies.

The Khoisan foragers of southern Africa produce abundant food with a few hours' work per day‑are they the "original affluent society? The Yanomamo of South America fight one another with peculiar ferocity‑is this the unrestrained expression of innate human aggressiveness? 1n the striking North American Potlatch and Melanesian kula ring, "men of renown" publicly compete to gain prestige at others' expense‑is this the human hunger for fame in a primitive manifestation? These comparative questions are of interest, alike to the anthropologist, economist, geographer, historian, political scientist, and sociologist, for they are ultimately questions about human nature‑the common heritage of humankind as a species‑and its expression in diverse environments, mediated by diverse cultural traditions. In this book we provide a systematic theoretical approach for answering these and similar questions in a broad, cross-cultural frame of reference.

Our theory pays particular attention to the causes and consequences of population growth. Although we will see that its precise role is hotly contested, population growth is undeniably central to the process of sociocultural evolution, because of its clear consequences for how people meet their basic needs. In any environment, population growth creates problems in technology, the social organization of production, and political regulation that must be solved. We will show how the solutions to these problems bring about the changes we know as sociocultural evolution.

Seeing Anthropology: Cultural Anthropology through Film by Karl G. Heider (Allyn and Bacon) This is the only book/video package for cultural anthropology!  It is also a superb resource for learning visually what anthropologists look for. Seeing Anthropology truly incorporates films within the text. This unique package allows the reader to view the films in class or at home. Each copy of the book is packaged with a one-hour videotape including clips from fifteen classic ethnographic films. One reviewer says, "The greatest strength [is] its unique and skillful use of film clips to enhance learning ... I can think of no better way to extend learning in anthropology than the use of films, and there is no one more qualified to select and present anthropological films than the author of this book."

A Laboratory for Anthropology: Science and Romanticism in the American Southwest, 1846-1930 by Don D. Fowler (University of New Mexico Press) This sweeping history tells the story of an idea, “The Southwest,” through the development of American anthropology and archaeology. For eighty years, anthropology more than any other discipline described the people, culture, and land of the American Southwest to cultural tastemakers and consumers on the East Coast. The author uses biographical vignettes to recreate the men and women who pioneered American anthropology and archaeology in the Southwest and explore institutions such as the Smithsonian, University of Pennsylvania Museum, School of American Research, and American Museum of Natural History that influenced southwestern research agenda, published results, and exhibited artifacts. Equally influential were the “Yearners”--novelists, poets, painters, photographers, and others--such as Alice Corbin, Oliver La Farge, Mabel Dodge Luhan, and Laura Adams Armer whose literature and art incorporated southwestern ethnography, sought the essence of the Indian and Hispano world, and substantially shaped the cultural impression of “The Southwest” to the American public. Fowler brings this important cultural history to a close on the Eve of the New Deal, which dramatically restructured the practice of archeology and anthropology in the United States. A Laboratory for Anthropology provides an important historical window on the development of images of southwestern Amerindian culture.

Schooling the Symbolic Animal: Social and Cultural Dimensions of Education edited by Bradley A. Levinson, Kathryn M. Borman, Margaret Eisenhart, and Margaret Sutton (Rowman & Littlefield) is the definitive collection exploring the social and cultural foundations of education in premodern, modern and 'global' societies." -Hugh Mehan, University of California, San Diego

"Extraordinarily stimulating and refreshing with its unique feature of bringing giants in  the fields of educational anthropology and sociology to dialogue with our contemporary scholars on issues that transcend time, disciplines, and national boundaries,, This book offers one of the best introductions to the contributions of social science to the study of education."  -Henry T. Trueba, University of Texas, Austin

"Nicely balances classics, many judiciously trimmed, with well-chosen new pieces.... It promises no easy fixes for educational problems just a way of seeing that can change everything students used to think about learning and schooling." -Kathryn Anderson- Levitt, University of Michigan

"Beginning and advanced students alike will find much to learn from this rich and stimulating collection of essays. Written by many of the most articulate and visible scholars in the field, the twenty-four essays and five thematic chapters in Schooling the Symbolic Animal are testament to the vigor, diversity, and critical thinking of anthropological and sociological thought on education." -Amy Stambach, author of Lessons from Mount Kilimanjaro: Schooling, Community; and Gender in East, Africa


The question I pose here interrogates the evolution of humankind: How are we unfolding, and what form will our individual capacities and our global society eventually take? Education, of course, provides an important key to the answer, and the fields comprising the interpretive social sciences provide important intellectual resources for understanding and improving education. This reader presents some of the very best work produced by the interpretive social sciences on the social and cultural foundations of education. My aim is to provide teachers and students with the basic conceptual tools to understand a variety of socio-cultural dynamics that shape the educational process in its many dimensions. Such socio-cultural understanding is especially crucial for designing educational experiences-forging "tools for conviviality," in Ivan Illich’s rich phrase-worthy of the multicultural societies of the present and future. Therefore, this book aims to compose one small part of the answer to the question: Whither the symbolic animal?

By referring to human beings as the "symbolic animal," I call attention to the evolutionary dimension of human existence, the broad historical development of human communication and reproduction. As animals, we share an important biological legacy and an equally important ecological fate with the rest of the organic world. The evolutionary design of our bodies provides the most basic parameters for how we can and ought to be educated. Yet along with our physical shape, deeply rooted patterns of social exchange and community life evolved with the species as well. Clever but physically defenseless, early humans required complex forms of social coordination and tool use to survive. Language and culture thus emerged as distinctive adaptive traits in early human social cooperation. Eventually, the human mind became part and parcel of this unique socio-cultural adaptation-a way of perceiving and thinking that relies on manipulating symbols to interpret and thus communicate about the world.

 Conventionally, a symbol is defined as any tangible thing (a tree, a cloth, even the sound wave constituting a spoken word) that stands for, or signifies, something else. Human beings are above all great symbol makers and manipulators. As Bruner puts it any human culture "seems to be a shared network of communal `standings for'." We are perhaps the only species to regularly use symbols to understand and act upon the world, and we are probably the only species to systematically transmit the rules of symbol use to succeeding generations. And of course, unlike most other animals, we cannot rely on instinct alone to survive in the world. We must learn, or acquire the way of creating and using symbols. That is indeed the heart of education.'

The process of education thus can be construed broadly as humanity's unique methods of acquiring, transmitting, and producing knowledge for interpreting and acting upon the world. In the broadest sense, education underlies every human group's ability to adapt to its environment. Effective education allows a group to continually adapt and thereby reproduce the conditions of its existence. Yet amidst this group imperative, individuals develop their own educational repertoire from the cultural resources at their disposal. Through their creative practice, both constrained and enabled by the structures of social life, individuals may alter the very pattern and substance of "social reproduction". In this sense, education is often a balancing act between group interests and individual concerns.

In recent years, with the political and ecological fate of humanity growing ever more precarious, the social reproduction of any particular group and the self-expression of any particular individual must now be pursued under a global horizon. We are necessarily interconnected across vast reaches of time and space, and our species now requires an education that cultivates a vibrant sense of this interconnectedness. It is clear as we cross into the new millennium that education will play a crucial role in the global transformation of consciousness and identity necessary to sustain the human endeavor on Earth. In order to achieve a proper balance with the natural environment, in order to develop sane and life-affirming uses for new technologies, and-perhaps most important-in order to create a global order respectful of human difference and nurturing of compassionate sensibilities, we need an education that reflects and accommodates the multifaceted cultural basis of human activity. In short, we must find new ways to nourish the symbolic animal.

Such nourishment necessarily goes hand in hand with continuous inquiry and investigation, for how can we feed an animal whose behavior we hardly understand? The various fields of interpretive social science are ideally suited to researching how and why humans act the way they do. We might distinguish this interpretive approach from a conception of social science that is oriented toward explaining and ultimately predicting human behavior. Such "positivist" or "empiricist" research usually follows the assumptions and methods of the natural sciences. For many decades now, most of the social sciences have been characterized by a split between those who conduct positivist research and those who take a more interpretive approach. Most of the authors whose work we present m this book belong to the interpretive branch of anthropology, though some were trained primarily as philosophers, sociologists, historians, psychologists, or linguists. What they share is a concern to understand education as a situated human activity embedded in the flow of everyday social life, and therefore necessarily intertwined with political, economic, and cultural dimensions of society. With few exceptions, they draw on sustained analysis of this human activity; typically through the anthropological research method of participant-observation and interviewing called ethnography. Ethnography refers to the process of documenting the lifeways of a social group (the written product of this research is also called ethnography). In this type of research, ethnographers tend to immerse themselves in a community or institution for long periods of time. They participate in the life of that community or institution, attempting to interpret patterns of behavior and eventually to understand the "native's point of view".

Anthropologists are perhaps uniquely qualified to study the symbolic animal. Some of you may have seen an anthropologist on television digging for fossil remains of the earliest humans, or reconstructing the temples of a great city long since fallen into ruins. What does this have to do with education, you may ask? Actually, few people know that most anthropologists study neither fossils nor ruins. Called social or cultural anthropologists, they study contemporary living societies and cultures. Yet in studying these societies, anthropologists never lose sight of the past or of the great diversity of societies still in existence. In other words, anthropology is inherently historical and comparative. The writings in this volume examine education as a historically and contextually specific process, in the United States and elsewhere; taken together, the authors compare education within and across societies and cultures. Moreover, in their studies of contemporary societies, most anthropologists have a great deal to say about educational processes, especially in the formation of cultural identity and social competence (Levinson 1999). Some of these societies have no formal schools, but their educational traditions are nevertheless rich and compelling. Margaret Mead, perhaps the most famous anthropologist of this century, studied how children grew up in South Pacific island societies like Samoa and Manau. In the 1920s and 1930s, schools were hardly a part of these children's lives, but Mead (1964) compared their education to that conducted in U.S. schools, families, and communities (see section I).

Great debates have raged in the social sciences over how to define "society" and "culture," and my aim is not to resolve those debates here. Indeed, a discussion about society and culture runs through many of the articles in this volume. Provisionally, I use the term "society" to refer to an assemblage of interrelated human beings, "an aggregate of people who recurrently interact with one another". A society exists when a collection of human beings has identifiable and recognizable links with one another, and interacts in patterned ways. In that sense, it is true, we can today speak of a "global society," since virtually all human beings are now interlinked through the flow of information and commerce. Still, we can analytically distinguish between such a global society and various other levels of human interrelatedness, such as national society, regional society, urban society, and neighborhood society-even the societies composing institutions, such as schools, churches, and businesses.

Now, social scientists and ordinary citizens alike tend to use the term "culture" to refer to many of these same societal units: we talk casually about French culture, New York culture, Catholic culture, even the culture of, say, IBM. Yet this is simply a more colloquial meaning that has developed in contemporary English usage. In this book, I prefer to use "culture" in its ideational sense, referring broadly to shared values, beliefs, and codes-those "historically created designs for living"'. To speak of "culture" is thus to denote the symbolic meanings expressed through language, dress, and other means, by which people in a society attempt to communicate with and understand themselves, each other, and the world around them. Anthropologists and sociologists have described culture in a number of different ways, including as publicly observable symbols, shared knowledge, or cognitive models. In one of my favorite formulations, sociologist Charles Lemert calls culture the "code of practical instructions whereby members are given permission to talk meaningfully about some things while ignoring others." Many social scientists now agree that culture is also a form of practice informed by symbolic knowledge stored in the brain; that is, culture is what people do in everyday life, informed by implicit and shared knowledge. Through practice, people both draw upon and produce symbolic meanings. There are several examples of such a practice approach to culture sprinkled throughout this book

To sum up: With some risk to the nuances contained in the terms, you can think of "society" as a collection of interrelated persons; "culture" is the meaning system, the communicative "stuff' that enables those persons to make sense of one another. We each learn about how society works through culture, which is communicated through educational processes. The framing essays by Bradley A. U. Levinson and Margaret Eisenhart in the first and final sections explore discussions about society, culture, and education in greater depth.

One of the ongoing puzzles for interpretive social scientists concerns the degree of fit and overlap between different societies and their cultural meaning systems. Anthropologists are in large part responsible for the popular perception that the world is divided up into distinct "cultures." This is what Eric Wolf has called the "billiard ball" conception of the world, the image of separate and bounded units bouncing off one another--Japanese and Korean, Igbo and Yomban, Latino and African American. Yet for some time now, anthropologists above all have recognized that culture should not be identified exclusively with discrete national or ethnic groups. Yes, it is of some value to identify the common meanings, the "Japanese culture," that people in Japanese society use to understand one another. Yet we might just as well identify the meanings that a middle-class Japanese department store manager shares with a middle-class Argentine department store manager. Would we say these two share a "culture"? As the world becomes increasingly complex, we must be careful not to assume that the members of a given "society" all have shared meanings. Some of their meanings may overlap, and others may not . By the same token, those occupying similar occupational or status positions in widely separated societies-like Argentina and Japan-might in fact share a kind of cultural understanding.

Increasingly, anthropologists analyze the multiple and shifting identities of people, the ability of individuals to "organize" culture for themselves and carve out a unique stock of cultural knowledge. Microcultures or subcultures formed by crosscutting interests and positions within conventionally defined cultures are important to understand, as is the process by which identities and cultural meanings are constantly produced, rather than statically and uniformly.

Why is this book titled Schooling the Symbolic Animal, why do the authors refer to the present period of history as "modernity," and why do we still appear to foreground the modem school if we wish to encourage a broader view of education? After all, the school is typically an age-graded, hierarchical setting, an institution where "learners learn vicariously, in roles and environment defined as distinct from those in which the learning will eventually be applied". Anthropology has the great advantage of studying societies that may preserve forms of social organization and communication characteristic of premodern human life (i.e., before approximately 1800). "Primitive" or "tribal" societies have always maintained complex and deliberate educational traditions, though usually not in separate institutions like those we call schools (Reagan 1996). In such societies, educational processes are typically a seamless part of everyday life. Yet since the beginnings of the modern period some two hundred years ago-a period characterized by the rise of capitalism, an extensive new division of labor, and the rapid development of new communication and transportation technologies-much of human learning has taken place increasingly within the confines of schools. Especially since the Second World War and the great wave of decolonization-in fact as part of the package of "development" that northern societies encouraged upon the former colonial world-schools have become the most dominant and pervasive institutional format for learning. Throughout the world, schools have come to form part of our common sense, the normal way of "growing up modem."

MEMA’S HOUSE MEXICO CITY: On Transvestites, Queens, and Machos by Annick Prieur ($16.95, paper, University of Chicago Press; 308 pages, 15 black & white photos) HARDCOVER

MEMA’S HOUSE MEXICO CITY is an intimate account of Prieur’s days and nights at a house where young homosexual boys stop by every evening to chat, flirt, listen to music, smoke marijuana, and maybe have sex. Since most of them live with their parents, Mema’s house is a sanctuary where these boys meet to do all that can’t easily be done at home. The youngest ones come here to try out the homosexual life. Mema the leader of this gang sets the rules for the house and also maintains good relations with neighbors and the larger community.

Mema opened his small house in barrio Nezahualcoyotl, a former squatter community on the outskirts of Mexico City, to the surprisingly large number of young effeminate men in the area and to Norwegian sociologist Prieur, whom he had met at an AIDS conference Prieur spent six months, on and off, literally sharing a bed with Mema while his other guests slept on the floor. Her aim was to find out why these men live their lives ‘as feminine men in a society where masculinity really counts, where it is of the utmost social importance.’ Much of what Prieur finds out is pretty grim: Many of these men earn their livings as prostitutes, while the families who live off their earnings despise them. People in the neighborhood enjoy their banter but would not help if one of the vestidas were attacked. They steal, take drugs, and are the perpetrators and victims of frequent violence. Prieur gets so wrapped up in this world that she comes to understand how ‘selling sex could be a way to gain independence, taking drugs a way to get some entertainment, stealing a way to win self-respect, that violence is just the order of things and that sexual experience is the meaning of life’ .This is a sociological study, but the people in it are both so poignant and infuriating that they make MEMA’S HOUSE MEXICO CITY a fascinating read. Strategy and candor, violence and tenderness, pain and pleasure, convention and innovation, marginality and respectability. in this bold and moving ethnography, Annick Prieur shows how these and other dualities enter into the manufacturing of homosexual practices and meanings among poor Mexicans. MEMA’S HOUSE MEXICO CITY is an original contribution to our understanding, not only of working-class identity and sexuality in Mexico City, but of the social fabrication and unruly creativity of human desire in its broadest expression.

After her first night at Mema’s house, Prieur recounts the following: "I had seen men dressing like women, and transforming their bodies to resemble women’s bodies, and I wondered about their most basic motives. I had seen them get into relationships with masculine looking men who did not consider themselves homosexual.… I had come to understand that many transvestites were prostitutes, that several of them were hairdressers for a local clientele, that most of them lived with their families, and that they participated quite naturally at a disco attended by local youth. All this surprised me. I had imagined transvestite prostitutes would have a more shady existence, in the back streets of the city."

Prieur analyzes the complicated and often violent relationships between the effeminate homosexuals, most of them transvestites, and their partners, masculine looking bisexual men. She examines why these particular gender constructions exist in the Mexican working classes, especially in such an extremely male dominated society, and discusses the limits of what can be understood in sociological concepts when the performance of gender collapses as it is forced to confront the reality of biology.

An extraordinary, firsthand account of the dangers and joys surrounding the group that frequents Mema’s house, this book tells a unique and vivid story of a hitherto unfamiliar culture and lifestyle.

Based on extraordinary fieldwork, Annick Prieur makes an exceptional contribution to our knowledge about particular as well as ordinary forms of sexuality. Expertly weaving empirical research with theory, Prieur presents new analytical angles on a number of central debates in sociology: family, class, domination, the role of the body, and the production of differences among men.

Introduction: The First Night
1. The Setting and the Approach
2. Everyday Life of a Jota
3. Little Boys in Mother's Wardrobe: On the Origins of Homosexuality
and Effeminacy
4. Stealing Femininity: On Bodily and Symbolic Constructions
5. Machos and Mayates: Masculinity and Bisexuality
6. On Love, Domination, and Penetration
Concluding Notes

PSYCHOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGY RECONSIDERED:by John M. Ingham ($54.95, hardcover, 308 pages, notes, bibliography, index, Publications of the Society for Psychological Anthropology, 8, Cambridge University Press,



John M. Ingham reviews recent developments in psychological anthropology and argues for an inclusive approach that finds room for psychoanalytical, dialogical, and social perspectives on personality and culture. The argument is developed with special reference to human nature, child development, personality, and mental disorder, and it draws on studies set m many different cultures. He also shows the relevance of some recent work m psychoanalysis and child development to current concerns in anthropology with agency and rhetoric.


by Paul Rabinow

Princeton Studies in Culture/Power/History

Princeton University Press

190 pages, notes, references, index

$49.50, cloth, 0-691-01159-1

$14.95, paper, 0-691-01158-3

This collection of essays explains and encourages new reflection on Paul Rabinow’s pioneering project to anthropologize the West. His goal is to exoticize the Western constitution of reality, emphasize those domains most taken for granted as universal, and show how their claims to truth are linked to particular social practices, hence becoming effective social forces. He has recently begun to focus on the core or Western rationality, in particular the practices of molecular biology as they apply to our understanding of human nature. This book moves in new directions by posing questions about how scientific practice can be understood in terms of ethics as well as in terms of power.

The topics include how French socialist urban planning in the 1930s engineered the transition from city planning to life planning; how the discursive and nondiscursive practices of the Human Genome Project and biotechnology have refigured life, labor, and language; and how a debate over patenting cell lines and over the dignity of life required secular courts to invoke medieval notions of the sacred. Building on an ethnographic study of the invention of the polymerase chain reaction— which enables the rapid production of specific sequences of DNA in millions of copies—Rabinow, in the final essay, reflects in dialogue with biochemist Tom White on the place of science in modernity, on science as a vocation, and on the differences between the human and natural sciences.

Paul Rabinow is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Among his most recent books are Making PCR: A Story of Biotechnology and French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment, both published by the University of Chicago Press.


Southern Anthropological Society Proceedings, No 29

edited by Alvin W. Wolfe and Honggang Yang

University of Georgia Press

$20.00, paper, 153 pages, references



Anthropological Contributions to Conflict Resolution consists of ten essays that make vividly apparent the variety of ways that anthropological approaches and perspectives can be of practical worth in the resolution of conflicts. These essays represent various subdisciplines in anthropology, Including legal and political anthropology, economic anthropology, cross-cultural studies, interpretive approaches, and social network approaches.

Conflicts and potential conflicts at many levels are the subjects of the essays. One contributor uses an ethnographic account of Sikh separatists in Punjab, India, to explore fighting resulting from the intertwining of religion and politics. Another essay discusses the role that anthropology played In conceptualizing the legal reforms on an island in the remote western Pacific in relation to the recent emergence of alternative dispute resolution Conflicts over the commons in an American suburb are examined as are harmony ideology and adversarial ideology as they are used for both freedom and control at a manufacturing plant. The introductory essay includes a discussion of network models in regard to conflict resolution and the epilogue cites an agenda for applied research in the area.


Since it is lacking or insufficiently emphasized both in the papers presented in the symposium and in those selected for publication in these proceedings, I feel a responsibility to express here in this introductory essay some of my views on the use of network models in regard to conflict. After a long history as a social metaphor, network has become the subject of formal theory development and methodological elaboration. Increased public awareness of network concepts creates a demand for their application to the solution of human problems and network studies have now developed to the point where network scholars can respond to that demand. Network analysis helps us to understand social processes in complex systems and it can help us specifically to locate potential conflicts, provide early warning of barriers to communication and of developing bottlenecks in resource allocation. Examples of the application of a network model to conflicts and disputes include one as early as 1969, Bruce Kapferer’s analysis of a dispute that arose among workers in a mining operation in Zambia, "Norms and Manipulation of Relationships in a Work Context," where he found that the way an initial dispute between two persons is defined and the way it develops are much influenced by the multiplex ties the original disputants have with others and the ties of those others with one another. Kapferer’s data were reanalyzed by Patrick Doreian on two later occasions, first showing how certain tools of matrix algebra made it possible to demonstrate how the connectivity properties of the network were important for understanding the social mobilization that took place (1974) and, in 1981, showing how a new kind of analysis (Q-analysis) can go beyond direct connectivity to identify structural conditions, described in terms of "backcloth" that either permits or prohibits "traffic" which quite strictly affects the mobilization of support by disputants. Another relatively simple, elegant example of the application of a network model to understanding conflict is Wayne Zachary’s study, "An Information Flow Model of Conflict and Fission in Small Groups" (1977). Zachary found he could have predicted quite precisely which side of a developing dispute some forty members of a network would fall on simply by knowing a little about their previous relationships with one another.

Network analysis begins by conceptualizing all social situations in terms of nodes and their connections, persons and relationships, groups and relationships. From this perspective, all systems are networks, but networks have varying characteristics, and that variation is all-important. Some networks, such as the typical bureaucracy, are highly centralized. Other networks, sets of friends, or sets of linked organizations have lower indices of centralization. In fact, scholars who have worked on these problems intensively through application of mathematical principles from graph theory have shown conclusively that there are several quite distinct forms of centrality that can have quite different consequences. These different kinds of centrality are highly relevant to problems of conflict and resolution, for they relate directly to power and autonomy. One distinction is between closeness centrality and betweenness centrality. Not only can any given network or system be characterized as exhibiting specified degrees of closeness or betweenness but also the analyst can specify an index of closeness centrality and an index of betweenness centrality for each individual node in the network. For individual nodes, high closeness centrality implies autonomy, independence from control by others. Betweenness centrality, on the other hand, implies power, potential for control of others. With such implications, it is clear that these formal network characteristics, which can apply to all kinds of organizations, are crucial to management, administration, and the resolution of conflict. It should be well worth the added analytical effort to be able to specify indices of dependence, autonomy, and power among persons, offices, or organizations within any system.

In addition to centrality measures, network models permit us to measure the degree to which clustering is exhibited in any system of relationships. I do not know of any other kind of analysis that can so effectively determine whether portions of a total system are, or are becoming, relatively isolated from the rest. What could be more important for a program of conflict prevention or a program of conflict resolution?

Alvin W. Wolfe is Distinguished Service Professor at the University of South Florida, where he is Director of the Center for Applied Anthropology. Honggang Yang is on the faculty of the Master of Arts Program in Conflict Resolution of the McGregor School of Antioch University.


Boundaries and Grounds of a Field Science

by Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson

University of California Press

$16.95, paper, 275 pages, notes, bibliography, index



Fieldwork has long been the benchmark of the anthropological sciences. This collection of essays examines postmodern research presuppositions now that culture has become ubiquitous. A must read for all practicing anthropologists.


The practice of fieldwork, together with its associated genre, ethnography, has perhaps never been as central to the discipline of anthropology as it is today, in terms of both intellectual principles and professional practices. Intellectually, ethnography has long ceased to be conceived of as "mere description," raw material for a natural science of human behavior. Whether via the literary turn (from "thick description" to "writing culture") or the historic one (political economy and the turn to regional social history), mainstream social/cultural anthropology as practiced in leading departments in the United States and the United Kingdoms has come to view ethnographic explication as a worthy and sufficient intellectual project in its own right. Indeed, it is striking that the generalist and comparativist theorists who dominated anthropology at midcentury (e.g., Radcliffe-Brown, Leslie White, and George Murdock) seem in the process of being mnemonically pruned from the anthropological family tree, while the work of those remembered as great fieldworkers (Malinowski, Boas, Evans-Pritchard, Leenhardt, etc.) continues to be much more widely discussed.

In terms of professional socialization and training, too, ethnographic fieldwork is at the core of what Stocking has called anthropology’s fundamental "methodological values"—"the taken-for-granted, pretheoretical notions of what it is to do anthropology (and to be an anthropologist)" .As all graduate students in social/cultural anthropology know, it is fieldwork that makes one a "real anthropologist," and truly anthropological knowledge is widely understood to be "based" (as we say) on fieldwork. Indeed, we would suggest that the single most significant factor determining whether a piece of research will be accepted as (that magical word) "anthropological" is the extent to which it depends on experience "in the field."

Yet this idea of "the field," although central to our intellectual and professional identities, remains a largely unexamined one in contemporary anthropology. The concept of culture has been vigorously critiqued and dissected in recent years; ethnography a genre of writing has been made visible and critically analyzed; the dialogic encounters that constitute fieldwork experience have been explored; even the peculiar textual genre of fieldnotes has been subjected to reflection and analysis. But what of "the field" itself, the place where the distinctive work of "fieldwork" may be done, that taken-for-granted space in which an "Other" culture or society lies waiting to be observed and written? This mysterious space—not the "what" of anthropology but the "where"—has been left to common sense, beyond and below the threshold of reflexivity.

It is astonishing, but true, that most leading departments of anthropology in the United States provide no formal (and very little informal) training in fieldwork methods—as few as 20 percent of departments, according to one survey. It is also true that most anthropological training programs provide little guidance in, and almost no critical reflection on, the selection of fieldwork sites and the considerations that deem some places but not others as suitable for the role of "the field." It is as if the mystique of fieldwork were too great in anthropology for the profession even to permit such obvious and practical issues to be seriously discussed, let alone to allow the idea of "the field" itself to be subjected to scrutiny and reflection.

In turning a critical eye to such questions, our aim is not to breach what amounts to a collectively sanctioned silence simply for the pleasure of upsetting traditions. Rather, our effort to open up this subject is motivated by two specific imperatives.

The first imperative follows from the way the idea of "the field" functions in the micropolitical academic practices through which anthropological work is distinguished from work in related disciplines such as history, sociology, political science, literature and literary criticism, religious studies, and (especially) cultural studies. The difference between anthropology and these other disciplines, it would be widely agreed, lies less in the topics studied (which, after all, overlap substantially) than in the distinctive method anthropologists employ, namely fieldwork based on participant observation. In other words, our difference from other specialists in academic institutions is constructed not just on the premise that we are specialists in difference, but on a specific methodology for uncovering or understanding that difference. Fieldwork thus helps define anthropology as a discipline in both senses of the word, constructing a space of possibilities while at the same time drawing the lines that confine that space. Far from being a mere research technique. fieldwork has become "the basic constituting experience both of anthropologists and of anthropological knowledge".

Since fieldwork is increasingly the single constituent element of the anthropological tradition used to mark and police the boundaries of the discipline, it is impossible to rethink those boundaries or rework their contents without confronting the idea of "the field." "The field" of anthropology and "the field" of "fieldwork" are thus politically and epistemologically intertwined; to think critically about one requires a readiness to question the other. Exploring the possibilities and limitations of the idea of "the field" thus carries with it the opportunity—or, depending on one’s point of view, the risk—of opening to question the meaning of our own professional and intellectual identities as anthropologists.

The second imperative for beginning to discuss the idea of "the field" in anthropology follows from a now widely expressed doubt about the adequacy of traditional ethnographic methods and concepts to the intellectual and political challenges of the contemporary postcolonial world. Concern about the lack of fit between the problems raised by a mobile, changing, globalizing world, on the one hand, and the resources provided by a method originally developed for studying supposedly small-scale societies, on the other, has of course been evident in anthropological circles for some time. In recent years, however, questioning of the traditional fieldwork ideal has become both more widespread and more far-reaching. Some critics have pointed to problems in the construction of ethnographic texts, some to the structures and practices through which relationships are established between ethnographers and their "informants" in the field. Others have suggested that the problem lies as much in the fact that the world being described by ethnographers has changed dramatically without a corresponding shift in disciplinary practices since "fieldwork" became hegemonic in anthropology. Appadurai has posed the problem in the following terms:

As groups migrate, regroup in new locations, reconstruct their histories, and reconfigure their ethnic "projects," the subject in ethnography takes on a slippery, nonlocalized quality, to which the descriptive practices of anthropology will have to respond. The landscapes of group identity—the ethnoscapes— around the world are no longer familiar anthropological objects, insofar as groups are no longer tightly territorialized, spatially bounded, historically selfconscious, or culturally homogeneous.… The task of ethnography now becomes the unraveling of a conundrum: what is the nature of locality, as a lived experience’ in a globalized, deterritorialized world?

In what follows, we will further explore the challenge of coming to terms with the changed context of ethnographic work. For now, it is sufficient to think the anthropological fieldwork tradition in quite a fundamental way while preserving what we think are its real virtues. We wish to be clear that however significant the problems with "the field" are, there remain many aspects of the fieldwork tradition that we continue to value—aspects that have allowed ethnographically oriented work in sociocultural anthropology (with all its faults) to serve as an extraordinarily useful corrective to the Ethnocentrism and positivism that so often afflict the social sciences. Wt’ believe a well-developed attentiveness to location would preserve and build upon these aspects of the fieldwork tradition, which we will now discuss individually.

The fieldwork tradition counters Western ethnocentrism and values detailed and intimate knowledge of economically and politically marginalized places, peoples, histories, and social locations. Such marginalized locations enable critiques and resistances that would otherwise never be articulated. Since anthropology departments continue to be among the few places in the Western academy not devoted exclusively or largely to the study of the lives and policies of elites, they constitute potentially important nodes for politically engaged intervention in many forms of symbolic and epistemic domination. We emphasize once again that our analysis of anthropology’s "hierarchy of purity" of field sites is not meant to suggest that anthropologists should no longer work in far-flung and peripheral places—only that it is necessary to question the way that dominant conceptions and practices of "the field" have constructed such places. As Anna Tsing (1993) has recently demonstrated, by bringing marginality itself under the anthropological lens, instead of simply taking it for granted, it is possible to write about "out-of-the-way places" without di lancing, romanticizing, or exoticizing them.

Fieldwork’s stress on taken-for-granted social routines, informal know edge, and embodied practices can yield understanding that cannot b obtained either through standardized social science research method (e.g., surveys) or through decontextualized readings of cultural products (e.g., text-based criticism). One does not need to mystify fetishize knowledge gained through long-term immersion in a social milieu to recognize its importance and value. Nor does one need grant an unwarranted epistemological privilege to face-to-face interaction in order to appreciate the virtues of a research tradition that r quires its practitioners to listen to those they would study, and to take seriously what they have to say.

Fieldwork reveals that a self-conscious shifting of social and geographical location can be an extraordinarily valuable methodology fit understanding social and cultural life, both through the discovery phenomena that would otherwise remain invisible and through the acquisition of new perspectives on things we thought we already understood. Fieldwork, in this light, may be understood as a form of motivated and stylized dislocation. Rather than a set of labels that pins down one’s identity and perspective, location becomes visible here as an ongoing project. As in coalition politics a location is not just something one ascriptively has (white middle-class male, Asian American woman, etc.)—it is something one strategically works at. We would emphasize, however, that (as in coalition politics) shifting location for its own sake has no special virtue. Instead, the question of what might be called location work must be connected to the logic of one’s larger project and ultimately to one’s political practice. Why do we want to shift locations? Who wants to shift? Why?

What emerges, then, is a set of possibilities for rethought and revitalized forms of fieldwork. We are not advocating the abandonment of the practice of fieldwork, but rather its reconstruction—Recentering "the field" as the one, privileged site of anthropological knowledge, then recovering it as one element in a multistranded methodology for the construction of what Donna Haraway has called "situated knowledges." We might emerge from such a move with less of a sense of "the field" (in the "among the so-and-so" sense) and more of a sense of a mode of study that cares about, and pays attention to, the interlocking of multiple social-political sites and locations.

Such a reconstruction of the fieldwork tradition is, as we have emphasized, already well under way in anthropological practice. Participant observation continues to be a major part of positioned anthropological methodologies’ but it is ceasing to be fetishized; talking to and living with the members of a community are increasingly taking their place alongside reading newspapers, analyzing government documents, observing the activities of governing elites, and tracking the internal logic of transnational development agencies and corporations. Instead of a royal road to holistic knowledge of "another society," ethnography is beginning to become recognizable as a flexible and opportunistic strategy for diversifying and making more complex our understanding of various places, people, and predicaments through an attentiveness to the different forms of knowledge available from different social and political locations. Although more and more ethnography today is proceeding along these lines, however, the institutionalized disciplinary framework of reception and evaluation too often continues to see experiential, "field-based" knowledge as the privileged core of an ethnographic work that is then "fleshed out" with supplementary materials.

Any serious recentering of "the field" has the effect, of course, of further softening the division between ethnographic knowledge and other forms of representation flowing out of archival research, the analysis of public discourse, interviewing, journalism, fiction, or statistical representations of collectivities. Genres seem destined to continue to blur. Yet instead of assimilating that truly anthropological truths are only revealed in "the field," and attempting to seal off the borders of anthropology from the incursions of cultural studies and other disciplines, it might be a far healthier response to rethink "the field" of anthropology by reconsidering what our commitment to fieldwork entails.

Such a rethinking of the idea of "the field," coupled with an explicit attentiveness to location, might open the way for both a different kind of anthropological knowledge and a different kind of anthropological subject. We have attempted to demonstrate that the uncritical loyalty to "the field" in anthropology has long authorized a certain positionality, a particular location from which to speak about Others. Without an explicit consideration of the kind of subject and the kind of knowledge that ethnographic work produces—by what method? for whom? about whom? by whom? to what end?—we anthropologists will continue to valorize, in the universalizing language of meritocracy, a very particular social, racial, gendered, and sexual location. Practicing decolonized anthropology in a deterritorialized world means as a first step doing away with the distancing and exoticization of the conventional anthropological "field," and foregrounding the ways in which we anthropologists are historically and socially (not just biographically) linked with the areas we study. In other words, we have to move beyond well-intentioned place-marking devices such as ‘western, white anthropologist," which too often substitute a gesture of expiation for a more historical and structural understanding of location. It also means taking away lingering evolutionist and colonialist ideas of "natives in their natural state," and denying the anthropological hierarchy of field sites that devalues work in so many intellectually and politically crucial areas (homelessness, AIDS, sexuality, the media) that are often deemed insufficiently "anthropological." But a heightened sense of location means most of all a recognition that the topics we study and the methods we employ are inextricably bound up with political practice.

The traditional commitment to "the field" has entailed, we have -aged. its own form of political engagement, in terms of both the knowledge it has produced and the kind of disciplinary subject it has created. Our focus one shifting locations rather than bounded fields is linked to a different political sign, one that sees anthropological knowledge as a form of situated intervention. Rather than viewing ethnographic intervention as a disinterested search for truth in the service of universal humanistic knowledge, we see its as a way of pursuing specific political aims while simultaneously seeking lines.

Of Common political purpose with allies who stand elsewhere—a mode of building what Haraway has termed "web-like interconnections" between different social and cultural locations. Applied anthropology and especially activist anthropology have long had the virtue of linking ethnographic practice to a specific and explicit political project. Partly for this reason, they have been consistently devalued in the domain of academic anthropology. Yet we would emphasize that associating one’s research with a political position does not by itself call into question the location of the activist-anthropologist in the way that we have suggested is necessary, since even the most politically engaged "experts" may still conceive of themselves as occupying an external and epistemologically privileged position. Rather than viewing anthropologists as possessing unique knowledge and insights that they can then share with or put to work for various "ordinary people," our approach insists that anthropological knowledge coexists with other forms of knowledge. We see the political task not as "sharing" knowledge with those who lack it, but as forging links between different knowledges that are possible from different locations and tracing lines of possible alliance and common purpose between them. In this sense, we view a research area less as a "field" for the collection of data than as a site for strategic intervention.

The idea that anthropology’s distinctive trademark might be found not in its commitment to "the local" but in its attentiveness to epistemological and political issues of location surely takes us far from the classical natural history model of fieldwork as "the detailed study of a limited area." It may be objected, in fact, that it takes us too far—that such a reformulation of the fieldwork tradition leaves too little that is recognizable of the old Malinowskian archetype on which the discipline has for so long relied for its self-image and legitimation. At a time of rapid and contentious disciplinary change, it might be argued, such a reworking of one of the few apparently solid points of common reference can only exacerbate the confusion. But what such worries ignore is the fact that the classical idea of "the field" is already being challenged, undermined, and reworked in countless ways in ethnographic practice illustrate. An unyielding commitment to the virtues of an unreconstructed Malinowskian field cannot reverse this transformation, though it can do much to misunderstand it. Indeed, if, as we have suggested, much of the best new work m the discipline challenges existing conventions of "field" and "fieldwork, the refusal to interrogate those conventions seems less likely to prevent disciplinary confusion and discord than to generate it.


Practices of Consciousness and Power

by Bruce Kapferer

University of Chicago Press

$27.40, paper, 400 pages, notes. bibliography, index, some photos



Along with magic and witchcraft, some think of sorcery as irrational and antithetical to modern thought. But in THE FEAST OF THE SORCERER, Bruce Kapferer refocuses the study of sorcery and ritual, arguing that sorcery practices reveal critical insights into how consciousness is formed and contributes to how human beings create their social and political realities.

Beginning as an ethnographic deep description of Sinhalese Buddhist sorcery practices in Sri Lanka, Kapferer extends his analysis of the rituals to raise major anthropological questions about not just sorcery but to the dynamics of human consciousness and social and political formation. This study addresses both practical problems that confront people in Sri Lanka and the way in which the resolutions of these problems encompass larger matters of human suffering and violence. Thus Kapferer uses the insights of sorcery practice to explore such issues as the embodiment of mental acts, the relation of the emotions and passions to cognition, the role of the imagination in the construction of reality, the constitutive forces of sacrifice, exchange and the gift, and the different modalities of power.

Kapferer's analysis is part phenomenological, part ethnographic, part deconstructive. It demonstrates that sorcery can be seen as a pragmatic, conscious practice which, through its dynamic of destruction and creation, makes it possible for humans to reconstruct repeatedly, creatively reinvesting in their relation to the world.

This wide ranging study is never boring because Kapferer is always inventing new ways to envisage old ethnographic issues. The passion and strength of his arguments show an inspired utilization of the phenomenology of ritual to the relations of cosmology, consciousness, and practice.

Kapferer chose sorcery because it is one major practice found in different forms worldwide that seems to open out into broader issues of fundamental import in the understanding of human action and society. Not least among these are such enduring matters of scholarly and scientific concern as the nature of human consciousness and how human beings both make and conceive the construction of their existential realities. Sorcery highlights that truly extraordinary capacity of human beings to create and destroy the circumstances of their existence. One of the most central features of sorcery's creative and destructive dynamic focuses on human beings as social beings, or as beings whose individual life courses are inextricably enmeshed with those of others. Sorcery practices address this fundamental aspect of human existential processes and expose some of the dynamics of human psychosocial formation. Kapferer investigates sorcery as much more than an expression of inner psychological conflicts or a reflection of social and political forces. These are common ways of accounting for sorcery. While they are by no means a false analytical route, they tend to force sorcery practices into terms that are often distant from those of sorcery itself. Sorcery practices are denied their own rationality and, most important, the potential value of the understanding embedded in their practical knowledge. Kapferer aims to show how sorcery practices expose some of the vital dynamics engaged in the way human beings construct their psychological and social realities.

The sorcery practices Kapferer explores are normal and routine activities in everyday life in which human beings address the crises of daily life and attempt to reorient themselves within it. In Sri Lanka, when people engage in sorcery, they seek to act directly on their life's circumstances in so far as they are affected by others who share their world. Their sorcery is concerned with a recentering of themselves in the world and frequently with a radical reassertion and recreation of their personal and social link with the universe. Sorcery is both cosmogonic (as is expressly evident in its symbolism) and ontogenetic. It is engaged with the fundamental processes by which human beings construct and transform their life situations.

From this root understanding Kapferer develops his fascination with sorcery practice. He is not concerned with the exotica of sorcery, with sorcery as a mystical and strange practice. This approach diminishes possibility of useful analysis, rather Kapferer is interested in how sorcery reveals aspects vital to the way human beings constitute themselves and their realities, whether this be in Sri Lanka or elsewhere. Buddhist and other civilizational ideas as well as historical cultural, and social factors specific to Sri Lanka obviously are fundamental in the accounts he gives. However Kapferer considers the practices he discusses to have relevance and authority for an understanding of the dynamics o human action beyond Sri Lanka's shores.

Through Sinhalese sorcery Kapferer addresses some issues at the heart of the contemporary discipline of anthropology and moreover attempts to demonstrate the significance of sorcery practices in the exploration of large questions relating to the nature of human consciousness, the embodies character of human mental activities, the constitutive force of the human imaginary, the power of the passions, the dynamics of violence, etc. The very concept of sorcery is problematic. It is indicative of evil of the supernormal, and is often used as a demeaning synonym for wrong headed irrationality. But sorcery is too rarely investigated for the insight it harbors regarding the humancentric forces of humanly created realities This is Kapferer’s aim to show how sorcery practice suggests orientations to the study of human action that might be pertinent to those who would ordinarily deride sorcery practices.

Methodologically, Kapferer is committed to certain features of situational analysis and the extended-case method. This perspective is directed to the logic of practices or the chaotic structures formed in everyday routine and not-so-routine activity. The approach is distinctive in its aversion to using practices merely to illustrate abstract theoretical or cultural ideas. Rather, it attends to practice in all its lived messiness and as the ground from which human beings continuously form and re-form their realities. Kapferer’s approach to Sinhalese sorcery practice expands within this potential of the situational perspective of Gluckman's Manchester School.

In line with this emphasis, Kapferer develops further a phenomenological approach, one that is at a distance from those applications of phenomenology that consider human activity capable of being read as some kind of text—as in hermeneutics or the interpretive approaches sharpened in the work of Geertz. The redirection is attendant on a move away from human activity as performance to a stress on practice. This engagement with phenomenological methods may seem farfetched to understanding the import of Sinhalese sorcery practices. Some would argue that it confines within a Eurocentric and Eurodominant frame and contradicts Kapferer’s intention to give exorcists and sorcerers voice through their practice, because it confines to the authority of discourses developed in Western history and that is ultimately validated with reference to commanding ideas of Western thought. This kind of criticism of anthropological ethnography, of course, has been well recognized by anthropologists well before current postmodern debates, which often appear to intensify the relativism of much earlier argument in anthropology. Kapferer believes that no ethnography can escape such or similar charges, and this inability is part of the eventually impossible character of anthropological understanding and perhaps all investigations of the forces at work in human creation.

The phenomenological concepts and orientations of this study attempt to bring about wider consideration in anthropology and elsewhere of the possibilities of practice in a Buddhist world that already has much in common with certain directions in Western phenomenology. As others have noted, Buddhist and Hindu reflections in practice on the problematics of human existence have a high degree of resonance with many phenomenological notions. Western phenomenology is very much a Johnny-come-lately. This orientation is directed to disclosing the import of the phenomena of human existence as these are manifested through human activity and practice. It is a method whereby the human processes involved in the formations of human construction comprising the realities of the life worlds of human being are revealed. A phenomenology has no authority or truth value either in itself as a theory or as a form of knowledge superordinate to those whose knowledge is disclosed or takes form through its method. In this sense, phenomenology is unlike many kinds of anthropological or general social science theory which are concerned to prove their worth by demonstrating that the empirical world conforms to the fundamental postulates and predictions of their systems of explanation or understanding. This is the way of a variety of anthropological functionalisms, of applications of Marxist materialism, and Weberian idealism, as well as theories of deep structure such as Freudian psychoanalysis and structuralism. The phenomenological approach Kapferer uses and develop through the Sinhalese sorcery materials holds out no ultimate truth in itself. Here it has some affinity with recent approaches in deconstructionism, which often grow, sometimes reactively, in the context of phenomenological traditions. Both deconstruction and phenomenology are directed neither to dominate nor to loom over the materials at hand, dictating the import of human practices and denying them their own voice. The various phenomenological perspectives Kapferer uses are concerned to open up space for the human phenomena in question, to disclose their dynamics of existential formation. Through such phenomenological (and deconstructionist) orientation, Kapferer shows what Sinhalese sorcery may disclose about general issues of debate centering on how human beings form themselves and their realities into existence. Kapferer attempts this in a way that does not remove from sorcery practices the full force of their own authority.

This ethnographic study makes important contributions to the phenomenological study of religion and ritual. It communicative theory of symbols suggests a number of interpenetrating analytic approaches to human experiences. In sum the careful reading of this ethnology enhances the choices we have to make what is most human, culture.

BRUCE KAPFERER is currently Foundation Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, James Cook University, North Queensland, and maintains the position of professor of anthropology at University College London. He is the author of several books, including A Celebration or Demons and Legends or People, Myths of State.


by Charles W. Nuckolls

University of Wisconsin Press

$24.95, paper, notes, bibliography, index, some photos


South Asian Studies / Anthropology / Religion / Philosophy

"What does one say about an ethnographic work that successfully holds together Hegel and Kant, Freud and Weber, Levi-Strauss and Marx, Boas and Bateson, South Indian divination and American psychiatry, brothers and sisters, agnates and affines, interpretation and explanation, cognition and deep motivation, Rick Shweder and Howard Stein? Of such a book, one can confidently say that it is a remarkable achievement. Charles Nuckolls has produced such a book, one we will be learning from for years to come." —David Spain, University of Washington

Why is culture a problem that can never be solved? Nuckolls poles this question to his readers, and offers a genuinely synthetic approach to culture that is both cognitive and psychoanalytic. He develops a theory of cultural dialectics based on the concept of paradox, in which he shows how ambivalence and conflicts, and the desire to resolve them, are at the heart of all cultural knowledge systems.

Nuckolls combines and synthesizes the ideas of Max Weber and Sigmund Freud—major influences in the cognitive and psychoanalytic paradigms—and develops the concept basic to both: the dialectic. He recovers the legacy of Gregory Bateson (from his classic ethnography, Naven), who provided the foundation for a theory of paradox in culture through his characterization of emotional and rational orders of thought: ethos and eidos. With his integrated theory, Nuckolls explains the conflicts of knowledge and desire in a South Asian knowledge system, in particular the religious mythology and divinatory system of the Jalaris, a Telugu-speaking fishing caste on the southeastern coast of India.

Nuckolls relates how, when paradoxical knowledge generates ambivalence within Jalari culture, their knowledge system—myth, divination, and kinship—resolve conflicts that inevitably develop among siblings and. by extension, in agnatic and affinal relations.

He shows how these conflicts represent cultural ambivalences that are transmitted from one generation to another, and how they are solved anew by the Jalaris of each succeeding generation. Jalari kin, in reenacting the paradoxical values of unity and separation, solidarity and personal independence, thus develop solutions and explanatory principles for problematic behavior.

This provocative book allows us to rethink the relationship between the currently competing discourses in psychological and cultural anthropology, and at the same time offers a general synthetic theory of cultural dynamics.

This book tries to rescue the concept of culture from the wasteland into which it has been cast, by proving that it is a problem that cannot be solved. Is that a paradox? As I define it, yes, and that is what explains the dynamic power of culture both to organize itself in dialectical knowledge structures and to deeply motivate human action. This is not a new idea. It can be traced as easily to Weber and Freud as it can to Kant and Plato. Boas certainly held it, while Gregory Bateson and Victor Turner expressed it better and put it to better use. It could be called the cultural dialectics of knowledge and desire, and the theory of cultural dialectics to be presented here unites cognitive and psychoanalytic approaches to culture. It is unabashedly theoretical, and it touts anthropology as a science still capable of explanation.

It might already be apparent that this is an effort born of frustration, but "conflict" is a better word. Who has studied anthropology and not felt the conflict between the tendency to idealize and reduce it? Is culture a reality sui generic, as Durkheim said, or is it a mindful thing, understandable in terms of cognitive processes? Should individual action be considered primary, because it is more perceptually salient, or should priority be given to the shared symbols in terms of which action is expressed? Even the briefest exposure to the discipline is enough: We know that these are long-standing problems, with histories that can be traced to the very beginning of the field, and they are terribly frustrating. I claim that it is time to come clean and admit that the fundamental problems of the field are not problems in the first place, but solutions to problems whose precise nature remains hidden. Only an approach that does not avoid paradox, but positively revels in it, can achieve this vision.

This book seeks conflict and embraces contradiction, and it admits that a complete and consistent solution to any problem in cultural anthropology is certainly impossible and probably undesirable. Can there be a theory of highly motivating. It is also developmentally superficial by failing to relate enduring motivational complexes to features of childhood experience that may be recurrent across broad sections of society.

Instead of arguing against the dualism constituted by cognitive and psychoanalytic perspectives, I have tried to build a synthesis, by showing that the dualism can be reconfigured as a dialectic necessarily involving both. I have argued for a return to the broadly integrative paradigms of the past, and to the philosophical tradition, beginning with Kant and culminating in Bateson, which unites them as dialectical theories. Seen thus, the synthesis I have proposed in this book does not look especially radical. But it does constitute a challenge to the cultural anthropology of the present, a discipline nearly devoid of theory, except when it reduces culture to power, and increasingly suspicious of itself and any claims it might make to being a science.

Charles W. Nuckolls is assistant professor of anthropology at Emory University. He is the editor of The Cultural Construction of Diagnostic Categories: The Case of American Psychiatry and Siblings in South Asia: Brothers and Sisters in Cultural Context.


by John Bradshaw and Lesley Rogers

Academic Press

$68.00, hardcover, 463 pages, bibliography, index, photos, line drawings, graphs



On the cutting edge of neuropsychology and cognitive science: this book investigates lateral asymmetries in the human brain and contrasts these with asymmetries in primates as well as invertebrates, primitive vertebrates, birds, and other mammals.

Nine illustrated chapters present asymmetries in lower life forms, progress to hominoids and hominids, and discuss how such asymmetries are responsible for the development of language, upright posture, tool use, intellect, and self-awareness in humans. A summary and conclusions section at the end of each chapter provide both a general survey and a balanced judgment of any controversial aspects previously discussed.

This book shows how that lateralization of function occurs systematically throughout the animal kingdom and is not unique to humans. They explain why lateralization of function depends upon a complex interplay of genetic, structural, and environmental factors and is also subject to hormonal and maturational determination. The authors also demonstrate the close commonality between human and nonhuman species with respect to such hitherto uniquely human attributes as consciousness, tool use, and language. This volume provides an account of human evolution in the context of language, tool use, art, and intellect at the neurological, behavioral, and archaeological levels. This new synthesis should pique the interest of all anthropologists and social scientists.

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Last modified: November 27, 2016

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