New Books in Anthropology
Summary: Discussions with Anthropologists about their New Books
View on AmazonWhen we consider the television, we think not only about how it's used, but also it's impact on culture. The television, tv, telly, or tube, became popular in the West in the late 1940s and early 1950s and was seen as a form of entertainment and enjoyment for the family. Other "technology" that assists with leisure include things like rubber-soled shoes, books, and other digital devices. In their new book, Enjoying Machines (MIT 2015), Barry Brown and Oskar Juhlin, both scholars in the Stockholm University Mobile Life VINN Excellence Center, the success of a particular technology can be measured by how well it creates pleasure. The authors argue that pleasure "is fundamentally social in nature," and that to understand how technology supports leisure it is important to "produce a more sophisticated definition" of enjoyment. To do this Brown and Juhlin embark on an ethnographic investigation of technology and enjoyment that combines the sociological study of activity and the study of human-machine interaction. Over the course of their examination, the authors are careful to consider both the positives – enjoyment – and negatives – addiction- in relation to devices. Ultimately, Enjoying Machines offers a model of enjoyment useful for better understanding how to design useful machines.
Mayanthi FernandoView on AmazonMayanthi Fernando's The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism (Duke University Press, 2014) is an important and provocative book. Drawing on years of field work, the book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the complex interactions between religion and politics in contemporary France. Considering the Islamic revival and public debates provoked initially by the "headscarf crisis" of the late 1980s, the book examines the ethical, social, and political lives of the Muslim French men and women whose religiosity is so often regarded as "incommensurable" with the democratic culture and politics of the nation. Rather than churning existing conversations about Islam in France that tend to fixate on immigration and integration, The Republic Unsettled thinks through citizenship, exploring the ways Muslim French bring together Islam and the values of the secular-republican nation, articulating new ways of believing and living on both fronts. The book also examines attempts by the French state to regulate Islam in France, attempts that highlight the fractures and contradictions at the very heart of secularism and republican universalism. The Republic Unsettled moves between the experiences of Fernando's interlocutors, the examination of key debates, institutions, and laws concerning laicité in France, and the analysis of a range of public discourses on religion, gender, and sexuality in which Islam has figured centrally. An ethnographic study that is profoundly attentive to France's colonial past, the book is a model of a scholarship that is at once theoretical and politically engaged.
Carla FreemanView on AmazonThis marvelous ethnography traces one of the surprising outcomes of shifting neoliberal regimes in Barbados. As women find themselves leading entrepreneurial lives, they also find themselves engaging in a new range of emotions, both at work and at home. Carla Freeman's Entrepreneurial Selves: Neoliberal Respectability and the Making of a Caribbean Middle Class (Duke University Press, 2014) follows the lives of a number of female Barbadians and finds that the demands of the twenty-first century economy create practices of care, attention and intimacy that shape their working lives and their leisure lives, their relationships with families and spouses as well as co-workers, their moments of rest or consumption as well as of business. It's an important transformation that has reshaped the lives of many Barbadians, and Freeman observes and probes changing landscapes of emotion with a great deal of nuance.
View on AmazonIn her fascinating new book Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran (Duke University Press, 2015), Afaneh Najmabadi, Professor of History and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University, explores shifting meanings of transsexuality in contemporary Iran. By brilliantly combining historical and ethnographic inquiry, Najmabadi highlights the complex ways in which biomedical, psychiatric, and Islamic jurisprudential discourses and institutions conjoin to generate particular notions of acceptable and unacceptable sexuality. Moreover, she also shows some of the paradoxical ways in which state regulation enables certain possibilities and spaces for nonheteronormative sexuality in Iran. In our conversation, we talked about problems of translation involved in using Western categories in Gender and Sexuality Studies in the Iranian context, the certification process for sex change applicants in Iran, shifting conceptualizations of transsexuality overtime, continuities and ruptures seen in nonheteronormative masculinities in Tehran before and after the 1979 revolution, and the category of the narrative self. This multilayered book is at once lyrically written and theoretically exhilarating. It will be of much interest to students of gender and sexuality, Islamic law, religion and science, and of contemporary Iranian society. It will also make a wonderful choice for graduate and upper lever undergraduate courses on the same subjects.
Erik Linstrum View on AmazonIn Ruling Minds: Psychology in the British Empire (Harvard University Press, 2016), Erik Linstrum examines how the field of psychology was employed in the service of empire. Linstrum explores the careers of scientists sent to the South Pacific, India, and Africa to verify and define characteristics of white racial superiority. Far from confirming the inferiority of the colonized, psychologists exposed flaws in Britain's civilizing mission, often doubting or subverting its underlying assumptions. Linstrum exposes a fundamental tension between the authoritarian goals of state and the role of science, showing how expert knowledge could be adapted as a tool of colonization just as it could be undermined by scientific discovery. Despite its critics, Linstrum shows how psychology mobilized to take part in Britain's counter-insurgency campaigns in Kenya and Malaya. Colonial administrators borrowed tools from psychology to conduct interrogations and suppress dissent. The colonial state attempted to cast doubt on the psychological maturity of the colonized, articulating Third World nationalism itself as a kind of pathology. Britain's representatives aimed to actively reshape thoughts and feelings in their quest to win "hearts and minds." Linstrum's book challenges rigid definitions of scientists in the service of empire, complicating earlier narratives which portrayed psychologists as powerful supporters of colonial discourse. Psychology's intended role was to aid the technocratic administration of a waning empire. While attempting to make the colonized knowable and predictable, British psychologists unintentionally exposed the dysfunctions inherent in European society, challenging the notion of an irrational, inferior "other."
Sujey VegaView on AmazonIn Latino Heartland: Of Borders and Belonging in the Midwest (New York University Press, 2015), Sujey Vega Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State University, traces the way Latina/o Hoosiers established community and belonging in Central Indiana amongst the sharp rise in anti-immigrant/Mexican sentiment after the passage of the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437). Dr. Vega foregrounds her analysis by illuminating the "pathology of forgetting" practiced by the region's non-Hispanic White population as they have reimagined and celebrated the region's ethnic past through the lenses of whiteness and assimilation. Thus, despite their multigenerational presence in the region and regardless of immigration status, Latina/o Hoosiers are perpetually viewed as foreign and unassimilated by many of their White neighbors. Following the passage of H.R. 4437 by the 109th U.S. Congress in Dec. 2005, Dr. Vega explains how the discourses of illegality and nativism intermixed with the region's collective memory to "other" and "racialize" Latina/o Hoosiers as outside the bounds of community and belonging in America's Heartland. Examining religious practices, community celebrations, sporting events, and other forms of socialization, Professor Vega details the formation of ethnic belonging among Latina/o Hoosiers as they appropriated space and claimed membership in Greater Lafayette, Indiana. Amidst the anti-immigrant fervor of the day, Vega asserts that the establishment of ethnic belonging laid the groundwork for civic engagement and political activism as Latina/o Hoosiers participated in public demonstrations of solidarity and protest, like the Immigration Reform Protests that swept across the nation between March and May of 2006.
Natasha MyersView on AmazonAfter reading Natasha Myers's new book, the world begins to dance in new ways. Rendering Life Molecular: Models, Modelers, and Excitable Matter (Duke University Press, 2015) is a sensory ethnography of protein crystallographers that is based on five years of fieldwork conducted between 2003-2008 at a research university on the East Coast of the US. "Protein modelers are the scientists to watch in order to see what forms of life and what materialities are coming to matter in the twenty-first-century life sciences," according to Myers, and the book bears out this statement. Those forms of life and materialities emerge from kinesthetic and affective entanglements created and navigated by the scientists in the course of their modeling work. Understanding that work – in part thanks to a thoughtful exploration of the notion of "rendering" that unfolds over the course of the book – helps us understand the ways that scientific knowledge is fundamentally embodied and gestural, and refigures scientific cultures as performance cultures. This is an exciting, inspiring book that is simultaneously a careful study of a particular local scientific culture, and a model for how to re-enchant our knowledge of the living world.
Michael KimmelView on AmazonMichael Kimmel is the Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University. He is also executive director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities. His book Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era (Nation Books, 2013) is an engaging and eye-opening book about the lives and attitudes of white men who are expressing rage and feelings of "aggrieved entitlement" in a new age of gender relations. In the vast social, economy and political changes women have gained increased equality in the home, and the workplace, while many straight white males are experiencing a sense of loss. Having worked hard and fulfilled what they view as the requirements of masculinity, men now find that the economic rewards are slow in coming. Kimmel has spent hundreds of hours talking with men from different economic and social stations who blame women, blacks, and gays for their troubles. With a sympathetic ear, he examines the social construction of men's anger express in politicized anti-immigrant, anti-gay, and racist sentiment flamed by right-wing media. Feeling that the system is now stacked against them, we are seeing outbreaks of mass murder by young men at schools and workplaces and men's rights activism which seeks to restore male privilege and "stolen" fathers' rights to extreme cases of battering and murder of women. Through the political mobilization of the Extreme Right represented in the Tea Party, Neo-Nazi groups and religious fundamentalism, men are expressing despair over their perceived loss of status. White supremacist groups are drawing a growing number of women who are embracing old models of gender relations and the slogan of "taking our country back." The beginning of the end of patriarchy, Kimmel argues, is also the start of a better life for men. Gender and racial equality are good for white men and their children. What is needed is not only to turn down the volume of white male rage, but also to empower men to embrace a new definition of manhood that frees them from a sense of entitlement and opens up for them an equalitarian future.
View on AmazonThe new edited volume by Francesca Bray, Peter Coclanis, Edda Fields-Black and Dagmar Schafer is a wonderfully interdisciplinary global history of rice, rooted in specific local cases, that spans 15 chapters written by specialists in the histories of Africa, the Americas, and several regions of Asia. Rice: Global Networks and New Histories (Cambridge University Press, 2015) creates a conversation among regional and disciplinary modes of studying and narrating rice histories that have often been conducted in isolation. Specifically, the project brings together two large-scale debates that emerge from very different rice historiographies: the "Black Rice" and "agricultural involution" debates frame the inquiry here, and as you listen to my conversation with Francesca and Dagmar (the two co-editors with whom I spoke for the podcast) you'll hear them offer an overview of the nature and stakes of both of those areas of inquiry. In the course of the conversation we also had a chance to talk about the collaborative process that produced the volume, a process that successfully maintained the specificity of the local case studies while still enabling authors to contribute to and participate in a common, global conversation that made new kinds of comparisons possible. Enjoy!
Christine HongView on AmazonIn her new book, Identity, Youth, and Gender in the Korean American Church (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), Dr. Christine Hong explores the lives of female Korean American Mainline Christian adolescents. Hong's work, an exercise in feminist ethnography and practical theology, focuses on the difficulties these young women encounter as people who face marginalization within both broader American society and their own faith communities, and discusses ways to help them overcome these obstacles. Hong's sensitive analysis is sure to benefit anyone interested in religion, ethnicity, and youth in America.
Arlene DavilaView on AmazonIn Latinos Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People (University of California Press, updated ed. 2012) Arlene Davila, Professor of Anthropology at New York University, questions the profound influence of the Hispanic-Latina/o marketing industry in defining notions of Latina/o identity and culture. Providing an ethnography of the industry's founders, key intellectuals, as well as its position within corporate America, Dr. Dávila critiques the "sanitization" of Latinidad by Hispanic ad agencies that promote a "safe" (i.e., consumable) image of Latina/os rooted in behavioral stereotypes as Spanish-language dominant, Catholic, conservative, traditional, family-oriented, and "suicidally brand loyal." Professor Dávila also illuminates the hierarchies of race, class, culture, and nation that not only undergird the "whitewashed" representations of Latina/os, but which also work to marginalize their labor and lack of representation within the industry. Situating the rise of Hispanic marketing within its proper neoliberal context, Dávila contests the boosterish assumptions that the heightened visibility of Latina/os in the media will translate into increased political representation and power.
Erica WeissView on AmazonIn Conscientious Objectors in Israel: Citizenship, Sacrifice, Trials of Fealty (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), Erica Weiss, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University, examines the lives and choices Israeli conscientious objectors, those who have refused to perform military service for reasons of conscience. As an ethnographer, Weiss takes us into the the lives of two generations of conscientious objectors in a state that valorizes what she calls the "economy of sacrifice." The tale of the Israeli conscientious objection sheds light on the nature of contemporary citizenship more broadly.
Yarimar BonillaView on AmazonAs overseas departments of France, the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique are frequently described as anomalies within the postcolonial Caribbean. Yet in reality, as Yarimar Bonilla argues in her new book Non-Sovereign Futures: French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment (University of Chicago Press, 2015), the majority of Caribbean states are in fact non-sovereign. Moreover, even for those nations that are nominally independent, their sovereignty is nonetheless continually compromised by the foreign influence that comes with globalization. Thus, the Caribbean as a whole is a region where non-sovereignty is the dominant political status, requiring alternative political frameworks that move beyond identifying sovereignty as the inevitable and necessary result of decolonization. Bonilla calls this process of imagining and testing out these new frameworks "non-sovereign politics." Non-Sovereign Futures examines the emergence of non-sovereign politics through an ethnography of labor activists in Guadeloupe. Whereas union activists had explicitly nationalist agendas in the 1950s and 1960s, by the early 2000s, sovereignty was no longer the terrain on which activists made claims upon the state. Bonilla provides a compelling analysis of the ways that Guadeloupean labor activists disrupted island life through a series of labor and general strikes, engaged and shaped the historical legacies of slavery and emancipation, and transformed their own personal political selves. Though these activists frequently expressed disappointment with the results of these strikes, Bonilla insists that their true accomplishment was in imagining new possibilities for making claims upon the French state that were no longer bound to the unsatisfying question of sovereignty.
Saba MahmoodView on AmazonIt is commonly thought that violence, injustice, and discrimination against religious minorities, especially in the Middle East, are a product of religious fundamentalism and myopia. Concomitantly, it is often argued, that more of secularism and less of religion represents the solution to this problem. In her stunning new book Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report (Princeton University Press, 2015), Saba Mahmood, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, brings such a celebratory view of secularism into fatal doubt. Through a careful and brilliant analysis, Mahmood convincingly shows that far from a solution to the problem of interreligious strife, political secularism and modern secular governance are in fact intimately entwined to the exacerbation of religious tensions in the Middle East. Focusing on Egypt and the experience of Egyptian Copts and Bahais, Mahmood explores multiple conceptual and discursive registers to highlight the paradoxical qualities of political secularism, arguing that majority/minority conflict in Egypt is less a reflection of the failure of secularism and more a product of secular discourses and politics, both within and outside the country. In our conversation, we touched on the salient features of this book such as the concept of political secularism and its applicability to a context such as Egypt, the genealogy of minority rights and religious liberty in the Middle East, discourses of minority rights and citizenship in relation to the Egyptian Copts, the discourse of public order and the regulation of Bahai religious identity and difference in Egypt, secularism, family law, and sexuality and the category of secularity and particular understandings of time, history, and scripture brought into view by the controversy generated in Egypt by the novel Azazeel. This theoretically rigorous book is also wonderfully written, making it particularly suitable for graduate and undergraduate courses on Islam, the Middle East, secularism, religion and politics, gender and sexuality, and theories and methods in religion.
Angelique V. NixonView on AmazonIt's easy to conjure images of paradise when thinking of the Caribbean. The region is know for its lovely beaches, temperate weather, and gorgeous landscapes. For the people who live there, however, living in paradise means dealing with tourists, inequality, exploitation, and corruption. While many scholars have published critiques of Caribbean tourism ranging from measured to withering, the voices of Caribbean people, living in the region or abroad, are rarely evident. Angelique V. Nixon's Resisting Paradise: Tourism, Diaspora, and Sexuality in Caribbean Culture (U Press of Mississippi, 2015 ) explores the many ways in which Caribbean authors, artists, workers, filmakers, educators and activists have understood, worked with, and challenged the foundations of a tourist economy. For more information about the author's work, follow her on Facebook (Angelique V. Nixon), Twitter and Instagram @sistellablack, blog, and visit her staff page on the IGDS website.