Tag Archives: anthropology

Far Afield

This book was published in French under the title L’Adieu au voyage. This phrase is an allusion to the last page of Tristes Tropiques, in which Claude Lévi-Strauss invites us to seize the essence of humankind not through geographical or anthropological explorations of the planet (“fond farewell to savages and explorations!”), but through the ephemeral contemplation of the works of nature: a crystal, a perfume, or, famously, the eye of a cat. In my mind, this phrase did not refer to such a project, and even less to some historical moment: the farewell to journeying does not designate some historical realization through which, after explorations and empires, the West would observe with bitterness the end of exoticism or the vanishing of differences (these topoi date back at least to the eighteenth century). It designates rather a moment within ethnography, through which the anthropologist relinquishes any idealized conception of difference. It is thus not only a farewell to some idealized Other, but also a farewell to oneself, in other words the redefinition of the relationship between subject and object. Like in Lévi-Strauss’s original phrasing, the farewell to the journey does not point to any conclusion, or disenchantment, but to the reconfiguration of a relationship, a twofold process of objectivation and subjectivation.

— From the Preface to the English Edition of Vincent Debeane’s Far Afield: French Anthropology Between Science & Literature

New article in American Anthropologist

The AAA Meetings were a wonderful flurry of activity that I’m just now recovering from, however one thing slipped under my radar while it was happening: my new article, co-authored with Paul Mutsaers and Jennie Simpson, on “The Anthropology of Police as Public Anthropology” is now available for early viewing*.  The hard-copy version of the article is set to appear in the December issue of the journal American Anthropologist.  This should be the first in a flurry of exciting things coming in the next semester or so, so keep an eye out!


*I’d prefer you download the article via Wiley’s site, if you have access through your home institution or Anthrosource.  If not, however, you an find a copy I’ve uploaded onto Academia.edu

Book Forum on Rabinow & Stavrianakis’ Demands of the Day

A Book Forum has just opened up, co-hosted by the Anthropological Research on the Contemporary and Somatosphere on Paul Rabinow & Anthony Stavrianakis’s new book Demands of the Day: On the Logic of Anthropological Inquiry.  You can see the announcement here.  The first commentaries are by myself and anthropologist Todd Myers.  Here are some snippets:

Continue reading Book Forum on Rabinow & Stavrianakis’ Demands of the Day

Marilyn Strathern on Rabinow, Sahlins, Haraway, Newton, Stengers…

V0016252 Credit: Wellcome Library, London An allegorical monument to Sir Isaac Newton and his theories on prisms. Line engraving by L. Desplaces after D. M. Fratta after J.B. Pittoni, D. Valeriani and G. Valeriani. By: Owen Mac Swiney after: Giovanni Battista Pittoni, Giuseppe Valeriani, Domenico Valeriani, Louis Desplaces and Domenico Maria Fratta
V0016252 Credit: Wellcome Library, London
An allegorical monument to Sir Isaac Newton and his theories on prisms. Line engraving by L. Desplaces after D. M. Fratta after J.B. Pittoni, D. Valeriani and G. Valeriani.
By: Owen Mac Swiney after: Giovanni Battista Pittoni, Giuseppe Valeriani, Domenico Valeriani, Louis Desplaces and Domenico Maria Fratta

Marilyn Strathern has an article in the latest issue of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute and, per usual, it hurts my head and will take some time to unpack, traversing the work of Paul rabinow, Marshall Sahlins, Donna Haraway, Isaac Newton, Isabelle Stengers and others in just a few short pages.  When it comes to Strathern, usually this effort is far exceeded in its rewards.  For now, one passage caught my eye, on the work of “relation” in Paul Rabinow’s writing:

Continue reading Marilyn Strathern on Rabinow, Sahlins, Haraway, Newton, Stengers…

Where is the next, STS-inspired, George Stocking?

Lawrence Cohen, in one of the seemingly endless stream of insights he casts around, once suggested to me that the history of anthropology needs to be understood in terms of its  status as a “field science” over and against the development of “the laboratory” in the 19th century.

I guess I’m just now coming to terms with what we lost with the passing of George Stocking, but it seems to me that what such a project would require–and I am certainly not the person to do it–is a kind of George Stocking for the 21st century.  Stocking’s histories of anthropology pushed aside the easy origins myths the discipline liked to tell itself and opened the possibility to situate anthropology as a discipline within a broader intellectual, emotional and political tradition.

V0010792 A quack pharmacist(?) tying up his pet monkey. Etching by Jo
Credit: Wellcome Library, London
A quack pharmacist(?) tying up his pet monkey. Etching by Jor after Ma.
By: Ma
Published: Ve. ChereauParis (rue St. Jacques aux 2. Piliers d’or) :

Certainly “laboratory studies” are now plentiful, to the point of being basically passe, in anthropology and in STS more generally.  But do any of them take up this question of “the field” in such a way as to insist on anthropology’s central role in constructing scientific knowledge? Who will be anthropology’s next Stocking, placing it at the core of how we understand “knowledge” and “power” today?

Anthropoliteia in Anthropology news

“Fault Lines in an Anthropology of Police, Both Public and Global” in Anthropology News

Another commentary by yours truly at Anthropology News.  AN format forbids in-text citations and footnotes, but if you’ll follow the links you’ll find a dense web of Anthropoliteia contributors’ work!

AAA Statement on Marriage and the Family

FYI, y’all:

The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.

Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association


Fieldnotes: Thinking through Subjectivity & Materiality through TASERS

This post is my first, personal, attempt at refiguring anthropological inquiry after the internet 2.0.  I guess this is just a fancy way of saying that I’m beginning to try to come to terms with doing ethnography after the birth of social media.  For context, my original fieldwork in France, way back between 2003-2005, coincided with Friendster, but that’s about it (it’s no coincidence that it was juring that time that I met my first “blogger”).  I’ve long though about what it would mean to start up a new project in the age of blogging, microblogging, social media and whathaveyou.  I’ve had various personal inspirations, and a few more or less inchoate collaborations (especially through the various iterations of the ARC Collaboratory, whose website seems to be down right now), but, at yet, no sustained engagement.  So here goes.

Continue reading Fieldnotes: Thinking through Subjectivity & Materiality through TASERS

The Progressive Roots of American Anthropology (versus the Tea Party last time)

Two seemingly unrelated evens have occurred in my life the last two days which have caused me to think. I spent the day yesterday helping out with the campaigns of some of the local candidates here in Southeastern Michigan. Obviously the overall effect was not as successful as I would have liked. I can’t say, really, how much the election results had to do with the “Tea Party” phenomenon–compared with some of my experiences last year in Central Massachusetts I have to say I ran into relatively few of those types. What I have run into, though, is the idea that, especially in America, things do not get better; and, usually voiced as a more general principle, that any attempt to make things better on the general level (versus on the level of individuals or nuclear families) is impossible.  The immediate effect of these ideas on political will, for example, is that projects like building bridges, formulating a system of universal health care, or, you know, creating and protecting agencies that might help regulate food, education, safety or financial standards for the collective good–all of these are seen as at best misguided fantasies spouting phony accomplishments, at worst infringements of individual liberties.

The other thing that happened was that I sat down, perhaps for the first time, to really read (as opppossed to do the grad seminar preparation for) Lewis Henry Morgan‘s Ancient Society. I had no real reason why, besides it was the first book on my iBook shelf (so thank my iPad and The Gutenberg Project, or was it Google Books?). Now, I’ve taught LHM several times in my Introduction to Cultural Anthropology courses, usually using him as a foil that sets up Boasian Anthropology and, later Malinowskian fieldwork.  But what I don’t think I ever fully appreciatted was both the context in which Morgan’s work was written, and specifically what it was written against.

The first part, the context, is made explicit in the very first words:

The great antiquity of mankind upon the earth has been conclusively established. It seems singular that the proofs should have been discovered as recently as within the last thirty years, and that the present generation should be the first called upon to recognize so important a fact.

Wrap your head around that.  What must have it been like to understand oneself as among the first generation to realize the enormous antiquity of homo sapiens?  There are at least two directions one can move out of that fundamental fact: either you could view that long history as one of gradual decline–a Biblical Fall–or you can take the tack that Morgan believed was supported by the evidence.  In fact, Morgan frames his preface with two epigrams, the first from Whitney’s Oriental and Linguistic Studies:

“Modern science claims to be proving, by the most careful and exhaustive study of man and his works, that our race began its existence on earth at the bottom of the scale, Instead of at the top, and has been gradually working upward; that human powers have had a history of development; that all the elements of culture—as the arts of life, art, science, language, religion, philosophy—have been wrought out by slow and painful efforts, in the conflict between the soul and the mind of man on the one hand, and external nature on the other.”

The second from Kaines’ Antkropciogia:

“These communities reflect the spiritual conduct of our ancestors thousands of times removed… Our wondrous civilization Is the result of the silent efforts of millions of unknown men, as the chalk cliffs of England are formed of the contributions of myriads of foraminifera.”

The point here, and of Morgan’s anthropology, is a certain optimistic vision of humanity, of what makes us human: that bit by bit, generation after generation, together, humans can, and do, inevitably (if only eventually and through purposive  human action), make the world better for themselves.  He is, in other words, a Progressive.

Now, there are of course many things wrong with Morgan’s approach (which any graduate student in anthropology, or attentive undergraduate, will be able to tell you): the surety and singularity of his vision of what is “good” turns out to be both ethnocentric myopia and racist exclusion; his faith in the inevitability of unilateral progress over the long term seems questionable at best (although I’m beginning to wonder how much of that was rhetorical fireworks, marking out his position vis-a-vis the opposite).  But what I appreciate is his fervent insistence on its possibility.

And that’s why when I said earlier that I never fully “appreciated” what Morgan was writing against, I chose that word carefully.  “Known” would too strong a word here–I would have been able to recite most of those theoretical and political nuances before– but now I appreciate it.  And that suggests to me also, a potential place to quarry for answers to  to our current Progressive perplexities: what now?

Some further readings:

Hersey, M. (1993). Lewis Henry Morgan and the anthropological critique of civilization Dialectical Anthropology, 18 (1), 53-70 DOI: 10.1007/BF01301671

White, L. (1960). : Lewis Henry Morgan: American Scholar . Carl Resek. American Anthropologist, 62 (6), 1073-1074 DOI: 10.1525/aa.1960.62.6.02a00220

Michael A. Elliott, . (2008). Other Times: Herman Melville, Lewis Henry Morgan, and Ethnographic Writing in the Antebellum United States Criticism, 49 (4), 481-503 DOI: 10.1353/crt.0.0041

Service, E. (1988). : Lewis Henry Morgan and the Invention of Kinship . Thomas R. Trautmann. American Anthropologist, 90 (2), 443-444 DOI: 10.1525/aa.1988.90.2.02a00410

Ypsilanti, Here I Come!

I just thought I’d let readers of this blog know, and perhaps warn the denizens of the greater Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti-area, that I will officially be assuming a tenure-track position in the Fall as Assistant Professor of  Criminology in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology at Eastern Michigan University.

I’m excited by the opportunity to join such a thriving and dynamic department.  I’m especially looking forward to being in an interdisciplinary and theoretically rigorous research and teaching environment that should push my work in new directions and for which, hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute my own combination of interests and expertise.

In any case, I’m sure I’ll be blogging more about the move to a new city and institution… so stay tuned!