A Thrice-Told Tale: Feminism, Postmodernism & Ethnographic Responsibility

Margery Wolf

One ethnographer’s imaginative and powerful response to the methodological issues raised by feminist and postmodernist critics of traditional ethnography. The author, a feminist anthropologist, uses three texts developed out of her research in Taiwan—a piece of fiction, anthropological fieldnotes, and a social science article—to explore some of these criticisms. Each text takes a different perspective, is written in a different style, and has different “outcomes,” yet all three involve the same fascinating set of events.

methodolgy, feminism, postmodernism, Taiwan

Athletic Intruders: Women, Culture & Exercise.

Athletic Intruders: Women, Culture & Exercise

Anne Bolin & Jane Granskog

Informed by feminism and the fields of anthropology and sociology of sport, this anthology investigates women’s place in sport and exercise from a sociocultural perspective, documenting women’s struggle into the sports arenas of male hegemony. The nine ethnographic case studies explore issues of identity, embodiment, and meaning in various sports and exercise, including triathlons, aerobics, basketball, bodybuilding, weightlifting, motorcycle riding, softball, casual exercise, and rugby.

women, sports, exercise, feminism, gender, case study, identity

Bike Lust: Harleys, Women & American Society.

Bike Lust: Harleys, Women & American Society

Barbara Joans

Joans offers an account of her own motorbike riding experiences while examining the elaborate rules, rituals, and rites of passage in the biker culture, particularly as they relate to women, both as individual riders and riders on the back of men’s bikes.

women, motorcycles, America, gender, rites of passage, bikers, Harley-Davidson

Dancing the Self: Personhood and Performance in the Pandav Lila of Garhwal.

Dancing the Self: Personhood and Performance in the Pandav Lila of Garhwal

William S. Sax

For ten years, William Sax studied the inhabitants of the former kingdom of Garhwal in northern India. Sax attended and participated in performances of the pandav lila (a ritual reenactment of scenes from the Mahabharata in a dance) and observed its context in village life. Combining ethnographic fieldwork with sophisticated reflection on the larger meanings of these rituals and practices, this volume presents the information in a style accessible to the uninitiated reader. Sax opens a window on a fascinating (and threatened) aspect of rural Indian life and on Hinduism as a living religion, while providing an accessible introduction to the Mahabharata itself.

India, dance, performance, ritual, rural, Hindu, religion

Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil.

Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil

Nancy Sheper-Hughes

In Brazil’s shantytowns, poverty has transformed the meaning of mother love. The routineness with which young children die, argues University of California anthropologist Scheper-Hughes, causes many women to affect indifference to their offspring, even to neglect those infants presumed to be doomed or “wanting to die.” Maternal love is delayed and attenuated, with dire consequences for infant survival, according to the author’s two decades of fieldwork. Scheper-Hughes also maintains that the Catholic Church contributes to the indifference toward children’s deaths by teaching fatalistic resignation and upholding its strictures against birth control and abortion.

Brazil, poverty, women, children, Catholicism

Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt

James Ferguson

An ethnography of the Zambian copperbelt, focusing on its economic decline and the people’s understanding of it. This is put in the context of earlier anthropological writings on the region that assumed an opposition between urban/modern and rural/traditional. Ferguson shows how economic collapse reveals this as a false dichotomy.

Zambia, economy, urban, rural

Fire in My Bones: Transcendence and the Holy Spirit in African American Gospel

Glenn Hinson

Glenn Hinson focuses on a single gospel program and offers a major contribution to our Fire in My Bones: Transcendence and the Holy Spirit in African American Gospel.understanding not just of gospel but of the nature of religious experience. A key feature of African American performance is the layering of performative voices and the constant shifting of performative focus. To capture this layering, Hinson demonstrates how all the parts of the gospel program work together to shape a single whole, joining speech and song, performer and audience, testimony, prayer, preaching, and singing into a seamless and multifaceted service of worship. Personal stories ground the discussion at every turn, while experiential testimony fuels the unfolding arguments. Fire in My Bones is an original exploration of experience and belief in a community of African American Christians, but it is also an exploration of African American aesthetics, the study of belief, and the ethnographic enterprise.

African American, gospel, religion, music, performance, Christianity

Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream.

Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream

H.G. Bissinger

The book follows the story of the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team from Odessa, Texas as they made a run towards the Texas state championship. While originally intended to be a Hoosiers-type chronicle of high school sports holding a small town together, the final book ended up being critical about life in the town of Odessa, complete with portraits of what Bissinger called “the ugliest racism” he has ever witnessed, as well as misplaced priorities, where football conquered most aspects of the town and academics were ignored for the sake of championships.

football, America, Texas, high school, sports, racism, small town

Genders in Production: Making Workers in Mexico’s Global Factories

Leslie Salzinger

In this engrossing and original book, Leslie Salzinger takes us with her into the gendered world of Mexico’s global factories. Her careful ethnographic work, personal voice, and sophisticated analysis capture the feel of life inside the maquiladoras and make a compelling case that transnational production is a gendered process. The research grounds contemporary feminist theory in an examination of daily practices and provides an important new perspective on globalization.

Mexico, gender, factory, feminist, globalization

The Gift of a Bride: A Tale of Anthropology, Matrimony, and Murder.

The Gift of a Bride: A Tale of Anthropology, Matrimony, and Murder

Serena Nanda & Joan Gregg

This ethnographically based murder mystery, set in an Indian immigrant community in New York City, uses the main principles of cultural anthropology and ethnographic method to explore a wide range of cultural conflicts. Central themes of gender inequality, violence against women, and immigrant adaptation to American life are revealed through authentically drawn characters and a tightly woven plot. Power-driven egos, workplace harassment, hostile neighbors, and financial desperation drive the suspense in this exciting novel towards understanding.

India, New York, immigrant, murder, violence, women, gender

The Grace of Four Moons: Dress, Adornment, and the Art of the Body in Modern India.

The Grace of Four Moons: Dress, Adornment, and the Art of the Body in Modern India

Pravina Shukla

Because clothing, food, and shelter are basic human needs, they provide excellent entries to cultural values and individual aesthetics. Everyone gets dressed every day, but body art has not received the attention it deserves as the most common and universal of material expressions of culture. The Grace of Four Moons aims to document the clothing decisions made by ordinary people in their everyday lives. Based on fieldwork conducted primarily in the city of Banaras, India, Pravina Shukla conceptualizes and realizes a total model for the study of body art — understood as all aesthetic modifications and supplementations to the body. Shukla urges the study of the entire process of body art, from the assembly of raw materials and the manufacture of objects, through their sale and the interactions between merchants and consumers, to the consumer’s use of objects in creating personal decoration.

India, art, clothing, body, identity

Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village.

Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village

Elizabeth Warnock Fernea

There are 800 million Muslims in the world today, yet Islam is one of the world’s least understood and appreciated religions. The culture of Islamic women and the mystery of a veiled society have endured any number of uninformed or hostile interpretations. Elizabeth Warnock Fernea spent the first two years of her marriage in the 1950s living in El Nahra, a small village in Southern Iraq, and her book is a personal narrative about life behind a veil in a community unaccustomed to Western women.

Islam, women, gender, Iraq, clothing

Handmaidens of the Lord: Pentecostal Women Preachers and Traditional Religion.

Handmaidens of the Lord: Pentecostal Women Preachers and Traditional Religion

Elaine J. Lawless

Handmaidens of the Lord focuses on the lives and ministry of Pentecostal women pastors and preachers in central Missouri. In devoting themselves to energetically serving their Lord, they often spend days and nights away from home ministering to their flock. How do they pursue this course in a church so fundamentalist that it decrees a woman’s only place to be the home? In a religion that believes the Bible inerrant, Paul’s admonition that women keep out of church business is taken very seriously. How then do the men and women in the churches view these women in authority?

Pentecostal, religion, America, Missouri, women, gender, fundamentalist

Holy Women, Wholly Women: Sharing Ministries Through Life Stories and Reciprocal Ethnography.

Holy Women, Wholly Women: Sharing Ministries Through Life Stories and Reciprocal Ethnography

Elaine J. Lawless

Lawless collects and interprets the stories of ten women ministers and examines their public and private lives, their ministries, their images of God, and their negotiations of sexuality and the religious life.

women, America, religion, gender, sexuality, reciprocal ethnography

In Amma's Healing Room: Gender and Vernacular Islam in South India.

In Amma’s Healing Room: Gender and Vernacular Islam in South India

Joyce B. Flueckiger

In Amma’s Healing Room is a compelling study of the life and thought of a female Muslim spiritual healer in Hyderabad, South India. Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger describes Amma’s practice as a form of vernacular Islam arising in a particular locality, one in which the boundaries between Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity are fluid. In the “healing room,” Amma meets a diverse clientele that includes men and women, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian, of varied social backgrounds, who bring a wide range of physical, social, and psychological afflictions. Flueckiger collaborated closely with Amma and relates to her at different moments as daughter, disciple, and researcher. The result is a work of insight and compassion that challenges widely held views of religion and gender in India and reveals the creativity of a tradition often portrayed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike as singular and monolithic.

women, India, Islam, vernacular, Hindu, Christianity, healing, gender, religion

Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs.

Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs

Paul Willis

Willis conducted an in-depth ethnography of a set of working class ‘lads’ in a town in the West Midlands referred to as ‘Hammertown’. He conducted a series of interviews and observations within a school, with the aim of discovering why ‘working class kids get working class jobs’. He concluded his research stating that the lads had an ‘anti-authority’ subculture that transmitted to the workplace.

England, working class, education, authority, men

Life Exposed: Biological Citizens After Chernobyl

Adriana Petryna

Through extensive research in state institutions, clinics, laboratories, and with affected families and workers of the so-called Zone, Petryna illustrates how the event and its aftermath have not only shaped the course of an independent nation but have made health a negotiated realm of entitlement. She tracks the emergence of a “biological citizenship” in which assaults on health become the coinage through which sufferers stake claims for biomedical resources, social equity, and human rights.

Ukraine, Soviet, nuclear, tragedy, health, medicine, human rights

Little Big Men: Bodybuilding Subculture and Gender Construction.

Little Big Men: Bodybuilding Subculture and Gender Construction

Alan M. Klein

In a study conducted on the west coast, Klein (sociology and anthropology, Northeastern U.) explores the daily life, gym culture, and external and internal pressures of competitive bodybuilders. He finds “comic-book masculinity,” which includes elements of narcissism, homophobia, hypermasculinity, and fascism

exercise, gender, men, America, masculinity, sports

Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India.

Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India

Serena Nanda

This ethnography is a cultural study of the Hijras of India, a religious community of men who dress and act like women. It focuses on how Hijras can be used in the study of gender categories and human sexual variation.

India, Hijra, gender, men, women, religion, clothing, identity, sexuality

Number Our Days.

Number Our Days

Barbara Myerhoff

When noted anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff received a grant to explore the process of aging, she decided to study some elderly Jews from Venice, California, rather than to report on a more exotic people. The story of the rituals and lives of these remarkable old people is, as Bel Kaufman said, “one of those rare books that leave the reader somehow changed.”Here Dr. Myerhoff records the stories of a culture that seems to give people the strength to face enormous daily problems — poverty, neglect, loneliness, poor health, inadequate housing and physical danger. The tale is a poignant one, funny and often wise, with implications for all of us about the importance of ritual, the agonies of aging, and the indomitable human spirit.

elderly, America, California, religion, Judaism, gender, identity, aging

The Other Side of Middletown: Exploring Muncie's African American Community.

The Other Side of Middletown: Exploring Muncie’s African American Community

Luke Eric Lassiter

The 1929 sociology classic , still in print today, left something out the entire African-American population of its “typical” city of Muncie, Indiana. Nearly 75 years later, a retired Indiana state legislator persuaded a group of Ball State U. faculty and students to redress the oversight by documenting the history and contributions of Muncie’s black residents. The resulting work is an ethnography that’s also a dialogue about the African-American community based on stories and information collected in community meetings and interviews with residents.

America, Indiana, African American, identity

Passing the Time in Ballymenone

Henry Glassie

The result of a decade of research on the life and art, the folklore, history, and common work of a rural community in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland, art, folklore, history, rural

The Sambia: Ritual and Gender in New Guinea.

The Sambia: Ritual and Gender in New Guinea

Gilbert Herdt

This cultural and psychological study of gender identity and sexual development in a New Guinea Highlands society includes initiation rites and socialization studies, and contrasts the Sambia with other societies, including our own. Sambia boys experience ritualized homosexuality before puberty and do not leave it until marriage, after which homosexual activity is prohibited. The implications are developed cross-culturally and contextualized in gender literature.

New Guinea, gender, identity, rites of passage, sexuality

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

Anne Fadiman

When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia’s parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run “Quiet War” in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia’s pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case in the history of cultural miscommunication.

California, medicine, children, Vietnam, immigrant

The Stars of Ballymenone.

The Stars of Ballymenone

Henry Glassie

Glassie (folklore, Indiana U. Bloomington) relates stories of the people of Ballymenone, a village in Northern Ireland in the County Fermanagh, and a place he first visited in 1972. He recounts the experiences of the people during the violent period 1972-1983, describes the county and Northern Ireland, and provides photos. The residents of Ballymenone tell stories about their history, recite poems, relate fairy tales and ghost stories, and sing songs.

Northern Ireland, history, folklore, rural, music

Storytelling on the Northern Irish Border: Character and Community.

Storytelling on the Northern Irish Border: Character and Community

Ray Cashman

Folklore is crucial to life in Aghyaran, a mixed Catholic-Protestant border community in Northern Ireland. Neighbors socialize during wakes and ceilis(informal nighttime gatherings) regardless of religious, ethnic, or political affiliations. The witty, sometimes raucous stories swapped on these occasions offer a window into community and identity in the wake of decades of violent conflict and change. Through local character anecdotes, participants explore the nature of community and identity in ways that may transcend exclusively Catholic or Protestant sectarian histories and identities.

Northern Ireland, religion, Catholic, Protestant, socialization, history, identity

Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza's Story.

Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story

Ruth Behar

Translated Woman tells the story of an unforgettable encounter between Ruth Behar, a Cuban-American feminist anthropologist, and Esperanza Hernandez, a Mexican street peddler. The tale of Esperanza’s extraordinary life yields unexpected and profound reflections on the mutual desires that bind together anthropologists and their “subjects.”

Mexico, women, identity, life history

Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World.

Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World

Theodore C. Bestor

A vivid and fascinating ethnography of the world’s largest marketplace for fresh and frozen seafood, Tokyo’s gigantic Tsukiji market, where $6 billion worth of fish trades hands each year.

Tokyo, fish, urban, trade

Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment

João Biehl

Zones of social abandonment are emerging everywhere in Brazil’s big cities–places like Vita, where the unwanted, the mentally ill, the sick, and the homeless are left to die. This haunting, unforgettable story centers on a young woman named Catarina, increasingly paralyzed and said to be mad, living out her time at Vita. Anthropologist Joatilde;o Biehl leads a detective-like journey to know Catarina; to unravel the cryptic, poetic words that are part of the “dictionary” she is compiling; and to trace the complex network of family, medicine, state, and economy in which her abandonment and pathology took form. As Biehl painstakingly relates Catarina’s words to a vanished world and elucidates her condition, we learn of subjectivities unmade and remade under economic pressures, pharmaceuticals as moral technologies, a public common sense that lets the unsound and unproductive die, and anthropology’s unique power to work through these juxtaposed fields.Vita’smethodological innovations, bold fieldwork, and rigorous social theory make it an essential reading for anyone who is grappling with how to understand the conditions of life, thought and ethics in the contemporary world.

Brazil, socialization, urban, women, medicine

Women Writing Culture.

Women Writing Culture

Ruth Behar (ed.) & Deborah A. Gordon (ed.)

Writing Culture.

Writing Culture

James Clifford (ed.) & George E. Marcus (ed.)

“Humanists and social scientists alike will profit from reflection on the efforts of the contributors to reimagine anthropology in terms, not only of methodology, but also of politics, ethics, and historical relevance. Every discipline in the human and social sciences could use such a book.”–Hayden White