(update: I incorrectly spelled ‘Tedlock’ in the title of this post when it first went lived. This has now been corrected. Apologies.)
It seems like I’ve been writing a lot of obituaries lately. Between Elizabeth Colson, Edie Turner, and Anthony Wallace and Raymond Smith, I’ve spent a lot of my time thinking about the past. Now, in close succession, we have also lost Paul Friedrich and Dennis Tedlock. It’s sad to record these passings, but I take some consolation in the fact that the people we remember have been so productive and matter so much to the people who mourn them — the world is richer for them having been in it. But in remembering these two today, I also want to talk briefly about how our discipline is changing, and what these demographic shifts might signal for anthropology’s future.
When Elizabeth Colson passed last month at the age of 99, anthropology lost one of its preeminent figures. Colson was a unique figure in many ways: She straddled the English and American anthropological traditions, rose to prominent positions of authority at a time when anthropology was still largely a men’s club, and exhibited a devotion to her research that few can match: According the Facebook post I was able to find confirming her death (thanks Hylton), Colson died and was buried in Africa.
Edith Turner — Edie as she was universally known — passed away on 18 June 2016. Perhaps the quickest and least accurate way to describe Edie is “Victor Turner’s wife”. But her importance in anthropology is pretty much totally erased by that description. Edie was a tremendous influence on Vic, and all of his work should be read with the recognition that there is a silent second author on the piece: Edie. But even reducing Edie to merely a co-author of some of the most important anthropology ever written doesn’t do her justice. Edie outlived Vic by 33 years, producing her own brand of anthropology with flair and originality. Edie produced around five books between Vic’s death and her passing — that is to say, after she was sixty-two years old, an age when most people are on the verge of retirement! In them, she crafted an audacious, unapologetic anthropology of religion that parted ways with secularism, science, and over-seriousness… and never looked back.
I was saddened to learn yesterday that my friend and colleague Bernard Bate passed away. A scholar in his prime in his mid-fifties, Barney (as he was known) was a model of vitality, health, optimism. On paper, Barney’s story is straightforward: A Chicago anthropology alumn with a speciality in Tamil oratory, he taught at Yale before moving to Yale-NUS, an innovative liberal arts college in Singapore where Yale and the National University of Singapore created a unique curriculum combining Western and Eastern classical traditions. His book, Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic says a lot about Barney: It’s sly reference to Weber encapsulates the mix of playfulness and profound depth that marked Barney’s scholarship. The book is also a homage to Barney’s deep personal commitment to Tamil as a language, Madurai as a place, and to the global Tamil-speaking community.
But it is really in this YouTube clip where you can catch a sense of Barney’s remarkable personality. Asked by the interviewer what duty Tamil speakers have to preserve their language, Barney immediately turns the question around. “I wouldn’t put it like that,” he says. “What joy of preserving your language, I would say. I mean, it’s not a really a duty.” And then, switching into Tamil, he walks the walk by talking the talk, ending with the line “it’s your duty to enjoy your language.”
Jennifer Jackson passed away in May of this year at the young age of 39. Here is an excerpt from the obituary that ran on Anthropology News:
We mourn the loss of her brilliant mind, quick smile and mischievous humor. She was known for incisive scholarship on politics and social justice. She wove a keen artistic sense for poetics into her ethnographic observations, as evident in her 2013 book Political Oratory and Cartooning: An Ethnography of Democratic Processes in Madagascar. Her eye-opening insights into the language of American politics were featured in national media. Jennifer served the American Anthropological Association, first on the Executive Board’s student seat then the Society for Linguistic Anthropology’s Executive Board.
There will be a memorial in her honor at the AAA in Denver. I didn’t know her personally, but here in Taiwan we are honoring her by reading her ethnography. It is a great book and well worth reading for many reasons, but I especially loved her description of the discipline of linguistic anthropology in the introduction (pp. xxiii-xxv). (It’s a long quote, but I couldn’t see anything in it that I would want to cut.) Continue reading
I couldn’t let this week slip by without mentioning the passing of two great anthropologist: Raymond T. Smith and Anthony F.C. Wallace. Continue reading
[The following is an invited post by Keith Hart, Centennial Professor of Economic Anthropology in the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics and International Director of the Human Economy Program in the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship at the University of Pretoria.]
It impressed me that in one version of the [myth of the] Bagre God and the spirits had organized life. Another version was about how the water-spirits, the fairies had helped mankind to invent culture. And in a third version man himself had gone out and invented how to build a house and the rest. All these were within the same myth, theological and humanistic versions together. It gave me a different idea about human beings, that the LoDagaa were always thinking “Was it god or was it mankind that invented this?”
It was very important to me that some of my friends could become university lecturers, having been brought up in a small, oral village and now learn everything from books. Certainly they lost a lot on the way, they lost the Bagre because Goody’s written version was the real one, done with old men whom they hadn’t known. I had to explain to them that my version was chance, I could have written down a hundred other versions if I had the time, the money and the energy. The written version was only one of many (J. Goody 1972, The Myth of the Bagre, Cambridge).1
So what follows is mostly based on oral memory. I have published four essays on Jack Goody’s writings and this one is something else.2
We crave sincerity as much as scholarship
-Michael Jackson 2012: 175
How many dead people do you know on Facebook? I know three. Well, maybe two because one was aware that she was dying and took her page down. For the others, death was a surprise, even though in one case it was planned. Plans can be surprises of sorts.
Many people worry that social media is changing the world for the worse. It is pretty common to hear people lament the lack of face to face communication these days or worry that people are ‘disconnected’ in the age of digital connection. I don’t worry about this. If the undergraduate students I teach have shown me anything, it is that the medium of communication doesn’t over determine its purpose or possibility. Plus, I am a linguistic anthropologist and a human being so I know face to face interaction isn’t a connective walk-in-the-park. One thing I have been dwelling on is how social media alters how we know death. Continue reading
Keith Hart recently announced on social media that Jack Goody passed away. He was just a few days before his 96th birthday. Goody had a long and productive life and was a model of the successful anthropologist: Born in England at the end of the one world war, he spent much of the second as a prisoner of war. After the war he joined the anthropology program at Cambridge, where he was a junior partner to Edmund Leach and Meyer Fortes. He ended up becoming the William Wyse Professor of Anthropology at Cambridge, taking up the mantle from Fortes, who was the first person to capture Cambridge for social anthropology. Given his institutional centrality, it’s not surprising that Goody is remembered by British anthropologists. But he deserves to be remembered by American ones — and by everyone, really — both for being a role model of successful scholarship and an indirect influence on authors we read today, such as David Grabber and Tanya Li.
(Savage Minds is pleased to run this guest column from Gina Athena Ulysse in tribute to Karen McCarthy Brown. Gina is an associate professor of anthropology at Wesleyan University. Born in Haiti, she has lived in the United States for the last thirty years. She is also a poet, performance artist and multi-media artist. Prof U, as her students call her, is the author of Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, A Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica (Chicago 2008). She recently completed Why Haiti Needs New Narratives, a collection of post-quake dispatches, essays and meditations written between 2010-2012. Currently, she is developing VooDooDoll, What if Haiti Were a Woman, a performance-installation project. Her writing has been published in Gastronomica, Souls, and Transition.)
News that Karen McCarthy Brown passed away after years of deteriorating illness reached me earlier this month. I kept it to myself. When more official announcement from Drew University–where she was Professor Emerita of anthropology and sociology of religion—showed up on my Facebook feed this past Sunday, I shared it with the following comment:
Reading Karen’s Mama Lola kept me in grad school. Vodou got a human face from her. A tremendous loss, indeed.
When the first email arrived from UCSB’s Claudine Michel who penned the preface to the third edition of Brown’s award-winning ethnography in 2010, I had a flashback to nearly two decades ago. Continue reading
When Joan Rivers passed away yesterday, the world paid far more attention than most people might have expected. A veteran of… well, pretty much everything, Rivers was someone who many more people took seriously than anyone expected. But anthropologists in particular were surprised and pleased (at least in my case) to discover that she had an undergraduate degree — and from Barnard no less, the mothership of American Cultural Anthropology. But, sadly, it is probably not true.
At the moment, the current wikipedia entry as earning “a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature and anthropology”. So if Wikipedia says it it must be true? Hmmm…
Wikipedia lists three citations for this assertion: Rivers’ New York Times obit, her (superbly named) memoir Enter Talking, and a Washington Post obit. In fact, the Times obit gives her major as English. This morning when I checked it the WaPo obit listed her major as anthropology, but now that has been removed for some reason and her major is not specified. In Enter Talking (which Wikipedia cites without a page number, tsk tsk) what Rivers actually says is: “I was an English literature major” (that’s page 55 of the 1986, NYC, Delacorte press edition).
It was with a genuine sense of loss that I read over the weekend that Stanley Tambiah had passed away. Tambiah was a model anthropologist, a person whose personal life and work exemplified everything that our discipline can and should be. He was an area studies specialist whose monographs on life in rural Thailand expanded our ethnography of this area. He was a theorist who knit together British and American theories of symbolism and ritual at a key point in anthropological theory. And he also became a public intellectual who published substantive work on pressing issues of the day in books and articles about ethnic violence in India and Sri Lanka. Above all, he will be remembered by his colleagues as role model of the generous scholar and human being. His generosity, kindness, and humility seemed to combine the best of all the different cultures he lived in, from English gentleman to humble Buddhist to Sri Lankan Christian. His loss gives us a chance to reflect on the values he lived and that we, in turn, ought to continue to follow. Continue reading
Last night I received an email announcing that Gerald Berreman passed away on December 23rd. I never met him, and his work on India and the Himalayas was far outside of my fieldwork in the Pacific. But I — and everyone else — deserve to remember Berreman not only because of his ethnographic work, but because he was one of the first generation of anthropologists to politicize anthropology in the late sixties and early seventies.
If you are interested in learning more about Berreman, you may want to check out two of his better-known articles, both of which have been posted online at his website: “Anemic and Emetic Analyses in Social Anthropology” and “Is Anthropology Alive? Social Responsibility in Social Anthropology“. We have a new generation of anthropologists who know not Berreman, not this influential work doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.