Call for Help: Case Study Recommendations

If I haven’t seemed like my normally garrulous self lately, it’s because what with teaching 5 classes, editing a book, and writing a dissertation, I’ve been a little low on though-juice. Because one can never have too much to worry about, though, I’ve taken on a new class for the Spring, People and Culture of the World, which is what it sounds like (this is at the community college level, by the way). Since I wasn’t actually told about this until the Spring catalog came out (said my chair, “Oh, didn’t I tell you?”) I’m under a lot of pressure to get book orders in. I’ve got a textbook selected (John Bodley’s Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States, and the Global System, though I’m also trying to get a review copy of Core Concepts in Cultural Anthropology to use when I teach the class again) but I could use some help selecting a couple of short(-ish?) case studies — 2 or 3 books around 150 pages to supplement the shorter cultural descriptions in Bodley’s book. I’d like one of these to deal with a Muslim culture, especially (though not necessarily) if it deals with gender; then I’m thinking either a foraging people or South Pacific horticultural group, and maybe a minority subculture in a polycultural industrial state. Since I don’t really have time to go through the full process of requesting a dozen or so exam copies to review, waiting for them to arrive, and carefully evaluating them, I’m hoping that the collective wisdom of the Savage Minds collective can point me in the right direction — at least to help me narrow my choices down so I don’t waste time on outdated, unteachable, or poorly written ethnographies.

So how about it — any suggestions? Also, as long as we’re on the topic, what do you think of these kinds of works, you know: those short books clearly intended for introductory-level classes? What other sorts of books do you think might be appropriate for this sort of class? And how do you go about evaluating texts for your classes (if you’re a teacher of some sort, that is)? What are you looking for, and how do you know when you found it?

9 thoughts on “Call for Help: Case Study Recommendations

  1. Guests of the Sheik is a bit longer than you have in mind, but it reads so easy I have many students who tell me they finished it in a night. I know I did. Also its set in Iraq and deals with veiling and shiites — relevant or what? Guests of the Sheik FTW!!!

    This semester I’ve also taught Namoluk Beyond The Reef, which is about the Micronesian diaspora. Very true to life in the Pacific today, short, and well written. Students liked it. But it’s about globalization, so if you are looking for “Pacific -primitives- horticulturalists” it isn’t for you.

    I had a similar slot in my syllabus and I taught:
    Madumo (an SM rec — well received by me and my class)
    Village on the Edge (actually THIS is the ideal ethnography of contemporary PNG)
    Wisdom Sits In Places

    hth. On second thought I higly recommend Village On The Edge.

  2. For “a minority subculture in a polycultural industrial state” Fishing for Heritage by Jane Nadel-Klein is well-written and accessible. It discusses Scottish fishermen, and she covers gender, history, identity and to some extent place. The theoretical parts are written in a remarkably straightforward way, and although it is 220 pages, it’s a pretty easy read. (review here)

  3. Rex — Thanks! Others have recommended “Guests of the Shiek” and I’m waiting on a review copy; now I’m really looking forward to it.

    On PNG — it’s not that I’m looking for “primitive” per se, and in fact I’m more interested in something that deals with globalization and even, if I may, neoliberalism (!!!!). The Bodley book follows a roughly evolutionary schema, moving from Australian foragers to American capitalists (though Bodley is a sharp critic of the impact of globalization on indigenous cultures, so I can’t imagine any of it will be presented as “pristine, original peoples”) and I’d like to have a book each month. So my “foragers or So Pac horticulturalists” is meant to be something to assign at the beginning of the class, during that first month when we’ll be talking about Australian aborigines and Plains Indians and the Yanomamo and so on.

    By the way, what do you think of “White People Will Eat You”? (Don’t think we won’t!)

    Carmen — thanks! I’ve been avoiding European cultures, mostly because it’s not an area I know particularly well, but I’ll have a look at that one.

  4. Oh then Village on the Edge is for you. Its about an anthropologist who tracks development in ‘his’ village over 20 years (they’re constantly on the ‘edge’ of development but can’t get over), but can’t get a position in the academy and can only get back to PNG to work for the World Bank (!) so in fact it directly addresses globalization and neoliberalism in PNG. Like I say I _really_ like this book.

    I’ve only looked briefly at White People Will Eat You. It’s on Ialibu right? By Wormsely, or whatever his name is? I know him because he also did some consultancy work for the government in Enga, the province next door to S. Highlands, where I think it takes place. I’ve not read it — although ‘some of my best friends are from Ialibu’.

    You know there are other ‘literary’ ethnographies which are a bit long but also readable:
    Return to Laughter (Tiv, 50s)
    Play Money (or even My Tiny Life — Internet, 00s) — Dibbell talks a lot about Weber and capitalism in this book.
    Beamtimes and Lifetimes (not literary but short and a good example that anthro can be about ‘us’) etc. etc.

  5. Re “minority subcultures in polycultural industrial states”: Check out the Winter 2006 Radical History Review (no. 94), the theme of which is “Disability and History.” RHR takes the unusual step of publishing annotated course syllabi, and this issue features four, two on teaching the histories of people w mental illnesses, one on teaching Deaf Culture. It’s also got a bunch of book reviews and expository articles on disability subcultures in a variety of social conjunctures (Weimar Germany, e 20th c Mexico, mid-20th-c Botswana–Julie Livingston briefs her *excellent* /Debility and the Moral Imagination in Botswana/).

  6. I’m in much the same position — teaching a world cultures course for the first time to a student body of non-majors who come in to our university from community colleges and unprepared for much heavy reading.

    I had already decided on “Hard Times on Kairiru Island.” I think that the linking of poverty and moral failing will speak to my students, who are predominantly African-American and working or lower middle class.

    I want something on the Middle East, due to current politics and because so many of my students have been in the military, will be in the military, or have children in the military. I’d love to try Veiled Sentiments as an exercise in a very ‘literary’ form of ethnography, but fear it will be too dense for my students; Guests of the Sheik seems to be more accessible as well as relevant.

    But for a more global and/or industrial world ethnography I actually wanted to focus on refugees from the Sudan in the U.S. This would allow me to address transformations of ethnography (British structural-functionalism –> global transmigration), what’s going on in the Sudan today, and issues of race in the U.S. as ‘black’ migrants enter the U.S. racial system.

    Any suggestions?

  7. “But for a more global and/or industrial world ethnography I actually wanted to focus on refugees from the Sudan in the U.S.”

    Well, as it just so happens, I’m using a case study in my Intro class that deals with refugees from the Sudan in the US! The title is “Nuer Journeys, Nuer Lives” by Jon Holtzman, and while I haven’t finished it yet (it’s assigned to be finished by the week after Thanksgiving, with discussion starting next week) what I’ve read has been pretty well-written and engaging. The students who have commented on it have been impressed with the resilience and fortitude of these refugees — which bodes well for the coming discussion of globalization and migration of labor. I think the fact that ER has had a running series of episodes on Sudan may have softened them up to be open to more understanding of these particular people’s lives, too. And of course, the fact that the book focuses on Nuer refugees ties it into a whole history of important anthropological work, meaning that the textbook and my lectures have consistently offered examples from “traditional” Nuer life against which the case study stands as a kind of counter-point.

  8. Good to hear, as that was one of the books I was considering.

    And perhaps I should be taping the ER episodes! It would might be fun to analyze the ways in which political/economic disasters are portrayed in popular American media.

  9. Also, has anyone used Dettweiler’s Dancing Skeletons? There’s a big biology/chemistry/pre-med program at my school, so I’d like to feed in something that has to do with medical anthropology. Plus, this work has the hermeneutic element, which is important to discuss.

    However, I have doubts about doing yet another book on ‘poverty in Africa.’ Just as anthropologists fill the ‘savage slots’ in joint social studies departments (as I do in mine), Africa seems to fill the ‘poverty slot,’ and I’d like to avoid that.

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