Summer readin’ circle: part deux

Summer Reading CircleLast year, Savage Minds embarked on an experiment in blog-mediated group reading circle and discussion with Anna Tsing’s Friction (co-winner, with Michael Fischer, of last years American Ethnological Society Best Book award). It was a success, as far as these things go, and for me another good example of the possibilities of the medium. I did have the pleasure of participating in a AAA panel with Tsing last November, and when I explained that I was part of the reading circle, she was, well, politic. I’m not sure she knew what to make of it: flattery mixed with nonplussedness, I think. Anyhoo, Savage Minds has been discussing targets prospects for this summer’s circular festivities. The plan is to pick a book in the next week and to take a leisurely 6-8 weeks to work through it, together.

As a forum we have (and love) our diverse interests, so no one book is going to please everyone. But we also have an interest in broadening discussion of anthropology and the application of anthropology to contemporary problems, so it should be a book that reflects that, and one that is accessible (monographs on the migratory kinship politics of fricatives are not really what this is about… unless terrorists or Paris Hilton is involved).

There have been a handful of suggestions (listed below), but I’m opening it up to everyone for suggestions. If you’ve got a good idea, suggest it with a reason why you think people should be interested in it. Voting will be conducted in a totally unjust, ad hoc and informal manner, but you can trust that your voice will be heard.

Some starter suggestions:
Typecasting: On the Arts & Sciences of Human Inequality by Ewen and Ewen (All about sterotypes and othering by an American Studies and Film Studies duo).
The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics by Charles Hirshkind (Timely ethnography of Egyptian religious politics and practice).
Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order by James Ferguson (A suggestion from last year’s list, Africa, globalisation and neoliberalism).
Suffering for Territory: Race, Place, and Power in Zimbabwe by Donald S. Moore (a historical and ethnographic account of the land questions in Zimbabwe).
Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy by Sarah Franklin (All about clones, sheep, geneaology).


Christopher M. Kelty is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

14 thoughts on “Summer readin’ circle: part deux

  1. Some more suggestions:

    Engseng Ho, The Graves of Tarim
    Actually, Anna Tsing recommended this book to me. It offers a take on global history and cosmopolitanism understood in non-Eurocentric terms. Ho is reputedly, like, beyond brilliant.

    Webb Keane, Christian Moderns
    The anthropology of Christianity is incredibly important right now, given the growth of evangelical Christianity globally and given that the topic is relatively new for anthropologists. There is a lot of excellent theorizing about religion, culture change, inter-cultural relations, et al going on. Plus, Webb Keane is giving the Westermarck lecture in Helsinki this fall. Ostensibly, this book also looks at the pieties of liberalism… so broad connections could be made with a number of current discussions.

    Harri Englund, Prisoners of Freedom
    The style of social anthropology practiced at Cambridge is a very important counternote to trends in American circles. This looks like a new or different twist on the critique of development. Plus, Dr. Englund is Finnish.

    Harry West, Ethnographic Sorcery
    Short. This book looks like it asks anthropologists to confront their own magical thinking. The sorcery/ethnography thing is an analogy that others have worked on. Given all the talk about occult economies and stuff, I think it’s important for anthropologists to frankly engage with the problem of mystical violence.

    Sandra Bamford, Biology Unmoored
    This book shows why anthropologists *must not* abandon clans for labs. It draws on amazing fieldwork in a real tough location (interior New Guinea) to look at contemporary developments in life sciences, in the best tradition of Marilyn Strathern’s comparative analyses. This would connect up with current discussions about ‘life’ or ‘biopolitics,’ but from an unexpected angle. I would much rather read this than the Franklin volume.

    That said, my top choices would be: Ho, Keane, or Moore (especially Moore cause I already own the book!).

  2. Yay! I wasn’t able to do last year’s and I was hoping you’d do it again. I vote for Moore, Ferguson, and Franklin, in order, as my top three. I’ve peeped at Moore, and I think it’s definitely the kind of book that both serves and is served by being read in discussion.

  3. I have both Global Shadows and Dolly Mistures on my list for the summer so I vote for one of them. I’ve read Suffering for Territory and it is amazing so that is a great idea also. I think doing Global Shadows would be good b/c so many people are writing and thinking about this thing called ‘neoliberalism’ and a good savage-minding of the concept and people who use it would be useful and fun. I think Dolly Mixtures would be good b/c Sarah Franklin is freaking smart and cool and gave an amazing AAA sum up of a panel this past year.

  4. I just read West’s Ethnographic Sorcery, which is a tremendously well written and engaging book. It is less about ethnographers confronting their own magical (non-scientific, irrational?) thinking than coming to understand anthropological accounts as one form of sorcery among others. To me the thrust is somewhat analogous to that of the discussions of para-enthography: how do anthropologists position their own claims to knowledge alongside other expert discourses. Here the experts are the sorcerers. The book is a fantastic read and the best book for teaching that I’ve come across in years. In shows not only the messiness and confusion of the enthographic encounter but also the tentative and ongoing process of theorizing and proposing explanations.

    That said, I don’t know whether its the best book for a SM reading circle. Perhaps his larger ethnography, Kulpilikula would be provide a summer’s worth of material for discussion, or better, we could read both: Kupilikula

    My preference for readings: 1) West, Kupilikula 2) Keane, Christian Moderns 3) Englund, Prisoner of Freedom 4) Hirshkind, Ethical Soundscapes 5) Ferguson, Global Shadows

  5. hey, neat! Sandra Bamford is my advisor. I’d love to read her book, as I haven’t had the chance yet. If we read hers, I could give her a heads up about the discussion, if people were comfortable with that. I think she’d love the idea of it.

    West would also be a good choice. I’ve read Kupilikula, but it was over a year ago and its certainly worth another go. Ethnographic Sorcery also sounds interesting.

  6. the bamford is extremely intriguing. I’m all over that. It sounds very old school in some ways… exactly what anthropology has always promised (i.e. difference enlightening “us”), all the more difficult to pull off in the age of the stem cell phone, or whatever globalization was supposed to be about. I am stuffing the ballot box for this one 🙂

  7. I want to read Kupilikula too. So that’s cool. I would totally support reading Bamford. All of these options I think present us with an embarassment of riches: there is much good anthropology right now. What if we read two books together dynamically! Following TimElf’s comment, I am wondering if the West sorcery book would be interesting to read WITH the Bamford biology book, since they are both working across expert discourses (I think) and critiquing (I think) the epistemological assumptions guiding cross-cultural inquiry. Might be fun. Might also be too much.

  8. “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality”, Ken Wilber

    For fear of being overzealous, I will reserve my comments. Anthropologists need this book. I wanted to be an anthropologist because it is a “holistic” discipline. After getting a BA in anthropology, I read this book and realized that anthropology doesn´t know what “holism” is.

    If you are not ready for Wilber…

    “Sources of the Self”, Charles Taylor

    Taylor takes you right up to the point of synthesis. Wilber provides the synthesis.

  9. I think we should just read wilber’s website which almost led me to the true path of enlightenment with just one click… transpersonal psychology sounds like fun, though.

  10. Yay for summer reading! My vote is for Moore. It’s been sitting gathering dust on my bookshelf and I need a good excuse to finally dig into it.

    If nominations for suggestions are still open, mine would be:

    The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics by Tania Li

    Just published. Judging by the strength of her journal articles, this book looks to become a landmark text in the anthropology of development. I’ve always found her writing very engaging, and her ability to grapple with theory while maintaining an ethnographic focus is simply first-rate. Dunno though, y’all who participated last year might want to read about something other than resource competition in Indonesian forestlands. If that is indeed the case, because my own sub-disciplinary interest is in the anthropology of development (any more of y’all out there?), another suggestion I’m throwing in the ring is:

    Cultivating Development: An Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice by David Mosse

    good concise review —

    Again, particularly engaging material, especially considering the book provoked not only a furore among some informants who worked within aid organizations and tried to prevent its publication on the grounds that it might damage their careers, but also rekindled, especially within British anthro circles, questions of the ethics of ethnography in this particular era of applied anthropology. Saucy stuff indeed.

  11. I’d like to put in votes for Ho, Keane or Bamford. The Moore is an interesting topic, but, based on looking at the Amazon “search inside this book” excerpts, it seemed a little dense and hard to get into. I should also say that I am some combination of intrigued and dubious about the West book (Ethnographic Sorcerers) based in the descriptions here and at the publisher’s web site. One the one hand the idea that their ideas about sorcery reflect some useful insights into social life and the nature of interpretation is interesting–on the other hand the idea that what we do is sorcery because it is inevitably interpretive is problematic because it risks losing the sense of sorcery as a culturally specific way of thinking about social. I should perhaps add that I feel much the same way about the Comaroff’s discussions of sorcery as a response to or attempt to gain agency with respect to global capitalism in their “Occult Economies” article (AE, 26(2):279-303). Their theory about the representations involved in such sorcery is rooted in ideas about commodity fetishism rather than located with a specific cultural scheme. I’m not sure whether this makes the West book problematic as a choice or likely to provoke interesting discussion.

  12. I vote for Keane’s Christian Moderns. Looks ridiculously interesting. And he always writes so well, and his last book Signs of Recognition in the late 90s seemed as smart as it gets.

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