Anthropology Faculty: Recent Books

Through Japanese Eyes: Thirty Years of Studying Aging in America

In Through Japanese Eyes, based on her thirty-year research at a senior center in upstate New York, anthropologist Yohko Tsuji describes old age in America from a cross-cultural perspective. Comparing aging in America and in her native Japan, she discovers that notable differences in the panhuman experience of aging are rooted in cultural differences between these two countries, and that Americans have strongly negative attitudes toward aging because it represents the antithesis of cherished American values, especially independence. Tsuji reveals that American culture, despite its seeming lack of guidance for those aging, plays a pivotal role in elders’ lives, simultaneously assisting and constraining them. Furthermore, the author’s lengthy period of research illustrates major changes in her interlocutors’ lives, incorporating their declines and death, and significant shifts in the culture of aging in American society as Tsuji herself gets to know American culture and grows into senescence herself.

Through Japanese Eyes offers an ethnography of aging in America from a cross-cultural perspective based on a lengthy period of research. It illustrates how older Americans cope with the gap between the ideal (e.g., independence) and the real (e.g., needing assistance) of growing older, and the changes the author observed over thirty years of research. (Rutgers University Press, 2020)

Tasting Qualities The Past and Future of Tea

What is the role of quality in contemporary capitalism? How is a product as ordinary as a bag of tea judged for its quality? In her innovative study, Sarah Besky addresses these questions by going inside an Indian auction house where experts taste and appraise mass-market black tea, one of the world’s most recognized commodities. Pairing rich historical data with ethnographic research among agronomists, professional tea tasters and traders, and tea plantation workers, Besky shows how the meaning of quality has been subjected to nearly constant experimentation and debate throughout the history of the tea industry. Working across fields of political economy, science and technology studies, and sensory ethnography, Tasting Qualities argues for an approach to quality that sees it not as a final destination for economic, imperial, or post-imperial projects but as an opening for those projects. (University of California Press, 2020)

Yeshiva Days

New York City’s Lower East Side has witnessed a severe decline in its Jewish population in recent decades, yet every morning in the big room of the city’s oldest yeshiva, students still gather to study the Talmud beneath the great arched windows facing out onto East Broadway. Yeshiva Days is Jonathan Boyarin’s uniquely personal account of the year he spent as both student and observer at Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem, and a poignant chronicle of a side of Jewish life that outsiders rarely see.

Boyarin explores the yeshiva’s relationship with the neighborhood, the city, and Jewish and American culture more broadly, and brings vividly to life its routines, rituals, and rhythms. He describes the compelling and often colorful personalities he encounters each day, and introduces readers to the Rosh Yeshiva, or Rebbi, the moral and intellectual head of the yeshiva. Boyarin reflects on the tantalizing meanings of “study for its own sake” in the intellectually vibrant world of traditional rabbinic learning, and records his fellow students’ responses to his negotiation of the daily complexities of yeshiva life while he also conducts anthropological fieldwork.

A richly mature work by a writer of uncommon insight, wit, and honesty, Yeshiva Days is the story of a place on the Lower East Side with its own distinctive heritage and character, a meditation on the enduring power of Jewish tradition and learning, and a record of a different way of engaging with time and otherness.

Genetic Afterlives

In 1997, M. E. R. Mathivha, an elder of the black Jewish Lemba people of South Africa, announced to the Lemba Cultural Association that a recent DNA study substantiated their ancestral connections to Jews. Lemba people subsequently leveraged their genetic test results to seek recognition from the post-apartheid government as indigenous Africans with rights to traditional leadership and land, retheorizing genetic ancestry in the process. In Genetic Afterlives, Noah Tamarkin illustrates how Lemba people give their own meanings to the results of DNA tests and employ them to manage competing claims of Jewish ethnic and religious identity, African indigeneity, and South African citizenship. Tamarkin turns away from genetics researchers' results that defined a single story of Lemba peoples' “true” origins and toward Lemba understandings of their own genealogy as multivalent. Guided by Lemba people’s negotiations of their belonging as diasporic Jews, South African citizens, and indigenous Africans, Tamarkin considers new ways to think about belonging that can acknowledge the importance of historical and sacred ties to land without valorizing autochthony, borders, or other technologies of exclusion. (Duke University Press, 2020)

Decolonizing Extinction: The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation

In Decolonizing Extinction Juno Salazar Parreñas ethnographically traces the ways in which colonialism, decolonization, and indigeneity shape relations that form more-than-human worlds at orangutan rehabilitation centers on Borneo. Parreñas tells the interweaving stories of wildlife workers and the centers' endangered animals while demonstrating the inseparability of risk and futurity from orangutan care. Drawing on anthropology, primatology, Southeast Asian history, gender studies, queer theory, and science and technology studies, Parreñas suggests that examining workers’ care for these semi-wild apes can serve as a basis for cultivating mutual but unequal vulnerability in an era of annihilation. Only by considering rehabilitation from perspectives thus far ignored, Parreñas contends, could conservation biology turn away from ultimately violent investments in population growth and embrace a feminist sense of welfare, even if it means experiencing loss and pain. (Duke University Press, 2018)

The Future of Bangalore's Cosmopolitan Pasts

Bangalore is often heralded as India’s future—a city where global technologies converge with multinational capital to produce a cosmopolitan workforce and vibrant economic growth. In this narrative the city’s main challenge revolves around its success: whether its physical infrastructure can support its burgeoning population. Most observers assume that Bangalore’s emergence as a “global city” represents its more complete integration into the world economy and, by extension, a more inclusive and cosmopolitan outlook among its growing middle class.

Andrew C. Willford sheds light on a growing paradox: even as Bangalore has come to signify “progress” and economic possibility both within India and to the outside world, movements to make the city more monocultural and monolinguistic have gained prominence. Bangalore is the capital of the state of Karnataka, its borders linguistically redrawn by the postcolonial Indian state in 1956. In the decades that followed, organizations and leaders emerged to promote linguistic nationalism aimed at protecting the fragile unity of Kannadiga culture and literature against the twin threats of globalization and internal migration. Ironically, they support parochial cultural policies that impose a cultural and linguistic unity upon an area that historically stood at the crossroads of empires, trade routes, language practices, devotional literatures, and pilgrimage routes. Willford’s analysis, which focuses on the minority experience of Bangalore’s sizeable Tamil-speaking community, shows how the same forces of globalization that create growth and prosperity also foster uncertainty and tension around religion and language that completely contradict the region’s long history of cosmopolitanism.

Exploring this paradox in Bangalore’s entangled and complex linguistic and cultural pasts serves as a useful case study for understanding the forces behind cultural and ethnic revivalism in the contemporary postcolonial world. Buttressed by field research conducted over a twenty-two-year period (1992–2015), Willford shows how the past is a living resource for the negotiation of identity in the present. Against the gloom of increasingly communal conflicts, he finds that Bangalore still retains a fabric of civility against the modern markings of cultural difference. (University of Hawaii Press, 2018)

Wild Chimpanzees

As our closest primate relatives, chimpanzees offer tantalizing clues about the behavior of early human ancestors. This book provides a rich and detailed portrait of chimpanzee social life in the wild, synthesizing hundreds of thousands of hours of research at seven long-term field sites. Why are the social lives of males and females so different? Why do groups of males sometimes seek out and kill neighboring individuals? Do chimpanzees cooperate when they hunt monkeys? Is their vocal behaviour like human speech? Are there different chimpanzee 'cultures'? Addressing these questions and more, Adam Arcadi presents a fascinating introduction to the chimpanzee social universe and the challenges we face in trying to save this species from extinction. With extensive notes organized by field site and an appendix describing field methods, this book is indispensable for students, researchers, and anyone else interested in the remarkable and complex world of these intelligent apes.

  • Synthesizes research from all the long-term chimpanzee field projects, offering a unique species-wide and site-wide perspective 
  • The concise and readable text ensures the book is accessible, while citations and extensive endnotes are useful for those who want to look deeper into the literature
  • Emphasizes the conservation plight of chimpanzees and the importance of long-term scientific research projects for conservation

Gender: Animals

This volume of the Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks series on gender studies engages feminist, queer, and transgender perspectives on animals. Gender: Animals traces how non-human and human animals are crucial subjects in gender studies, especially when it comes to understanding matters of life and death, difference and diversity, carnality, and representation. Its 21 chapters examine such topics as feminist food politics, veterinary care, zoos, microbes, breeding, chattel slavery, industrial slaughter, and animal internet stardom. Chapters are written by eminent scholars, are peer reviewed, include illustrations, and offer bibliographies to encourage further research. The volume concludes with a glossary and a comprehensive index. (Macmillan Reference USA; 2017)

Sovereignty's Entailments: First Nation State Formation in the Yukon

In recent decades, indigenous peoples in the Yukon have signed land claim and self-government agreements that spell out the nature of government-to-government relations and grant individual First Nations significant, albeit limited, powers of governance over their peoples, lands, and resources. Those agreements, however, are predicated on the assumption that if First Nations are to qualify as governments at all, they must be fundamentally state-like, and they frame First Nation powers in the culturally contingent idiom of sovereignty.

Based on over five years of ethnographic research carried out in the southwest Yukon, Sovereignty’s Entailments is a close ethnographic analysis of everyday practices of state formation in a society whose members do not take for granted the cultural entailments of sovereignty. This approach enables Nadasdy to illustrate the full scope and magnitude of the "cultural revolution" that is state formation and expose the culturally specific assumptions about space, time, and sociality that lie at the heart of sovereign politics.

Nadasdy’s timely and insightful work illuminates how the process of state formation is transforming Yukon Indian people’s relationships with one another, animals, and the land. (University of Toronto Press, 2017)

Imperial Matter: Ancient Persia and the Archaeology of Empires

What is the role of the material world in shaping the tensions and paradoxes of imperial sovereignty? Scholars have long shone light on the complex processes of conquest, extraction, and colonialism under imperial rule. But imperialism has usually been cast as an exclusively human drama, one in which the world of matter does not play an active role. Lori Khatchadourian argues instead that things—from everyday objects to monumental buildings—profoundly shape social and political life under empire. Based on the archaeology of ancient Persia and the South Caucasus, Imperial Matter advances powerful new analytical approaches to the study of imperialism writ large and should be read by scholars of empire across the humanities and social sciences. (University of California Press, 2016)

The Twilight of Cutting

The last three decades have witnessed a proliferation of nongovernmental organizations engaging in new campaigns to end the practice of female genital cutting across Africa. These campaigns have in turn spurred new institutions, discourses, and political projects, bringing about unexpected social transformations, both intended and unintended. Consequently, cutting is waning across the continent. At the same time, these endings are misrecognized and disavowed by public and scholarly discourses across the political spectrum.

What does it mean to say that while cutting is ending, the Western discourse surrounding it is on the rise? And what kind of a feminist anthropology is needed in such a moment? The Twilight of Cutting examines these and other questions from the vantage point of Ghanaian feminist and reproductive health NGOs that have organized campaigns against cutting for over thirty years. The book looks at these NGOs not as solutions but as sites of “problematization.” The purpose of understanding these Ghanaian campaigns, their transnational and regional encounters, and the forms of governmentality they produce is not to charge them with providing answers to the question, how do we end cutting? Instead, it is to account for their work, their historicity, the life worlds and subjectivities they engender, and the modes of reflection, imminent critique, and opposition they set in motion. (University of California Press, 2016)

The Political Machine

The Political Machine investigates the essential role that material culture plays in the practices and maintenance of political sovereignty. Through an archaeological exploration of the Bronze Age Caucasus, Adam Smith demonstrates that beyond assemblies of people, polities are just as importantly assemblages of things—from ballots and bullets to crowns, regalia, and licenses. Smith looks at the ways that these assemblages help to forge cohesive publics, separate sovereigns from a wider social mass, and formalize governance—and he considers how these developments continue to shape politics today.

Smith shows that the formation of polities is as much about the process of manufacturing assemblages as it is about disciplining subjects, and that these material objects or “machines” sustain communities, orders, and institutions. The sensibilities, senses, and sentiments connecting people to things enabled political authority during the Bronze Age and fortify political power even in the contemporary world. Smith provides a detailed account of the transformation of communities in the Caucasus, from small-scale early Bronze Age villages committed to egalitarianism, to Late Bronze Age polities predicated on radical inequality, organized violence, and a centralized apparatus of rule.

From Bronze Age traditions of mortuary ritual and divination to current controversies over flag pins and Predator drones, The Political Machine sheds new light on how material goods authorize and defend political order. (Princeton University Press, 2015)