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Sarah H. Davis
Melvin Konner
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    As they immerse themselves in foreign cultures, trained anthropologists find that accepting difference is one thing, experiencing it is quite another. In tales that entertain as well as illuminate, these writers show how the moral and intellectual challenges of living cross-culturally revealed to them the limits of their perception and understanding.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06333-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Melvin Konner
  4. Introduction: Becoming Human
    (pp. 1-7)
    Sarah H. Davis

    When I first read Marjorie Shostak’s Nisa (Harvard University Press, 1981) and saw that I was not only dealing with a vivid life history of a !Kung woman but also Shostak’s account of her personal relationship with that woman, the world of anthropology opened up to me. Shostak does not set out to “prove” a point about Nisa, about !Kung women, or about female sexuality and medicinal practices in !Kung culture (though her work is revealing of all of these things). Rather, Nisa is an exploration of another real person’s views of the world—winding, intricate, full of ellipses and...

  5. 1 A Kind of Kinship
    (pp. 8-21)
    Lila Abu-Lughod

    At first we overshot the driveway. I was confused by a new structure that obscured my old house. And I still had not gotten used to the gaudy two-story structure that the old house had become in the past eight years or so since the Haj’s sons had married and started their own families, swelling the household. Turning back, we drove slowly down the bumpy lane and through the large metal gates into the empty walled yard, very familiar from my many years of living there in the 1970s and 1980s, even if enlarged in the meantime to accommodate the...

  6. 2 Saints and Outcasts: La Negrita and the Accidental Catholic
    (pp. 22-34)
    Russell Leigh Sharman

    My mother was a Catholic,” Maureen explains patiently, “but I don’t know how she became a Catholic.”

    It is July 2003 and I am sitting in Maureen Charles’s living room in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. The heat is oppressive. But then the heat is always oppressive in Limon. I can remember spending Christmas Eve in this same living room five and a half years earlier sweating over large, steaming tamales wrapped in banana leaves. This day, as ever, Maureen seems unaffected by the swelter. Her freckled, dark skin is only beginning to show her seventy-one years, but it is showing...

  7. 3 Mad to Be Modern
    (pp. 35-52)
    Alma Gottlieb and Philip Graham

    “Goal!” the boys next to us shouted.

    “Which team scored?” I asked Philip, who answered, “No one’s wearing uniforms, so who can tell the teams apart?”

    “Then how do they know who’s on their team?” our son Nathaniel asked.

    “Hmmm,” I started, having no idea how to answer our six-year-old child’s perfectly reasonable question.

    We’d brought Nathaniel along on our latest extended stay in the Beng villages of Côte d’Ivoire, and these first days he’d clung to us closely. But today, when some older boys had jostled into the compound of my old friend Amenan and passed back and forth...

  8. 4 The Evil Eye of the Anthropologist
    (pp. 53-65)
    Ruth Behar

    Only a few months married, my husband, David, and I loaded up the car with our clothes and books and went to live in Mexquitic, a small town carved out of the craggy hills in central Mexico. David had chosen to study agrarian reform there for his dissertation, and I had gone with him out of a sense of fairness. After all, he’d accompanied me for several years while I did my dissertation research in a Spanish village.

    The president of Mexquitic gave us permission to live in a municipal warehouse. It was on the outskirts of town, and filthy...

  9. 5 Two Women
    (pp. 66-83)
    Melvin Konner

    When I think of Marjorie, two images come to mind. In each I see her face in profile, eyes wide and bright, looking off to my right. In one she is twenty, dressed for winter, about to step up into the Sugar Bowl, a nondescript Greek-owned breakfast-and-burger place a block from Brooklyn College, where left-leaning kids like us drank coffee and talked about race and peace. Her cheeks are red, a faint wisp of water vapor whitens the air around her mouth, and a domed black hat crowns her head. Love at first sight? I don’t believe in it. But...

  10. 6 Graça
    (pp. 84-92)
    Jessica Gregg

    Brazil, and perhaps particularly Northeastern Brazil, is an emphatic place: hot, loud, and raucous. I hated it immediately.

    Nothing seemed to exist in moderation. The beaches and the people weren’t just pretty, they were beautiful. The poverty wasn’t just severe, it was devastating. Glue-sniffing gangs of street children weren’t just sad, they were terrifying. It felt so excessive, so incapable of holding any emotion, any horror or delight, in reserve, that my WASP soul recoiled. I didn’t know how to be in that context.

    As a twenty-four-year-old graduate student, I was in Brazil, and specifically in the Northeastern city of...

  11. 7 Insult and Danger: Anthropology among Navajos, Montenegrin Serbs, and Wild Chimpanzees
    (pp. 93-111)
    Chris Boehm

    Wherever you find human beings you’ll find “politics,” and all anthropologists, by their very calling, must act as “politicians” as we seek our way in societies that are sometimes shockingly unfamiliar. Some of our political problems arrive in the form of minor breaches of etiquette, but sometimes a truly dangerous side of local political life can impinge on our sojourns in the field. Here I tell about several experiences of this political ilk, in two different human societies and one well-known society of African great apes.

    When I set out with my family in 1960 to study Navajo Indians’ conceptions...

  12. 8 Shame and Making Truth: The Social Repairs of Ethnographic Blunders
    (pp. 112-127)
    M. Cameron Hay

    In the Platonic philosophical tradition, no price is too high to pay for truth. But in pursuit of one truth during fieldwork, I realized that in everyday life there are multiple truths that people must weigh and calculate on the fly—and that the price can be too high. I learned this during twenty-two months of ethnographic research among poor Sasak farmers living in a rural hamlet I call Pelocok on the island of Lombok in the Indonesian archipelago.

    From 1993 to 1995 I lived in a house about the size of a racquetball court with a family of eleven...

  13. 9 Far from Home, and Being Gnawed on by a Vervet
    (pp. 128-138)
    Melissa Fay Greene

    The first time I visited East Africa, in November 2001, I got bitten by a monkey. I’d bounced across the arid, rocky center of Ethiopia with a thirty-something taxi driver named Selamneh Techane and with my future daughter, five-year-old Helen, to reach the hot springs resort of Sodere (sah-der-ray), a hundred kilometers southeast of Addis Ababa. Helen sprawled across the hot backseat, asleep, and I struggled to stay conscious in the front, blinded by equatorial sunlight multiplied a million times by sand and dust and superheated air. Occasionally there was a town, like the dusty towns of the Old American...

  14. 10 Time Travel
    (pp. 139-150)
    Robert Shore and Bradd Shore

    Twice upon a time, we left home for parts unknown.

    In 1968, just after finishing college, Bradd Shore joined the Peace Corps. A bad war, an unpopular president, and an intimation of possibilities in far-off places led him to Matāvai, a picturesque Samoan village at the edge of the sea in a remote corner of a remote island in a recently independent Pacific Island nation. He learned how to live in a place where the pulse of life resonates to the equatorial heat, where village life is slow-cooked.

    Almost forty years later, in 2006, following his college graduation, Robert Shore,...

  15. 11 Prostitutes with Honor: A Researcher with Shame
    (pp. 151-165)
    Louise Brown

    Mariam is not the prettiest girl in Heera Mandi, and she is certainly not one of the most accomplished. Like the best nachnewalli (dancing girl) she applies her makeup thickly and ties gungaroo to her legs so that the bells stitched onto the pads reach halfway up her calves, but even though she stamps her feet with all the energy of an authentic kathak dancer, her performances reveal no trace of classical training. When she talks she does so in Panjabi, never the polished Urdu or English of Pakistan’s elite courtesans. People living in the other small, dilapidated apartments surrounding...

  16. 12 A Widening Circle: Family, Collaboration, and Lifelong Ethnography in Canyon de Chelly
    (pp. 166-180)
    Jeanne Simonelli

    I was in bed, almost 10:00 p.m., thinking about phased retirement, when my cell phone sang out an old Beatles tune. You say you want a revolution, well, you know … I flipped it open; the music stopped and the voice on the other end said, “Jeanne, it’s Carla. We set the date for the wedding. I wanted you to know right away.”

    Carla. It was late in North Carolina, but 2,500 miles away, on the Navajo reservation, families were just finishing dinner. Carla’s call was a surprise; I pictured her twenty years earlier, a smiling child easily scaling the...

  17. 13 Japanese Ghosts Don’t Have Feet
    (pp. 181-193)
    Liza Dalby

    My first attempt at conducting fieldwork took place in a rural island community in Japan’s Inland Sea. It was a disaster. Though competent in language, I ran aground on invisible shoals of unspoken social understandings. In retrospect, I sent unclear signals as to whether I was a researcher, a visitor, or a guest. Successful fieldwork necessitates negotiating all these roles and more. One is always an outsider, but one must at the same time understand and often behave as an insider. Several years later I conducted my doctoral thesis research on geisha. This time I was keenly aware of the...

  18. 14 Field Relations, Field Betrayals
    (pp. 194-207)
    John C. Wood

    We met for the first time at the Maikona, Kenya, wells. He was watering the family camels, which had come down off the plains the night before. I’d gone that day to watch, meet people, and make contact.

    During the dry season, which in this part of the world is all but a few weeks out of the year, nomads must drive livestock to wells to drink. According to an elaborate schedule, each camp waters its goats and sheep every five days and camels every twelve. Since wells serve a wide area, dozens of different camps visit them daily with...

  19. 15 My Family’s Honor
    (pp. 208-223)
    Sarah H. Davis

    As the monstrous ferryboat pulled into Bastia, one of the two cities on the island of Corsica, I stood with my husband, David, and my fifteen-month-old son, Jackson, on the deck of the boat looking expectantly, if with tired, jet-lagged eyes, upon the shores that would be our new home. The cluster of buildings that we approached was weathered and gray, nearly blending in with the craggy mountain scape and gray skies that rose up behind it. It looked like a photograph of a bright, Mediterranean port-city you’d see in a coffee-table book, but stripped of its color, like a...

  20. 16 Return to Nisa
    (pp. 224-258)
    Marjorie Shostak

    Towering beside them, I sit awkwardly in the circle of small-boned !Kung San women, shifting often, my body unused to the cross-legged position. The quarter moon drops toward the horizon, and the stars brighten as it descends. The sounds of a healing dance flood the air. Complex clapped rhythms drive the women’s songs, fragments of undulating and overlapping melodies. Each woman tilts her head toward her shoulder, trapping sound near her ear, the better to hear her part. The women’s knees and legs, loosely describing a circle, fall carelessly against one another—an intermingling of bodies and song.

    In the...

  21. Contributors
    (pp. 259-260)