Book Shelf


Publication Date: 2023

Publisher: The University of Chicago Press

Link to Publisher Website: Thinking with Ngangas: What Afro-Cuban Ritual Can Tell Us about Scientific Practice and Vice Versa

Inspired by the exercises of Father Lafitau, an eighteenth-century Jesuit priest and protoethnographer who compared the lives of the Iroquois to those of the ancient Greeks, Stephan Palmié embarks on a series of unusual comparative investigations of Afro-Cuban ritual and Western science. 

What do organ transplants have to do with ngangas, a complex assemblage of mineral, animal, and vegetal materials, including human remains, that serve as the embodiment of the spirits of the dead? How do genomics and “ancestry projects” converge with divination and oracular systems? What does it mean that Black Cubans in the United States took advantage of Edisonian technology to project the disembodied voice of a mystical entity named ecué onto the streets of Philadelphia? Can we consider Afro-Cuban spirit possession as a form of historical knowledge production?

by Stephan Palmié

Publication Date: 2023

Publisher: The University of Chicago Press

Link to Publisher Website: Working the Difference Science, Spirit, and the Spread of Motivational Interviewing

A history of motivational interviewing and what its rise reveals about how cultural forms emerge and spread.

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a professional practice, a behavioral therapy, and a self-professed conversation style that encourages clients to talk themselves into change. Originally developed to treat alcoholics, MI quickly spread into a variety of professional fields including corrections, medicine, and sanitation. In Working the Difference, E. Summerson Carr focuses on the training and dissemination of MI to explore how cultural forms—and particularly forms of expertise—emerge and spread. The result is a compelling analysis of the American preoccupations at MI’s core, from democratic autonomy and freedom of speech to Protestant ethics and American pragmatism.

By E. Summerson Carr

Publication Date: 2023

Publisher: Fulton Books

Link to Publisher Website: Footprints from Fossils to Gallows Adventures in Paleoanthropology, Primatology, and Forensic Anthropology

University of Chicago professor Russell Tuttle was privileged to study one of the most dramatic and provocative fossil discoveries of the twentieth century: 3.66–million–year–old (MA) bipedal footprint trails at Laetoli, Northern Tanzania. This adventure concurrently led to invitations to join a team of barristers and solicitors in defense of two men accused of involvement in a murder in Winnipeg, Canada. The Queen's Counsel for the prosecution had engaged a certified forensic anthropologist, Louise M. Robbins (1928–1987), who had worked on a different section of the Laetoli footprints trails before him. Her claim to have developed a new science of human footprint analysis for forensic use and wild speculations about the makers of some Laetoli prints prompted him to question her scientific ability and method of footprint analysis (Tuttle 1986) and the judgment of fellow forensic anthropologists who supported her testimonials.

We hope this book might lead to a better understanding of how science can serve our courts by using novel and well–established results of scientific research less adversarially with a view to achieve justice for all parties affected by crimes. Particularly, claims of new forensic methods should be tested thoroughly by peer review outside the courtroom before employment to decide matters of life and death. Dr. Robbins's decade of quackery is a prime example of how justice might be better served by early, thorough scrutiny of a claimant's novel methods and general scientific expertise.

By Russell H. Tuttle

Edited by: Stephan Palmié

Publication Date: 2023

Publisher: HAU Books

Link to Publisher Website: Fernando Ortiz: Caribbean and Mediterranean Counterpoints

Cuban scholar Fernando Ortiz (1881-1969) coined the term “transculturation” in 1940. This was an early case of theory from the South: concepts developed from an explicitly peripheral epistemological vantage point, and launched as a corrective to European and North American theoretical formulations. What Ortiz proposed was a contrapuntal vision of complexly entangled processes that we, today, would conceptualize as cultural emergence.

Inspired by Ortiz, this volume engineers an unprecedented conversation between Mediterraneanist and Caribbeanist scholars. It harnesses Ortiz’s mid-20th century theoretical formulations to early 21st century issues pertinent to both regions, including migration, territorial sovereignty, and cultural diversity. The contributors explore this perspective (arguably formed during Ortiz’s youth in late 19th century Menorca) in a dialogue between scholars of the contemporary Caribbean and Mediterranean so as to enable novel analytics for both regions, and more broadly to probe the promises and limits of Ortiz’s contribution for contemporary anthropology.


Publication Date: 2023

Publisher: The University of Chicago Press

Link to Publisher Website: Unmaking Waste: New Histories of Old Things

Garbage is often assumed to be an inevitable part and problem of human existence. But when did people actually come to think of things as “trash”—as becoming worthless over time or through use, as having an end?

Unmaking Waste tackles these questions through a long-term, cross-cultural approach. Drawing on archaeological finds, historical documents, and ethnographic observations to examine Europe, the United States, and Central America from prehistory to the present, Sarah Newman traces how different ideas about waste took shape in different times and places. Newman examines what people consider to be “waste” and how they interact with it, as well as what happens when different perceptions of trash come into conflict. Conceptions of waste have shaped forms of reuse and renewal in ancient Mesoamerica, early modern ideas of civility and forced religious conversion in New Spain, and even the modern discipline of archaeology. Newman argues that centuries of assumptions imposed on other places, times, and peoples need to be rethought. This book is not only a broad reconsideration of waste; it is also a call for new forms of archaeology that do not take garbage for granted. Unmaking Waste reveals that waste is not—and never has been—an obvious or universal concept.

by Sarah Newman

Publication Date: 2023

Publisher: Duke University Press

Link to Publisher Website: Sovereignty Unhinged An Illustrated Primer for the Study of Present Intensities, Disavowals, and Temporal Derangements

Sovereignty Unhinged theorizes sovereignty beyond the typical understandings of action, control, and the nation-state. Rather than engaging with the geopolitical realities of the present, the contributors consider sovereignty from the perspective of how it is lived and enacted in everyday practice and how it reflects people’s aspirations for new futures. In a series of ethnographic case studies ranging from the Americas to the Middle East to South Asia, they examine the means of avoiding the political and historical capture that make one complicit with sovereign authority rather than creating the conditions of possibility to confront it. The contributors attend to the affective dimensions of these practices of world-building to illuminate the epistemological, ontological, and transnational entanglements that produce a sense of what is possible. They also trace how sovereignty is activated and deactivated over the course of a lifetime within the struggle of the everyday. In so doing, they outline how individuals create and enact forms of sovereignty that allow them to endure fast and slow forms of violence while embracing endless opportunities for building new worlds.

Editors: Deborah A. Thomas and Joseph Masco

Contributors: Deborah A. Thomas, Alex Blanchette, Yarimar Bonilla, Jessica Cattelino, Maria Elena Garcia, Akhil Gupta, Lochlann Jain, Kristen L. Simmons, Kaya Naomi Williams, Purnima Mankekar, Michael Ralph, Danilyn Rutherford, Arjun Shankar, Leniqueca A. Welcome, Jessica Winegar

Publication Date: 2023

Publisher: University of Toronto Press

Link to Publisher Website: Onscreen/Offscreen

Based on over a decade of ethnographic fieldwork in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Onscreen/Offscreen is an exploration of the politics and being of filmic images. The book examines contestations inside and outside the Tamil film industry over the question "what is an image?" Answers to this question may be found in the ontological politics that take place on film sets, in theatre halls, and in the social fabric of everyday life in South India, from populist electoral politics and the gendering of social space to caste uplift and domination.

Bridging and synthesizing linguistic anthropology, film studies, visual studies, and media anthropology, Onscreen/Offscreen rethinks key issues across a number of fields concerned with the semiotic constitution of social life, from the performativity and ontology of images to questions of spectatorship, realism, and presence. In doing so, it offers both a challenge to any approach that would separate image from social context and a new vision for linguistic anthropology beyond the question of "language."

Onscreen/Offscreen is available open access here.


Publication Date: 2022

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Link to Publisher Website: Language in Culture Lectures on the Social Semiotics of Language

Language enables us to represent our world, rendering salient the identities, groups, and categories that constitute social life. Michael Silverstein (1945–2020) was at the forefront of the study of language in culture, and this book unifies a lifetime of his conceptual innovations in a set of seminal lectures. Focusing not just on what people say but how we say it, Silverstein shows how discourse unfolds in interaction. At the same time, he reveals that discourse far exceeds discrete events, stabilizing and transforming societies, politics, and markets through chains of activity. Presenting his magisterial theoretical vision in engaging prose, Silverstein unpacks technical terms through myriad examples – from brilliant readings of Marcel Marceau's pantomime, the class-laced banter of graduate students, and the poetics/politics of wine-tasting, to Fijian gossip and US courtroom talk. He draws on forebears in linguistics and anthropology while offering his distinctive semiotic approach, redefining how we think about language and culture.

By Michael Silverstein

Edited by E. Summerson Carr, Susan Gal, and Constantine V. Nakassis

Publication Date: 2022

Publisher: Raffaello Cortina Editore

Link to Publisher Website: Fare stile

In Fare stile Constantine Nakassis prende in esame il mondo dei giovani e dei mass media nell’India del Sud, dove la vita quotidiana e i media trovano ancoraggio in un fenomeno che i giovani tamil chiamano stile.

Penetrando nell’intimità dei soggetti, le descrizioni etnografiche della vita universitaria nel Tamil Nadu consentono a Nakassis di decifrare il funzionamento complesso degli atti e degli oggetti di stile (abiti di marca, slang anglicizzato, rappresentazioni cinematografiche) nei quali trovano espressione le aspirazioni e le inquietudini molteplici di una generazione che vive all’ombra di una promessa di modernità globale.

L’autore ne ricava una notevole quanto opportuna ricostruzione del modo in cui forze immense come la cultura dei giovani, la globalizzazione e i mass media interagiscono nel quadro vivace e ricco di energie di un’India in corso di rapida trasformazione.

Publication Date: 2022

Publisher: University of California Press

Link to Publisher Website: After Servitude

How are injurious pasts redeployed by the dispossessed? After Servitude explores how agrarian engineers, Indigenous farmers, Mestizo mining bosses, and rural workers navigate racial hierarchies rooted in histories of forced agrarian labor. In the rural Bolivian province of Ayopaya, where the liberatory promises of property remain elusive, Quechua people address such hierarchies by demanding aid from Mestizo elites and, when that fails, through acts of labor militancy. Against institutional faith in property ownership as a means to detach land from people and present from past, the kin of former masters and servants alike have insisted that ethical debts from earlier racial violence stretch across epochs and formal land sales. What emerges is a vision of justice grounded in popular demands that wealth remain beholden to the region’s agrarian past. By tracing Ayopayans’ active efforts to contend with servitude’s long shadow, Mareike Winchell illuminates the challenges that property confronts as both an extractive paradigm and a means of historical redress.

Publication Date: 2022

Publisher: University of New Mexico Press

Link to Publisher Website: The New Death | University of New Mexico Press

The New Death brings together scholars who are intrigued by today’s rapidly changing death practices and attitudes. New and different ways of treating the body and memorializing the dead are proliferating across global cities. Using ethnographic, historical, and media-based approaches, the contributors to this volume focus on new attitudes and practices around mortality and mourning—from the possibilities of digitally enhanced afterlives to industrialized “necro-waste,” the ethics of care, the meaning of secular rituals, and the political economy of death. Together, the chapters coalesce around the argument that there are two major currents running through the new death—reconfigurations of temporality and of intimacy. Pushing back against the folklorization endemic to anthropological studies of death practices and the whiteness of death studies as a field, the chapters strive to override divisions between the Global South and the Anglophone world, focusing instead on syncretization, globalization, and magic within the mundane.


Publication Date: 2021

Publisher: Duke University Press

Link to Publisher Website: Multisituated

In Multisituated Kaushik Sunder Rajan evaluates the promises and potentials of multisited ethnography with regard to contemporary debates around decolonizing anthropology and the university. He observes that at the current moment, anthropology is increasingly peopled by diasporic students and researchers, all of whom are accountable to multiple communities beyond the discipline. In this light, Sunder Rajan draws on his pedagogical experience and dialogues to reconceptualize ethnography as a multisituated practice of knowledge production, ethical interlocution, and political intervention. Such a multisituated ethnography responds to contemporary anthropology’s myriad commitments as it privileges attention to questions of scale, comparison, and the politics of ethnographic encounters. Foregrounding the conditions of possibility and difficulty for those doing and teaching ethnography in the twenty-first-century, Sunder Rajan gestures toward an ethos and praxis of ethnography that would open new forms of engagement and research.

Publication Date: 2021

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Link to Publisher Website: American Afterlives

Death in the United States is undergoing a quiet revolution. You can have your body frozen, dissected, composted, dissolved, or tanned. Your family can incorporate your remains into jewelry, shotgun shells, paperweights, and artwork. Cremations have more than doubled, and DIY home funerals and green burials are on the rise. American Afterlives is Shannon Lee Dawdy’s lyrical and compassionate account of changing death practices in America as people face their own mortality and search for a different kind of afterlife.

As an anthropologist and archaeologist, Dawdy knows that how a society treats its dead yields powerful clues about its beliefs and values. As someone who has experienced loss herself, she knows there is no way to tell this story without also reexamining her own views about death and dying. In this meditative and gently humorous book, Dawdy embarks on a transformative journey across the United States, talking to funeral directors, death-care entrepreneurs, designers, cemetery owners, death doulas, and ordinary people from all walks of life. What she discovers is that, by reinventing death, Americans are reworking their ideas about personhood, ritual, and connection across generations. She also confronts the seeming contradiction that American death is becoming at the same time more materialistic and more spiritual.

Written in conjunction with a documentary film project, American Afterlives features images by cinematographer Daniel Zox that provide their own testament to our rapidly changing attitudes toward death and the afterlife.

Publication Date: 2021

Publisher: Stanford University Press

Link to Publisher Website: Protestant Textuality and the Tamil Modern

Throughout history, speech and storytelling have united communities and mobilized movements. Protestant Textuality and the Tamil Modern examines this phenomenon in Tamil-speaking South India over the last three centuries, charting the development of political oratory and its influence on society. Supplementing his narrative with thorough archival work, Bernard Bate begins with Protestant missionaries' introduction of the sermonic genre and takes the reader through its local vernacularization. What originally began as a format of religious speech became an essential political infrastructure used to galvanize support for new social imaginaries, from Indian independence to Tamil nationalism. Completed by a team of Bate's colleagues, this ethnography marries linguistic anthropology to performance studies and political history, illuminating new geographies of belonging in the modern era.

About the authors:

Bernard Bate was Associate Professor of Anthropology at Yale-NUS College. A linguistic anthropologist who specialized in the Tamil language, his first book is Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic (2009).

E. Annamalai is Visiting Professor of Tamil at the University of Chicago.

Francis Cody is Associate Professor in Anthropology and in the Asian Institute, both at the University of Toronto.

Malarvizhi Jayanth is a historian of colonial South Asia pursuing her doctorate at the University of Chicago.

Constantine V. Nakassis is Associate Professor of Anthropology and affiliated faculty in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago.

Protestant Textuality and the Tamil Modern - Political Oratory and the Social Imaginary in South Asia is available open access here.

Publication Date: 2021

Publisher: Duke University Press

Link to Publisher Website: The Future of Fallout

The Future of Fallout, and Other Episodes in Radioactive World-Making (2021, Duke University Press) gathers writings that examine the strange American intimacy with and commitment to existential danger. Tracking the simultaneous production of nuclear emergency and climate disruption since 1945, Masco focuses on the psychosocial accommodations as well as the technological revolutions that have produced these linked planetary scale disasters. Masco assesses the memory practices, visual culture, concepts of danger, and toxic practices that, in combination, have generated a US national security culture that promises ever more safety and comfort in everyday life but does so only by generating, and deferring acton on, a vast range of violences into the collective future. Interrogating how this existential lag (i.e., the material and conceptual fallout of the twentieth century in form of nuclear weapons and petrochemical capitalism) informs life in the twenty-first century, Masco identifies key moments when other futures were possible, and seeks to activate an alternative, post-national security, political imaginary in support of collective life today.