Ethnography in Unstable Places: Everyday Lives in Contexts of Dramatic Political Change

Duke University Press
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Ethnography in Unstable Places is a collection of ethnographic accounts of everyday situations in places undergoing dramatic political transformation. Offering vivid case studies that range from the Middle East and Africa to Europe, Russia, and Southeast Asia, the contributing anthropologists narrate particular circumstances of social and political transformation—in contexts of colonialism, war and its aftermath, social movements, and post–Cold War climates—from the standpoints of ordinary people caught up in and having to cope with the collapse or reconfiguration of the states in which they live.
Using grounded ethnographic detail to explore the challenges to the anthropological imagination that are posed by modern uncertainties, the contributors confront the ambiguities and paradoxes that exist across the spectrum of human cultures and geographies. The collection is framed by introductory and concluding chapters that highlight different dimensions of the book’s interrelated themes—agency and ethnographic reflexivity, identity and ethics, and the inseparability of political economy and interpretivism.
Ethnography in Unstable Places will interest students and specialists in social anthropology, sociology, political science, international relations, and cultural studies.

Contributors. Eve Darian-Smith, Howard J. De Nike, Elizabeth Faier, James M. Freeman, Robert T. Gordon, Carol J. Greenhouse, Nguyen Dinh Huu, Carroll McC. Lewin, Elizabeth Mertz, Philip C. Parnell, Nancy Ries, Judy Rosenthal, Kay B. Warren, Stacia E. Zabusky

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About the author

Carol J. Greenhouse is Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University.

Elizabeth Mertz is Associate Professor of Law and affiliated faculty in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also Senior Research Fellow for the American Bar Foundation.

Kay B. Warren is Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Mar 13, 2002
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Pages
446
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ISBN
9780822383482
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Insurgent Encounters illuminates the dynamics of contemporary transnational social movements, including those advocating for women and indigenous groups, environmental justice, and alternative—cooperative rather than exploitative—forms of globalization. The contributors are politically engaged scholars working within the social movements they analyze. Their essays are both models of and arguments for activist ethnography. They demonstrate that such a methodology has the potential to reveal empirical issues and generate theoretical insights beyond the reach of traditional social-movement research methods. Activist ethnographers not only produce new understandings of contemporary forms of collective action, but also seek to contribute to struggles for social change. The editors suggest networks and spaces of encounter as the most useful conceptual rubrics for understanding shape-shifting social movements using digital and online technologies to produce innovative forms of political organization across local, regional, national, and transnational scales. A major rethinking of the practice and purpose of ethnography, Insurgent Encounters challenges dominant understandings of social transformation, political possibility, knowledge production, and the relation between intellectual labor and sociopolitical activism.

Contributors. Giuseppe Caruso, Maribel Casas-Cortés, Janet Conway, Stéphane Couture, Vinci Daro, Manisha Desai, Sylvia Escárcega, David Hess, Jeffrey S. Juris, Alex Khasnabish, Lorenzo Mosca, Michal Osterweil, Geoffrey Pleyers, Dana E. Powell, Paul Routledge, M. K. Sterpka, Tish Stringer
Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2011

Between 1990 and 1996, the U.S. Congress passed market-based reforms in the areas of civil rights, welfare, and immigration in a series of major legislative initiatives. These were announced as curbs on excessive rights and as correctives to a culture of dependency among the urban poor—stock images of racial and cultural minorities that circulated well beyond Congress. But those images did not circulate unchallenged, even after congressional opposition failed. In The Paradox of Relevance, Carol J. Greenhouse provides a political and literary history of the anthropology of U.S. cities in the 1990s, where—below the radar—New Deal liberalism, with its iconic bond between society and security, continued to thrive.

The Paradox of Relevance opens in the midst of anthropology's so-called postmodern crisis and the appeal to relevance as a basis for reconciliation and renewal. The search for relevance leads outward to the major federal legislation of the 1990s and the galvanic political tensions between rights- and market-based reforms. Anthropologists' efforts to inform those debates through "relevant" ethnography were highly patterned, revealing the imprint of political tensions in shaping their works' central questions and themes, as well as their organization, narrative techniques, and descriptive practices. In that sense, federal discourse dominates the works' demonstrations of ethnography's relevance; however, the authors simultaneously resist that dominance through innovations in their own literariness—in particular, drawing on diasporic fiction and sociolegal studies where these articulate more agentive meanings of identity and difference. The paradox of relevance emerges with the realization that in the context of the times, affirming the relevance of ethnography as value-neutral science required the textual practices of advocacy and art.
Since 2008, the global economic crisis has exposed and deepened the tensions between austerity and social security—not just as competing paradigms of recovery but also as fundamentally different visions of governmental and personal responsibility. In this sense, the core premise of neoliberalism—the dominant approach to government around the world since the 1980s—may by now have reached a certain political limit. Based on the premise that markets are more efficient than government, neoliberal reforms were pushed by powerful national and transnational organizations as conditions of investment, lending, and trade, often in the name of freedom. In the same spirit, governments increasingly turned to the private sector for what were formerly state functions. While it has become a commonplace to observe that neoliberalism refashioned citizenship around consumption, the essays in this volume demonstrate the incompleteness of that image—as the social limits of neoliberalism are inherent in its very practice.

Ethnographies of Neoliberalism collects original ethnographic case studies of the effects of neoliberal reform on the conditions of social participation, such as new understandings of community, family, and gender roles, the commodification of learning, new forms of protest against corporate power, and the restructuring of local political institutions. Carol J. Greenhouse has brought together scholars in anthropology, communications, education, English, music, political science, religion, and sociology to focus on the emergent conditions of political agency under neoliberal regimes. This is the first volume to address the effects of neoliberal reform on people's self-understandings as social and political actors. The essayists consider both the positive and negative unintended results of neoliberal reform, and the theoretical contradictions within neoliberalism, as illuminated by circumstances on the ground in Africa, Europe, South America, Japan, Russia, and the United States. With an emphasis on the value of ethnographic methods for understanding neoliberalism's effects around the world in our own times, Ethnographies of Neoliberalism uncovers how people realize for themselves the limits of the market and act accordingly from their own understandings of partnership and solidarity.

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