Friends of Friends

Published on June 2016 | Categories: Documents | Downloads: 66 | Comments: 0 | Views: 521
of 25
Download PDF   Embed   Report

tell about how to connect friends of friends by social networks



Anagnost, Ann, Andrea Arai and Hai Ren.
2013. Global futures in East Asia: youth, nation, and the new economy in uncertain times.
Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. 311 pp.
Pb.: $22.46. ISBN 978–0804776189.
Global Futures in East Asia brings together
various ethnographic studies on the condition
of young people in a post-miracle era. Especially in the 1980s, the different economies of
East Asia saw what was then deemed as the
Asian miracle characterised by manufacturing
and export. In such economies as Taiwan,
Japan and South Korea, for example, the
miracle of post-war economic growth meant
lifelong job security for their citizens. Driven
by different crises from the 1990s onward,
the economic landscape has changed dramatically. Job security for the young people of East
Asia has become an elusive dream.
Complicating the situation is the region’s turn
to neoliberalism in which welfare support for
the unemployed has gradually diminished. This
turn has magnified the responsibility especially
of young people to navigate the new condition
of economic uncertainties. To capture such
navigations, the book’s well-written introduction foregrounds the key concept of ‘lifemaking’: the act of investing in oneself to ensure
a ‘forward career progression as embodied
human capital’ (p. 2).
Throughout the ten chapters, the volume
attempts to offer a glimpse of different modes
of life-making in the context of global neoliberalism and the loss of job security and
welfare. It thus draws attention to a fascinating
range of cases from a shopping district in
Taiwan (chapter 2) to a training school for
domestic helpers in Beijing (chapter 6) and
workplace TV dramas in Japan (chapter 9). Each
of these cases is preceded by an overview of
local political and economic history, which
explains the conditions of uncertainty contemporary youth are confronted with. Some
elaborate examples discuss the complicated
process of neoliberalisation in China (chapter 1),


the increasingly competitive environment of
universities in Taiwan (chapter 5) and South
Korean responses to the Asian Debt Crisis of
the 1990s (chapter 10).
One of the objectives of the volume is to
‘demonstrate the power of anthropology to
trace out the connections between people’s
lived experience with larger processes working
at the global scale’ (p. 3). This is a welcome
intervention in the literature, which either
assesses the region’s problems from the macro
perspective of economics or political science
or entirely celebrates the successes of East
Asia, thereby glossing over its internal contradictions. Chapter 3, for example, provides a
thorough discussion of the case of children
with leukaemia who could not access medical
services in Beijing because they are simply
too expensive. Many impoverished families
who come from rural areas thus seek the attention of the media through which they hope to
gain public sympathy. The ethnographic
account traces how a 10-year-old girl’s struggle
with leukaemia becomes a media sensation,
which, ironically, does not lead to her treatment
but to the construction of a paved road to her
village. Local authorities have responded instead
to the sensationalised conditions of the child’s
community. As a result, public attention has
been ‘directed not at the inadequacies of the
health care system’ but on the road that the
government has deemed as embodying
development (p. 87).
One recurring theme throughout the
chapters is that neoliberalism is not only about
the creation of a free market and the decline of
welfare support, it also fosters an ethos that
magnifies the individual’s burden to succeed.
In other words, young people must become
‘enterprising selves’ (p. 14). Indeed, the
discourses and practices employed by progressive intellectuals in South Korea (chapter 10),
training and workshops in a pharmaceutical
company (chapter 8), and patriotic education
policies and textbooks in Japan (chapter 7) collectively celebrate individualism and personal

Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale (2014) 22, 1 118–142. © 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists.


achievements. The chapters, however, perceptively critique these projects because the
celebratory tone ultimately conceals and
reinforces the inequalities brought about by
For a volume that is supposed to be a
collection of studies on young people, its
discussion of fundamental ideas in youth
studies is lacking. What constitutes youth, for
example, in the context of East Asia? This is
not simply an issue of deciding on an age
bracket. Different societies have their own
rhetoric and expectations concerning what it
means to be young and when adulthood
commences. In addition, the chapters are
uneven in their treatment of youth as the analytical focus. Some deal with them extensively,
others only tangentially. Strongest is the work
on university students (chapter 4) who exercise ‘self-management’ (p. 101) to prepare
themselves for the competitive marketplace.
Also, the fact that they are all growing up in
a post-miracle era should compel observers
to think of youth as a generational category
because of shared experiences of uncertainty.
I understand that the chapters are idiographic.
However, the very concept of ‘life-making’
potentially adds a new dimension to the
characterisation of East Asian youth as a
generation. In other words, young people, as
the chapters themselves show in different
ways, do not simply succumb to alienation or
delinquency, but are actively involved in
navigating their uncertain times.
Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious
and Ethnic Diversity (Germany)/Ateneo de
Manila University (Philippines)
Boissevain, Jeremy. 2013. Factions, friends and
feasts. Anthropological perspectives on the
Mediterranean. Oxford and New York: Berghahn
Books. 310 pp. Hb.: $95.00. ISBN 978–
An unread letter always carries news. But
what is new about a volume consisting of
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


essays and introductions to books that have
been published before? On the one hand,
this book deals with matters and questions
that characterise Boissevain’s work on
Mediterranean themes, such as factionalism
and patronage, religion and politics, networks
of kin, friends and followers, and more
recently tourism and its aftermaths. On the
other hand, it approaches key aspects
concerning social anthropology both as a discipline and a source of critical imagination. Indeed,
Factions, Friends and Feasts is the kind of work
that only a scholar with an outstanding background could provide. Nurtured by long-term
ethnographic research and an ongoing commitment to theoretical development, this volume is
more than the reunion of chosen bits and
pieces. Instead, it transcends the narrow
schema of specialised expertise attached to
ethnographic loci, and shows that the most
important debates are sometimes easily
The essays are mostly arranged chronologically, except for the opening ones, written
in 1981 and 2001. These two chapters,
arranged into Patterns, the title of the first
section, ponder the relation between climate
and social life, echoing classic scholarly interests in the social and cultural implications of
the environment. Boissevain extends this
topic to include certain ‘Mediterranean’
unhealed scars associated with persisting
stereotypes and prejudices concerning religion
and ethnicity but also colonial dependence,
wars and pogroms.
Communities, the following section,
consists of a classic ethnographic-based
examination of three communities: the
Maltese village of Farrug, the Sicilian agrarian
town of Leone, and the Italians of Montreal
in Canada. These works were originally
published in 1964, 1966 and 1970, respectively, and prove the force of anthropology
in the way Evans-Pritchard welcomed the
brilliant Julian Pitt-Rivers’ People of the Sierra
by stressing that the abstractions of social
sciences are set forth and studied as relations
between persons and in terms of what those



abstractions mean for them’ (1954: x). In other
words, Boissevain reminds us that anthropology is not just about where and amongst whom
but about how we deal with Questions and
Puzzles. This is precisely the title of the next
section – a hinge to the entire book. Its five
chapters approach several analytical problems
born out of Boissevain’s ethnographic
researches but also within a broader dialogue
with his formation as anthropologist at the
LSE and the intellectual environment of the
British anthropology of that time. Although
Boissevain deals with the now classic critics of
the homeostatic assumptions of structuralfunctional theories (enduring groups and
relations, values, norms and institutions, and
so on), he focuses on the relations of power
behind their paradigmatic strength: an utterly
current aspect of the university systems and lives
of Homo Academicus (in Bourdieu’s terms).
The dynamics and analytical understandings of
factionalism developed here are ethnographically
threaded with an examination of the senses of
belonging, patronage and religion, and regional
and ethnic identities.
Ritual, Insiders and Outsiders, in turn, is a
‘strange potpourri’ – as the author puts it – that
could be renamed ‘With Elias in the Mediterranean’, for it blends an honest and rich expression of Boissevain’s process of understanding
local-level politics, inequalities and cultural dilemmas posed by the so-called touristification
processes. This section does justice to the
consistent effort that runs throughout the
book of taking into account the developments
taking place in the ethnographic fields, such
as links between crisis and migration, violence,
commodification, environmental issues, and
related economic and political processes associated with globalisation.
Finally, the section Reflections consists of
a single chapter where Boissevain delves into
his failed prophecies about the decline of festi
and patronage in Malta. This very humble
account offers a remarkable way of concluding
the book. Through it we learn that a long-term
perspective is as crucial as the detailed
attention to what is actually going on in the

ever-fascinating emerging present for furthering the critical capacity of the anthropological
In sum, the book provides many insights
and encourages the reader to wonder about
the extent to which current debates about
otherness might be an impoverished version
of a less heroic and oft-neglected theme: the
cultural disposition to regard difference as
mere exoticism while the by-products of
diversity (such as social, cultural and spatialterritorial inequality) are confined to the
poetic anthems of western remorse à la science.

Evans-Pritchard, E. E. 1954. Foreword, in
J. A. Pitt-Rivers, The people of the Sierra, ix–xi.
New York: Criterion Books.

Universidad de Buenos Aires – CONICET
Brinker, Helmut. 2011. Secrets of the sacred:
empowering Buddhist images in clear, in code,
and in cache. Lawrence: Spencer Museum of
Art, University of Kansas/Seattle: University
of Washington Press. X + 214 pp. Hb.:
$46.95. ISBN 0295990899.
In this work the late Helmut Brinker (1939–2012),
until 2006 professor of East Asian art at the
University of Zurich, studies the development
and expansion of Vajrayāna Buddhism in
China in the first millennium CE and its transfer
to and transformation in Japan in the period
between the 10th and 13th centuries. His main
focus here is on iconography, tantric practice
and ritual (including consecration rituals of
sacred objects), and worship of sacred Buddhist
relics (by rulers, Buddhist clerics and the laity).
The first part of the book (chapter 1: ‘From
Image to Icon’) serves as a kind of historical and
thematic introduction, which predominantly
discusses the question of the actual and spiritual
presence of divinities in images. This is done from
an interesting historical, interdisciplinary and
cross-cultural perspective, connecting concepts
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


contained in early Buddhist texts from India
and China with an investigation of
historically connected images and portraits
of Buddha Śākyamuni (such as King Udayana’s
‘Portrait’ of the Buddha, pp. 16–23, ‘The King
Aśoka Image’, pp. 23–33) based on sculptural
evidence from areas of northern and northwestern India, from various dynastic centres in
China and from Japan.
Certainly the most important and also
highly fascinating finding discussed by the
author is literally based on internal inspection
of some of these sculptures, which brought
to light an astonishing range of sacred deposits
in a number of well-documented cases.
Among others, coins, bronze mirrors, various
kinds of texts, graphic illustrations of holy
scriptures (bianxiang) and even textile simulacra of human intestines and organs were
found. In one case a small coil of silver and
copper wire was found installed inside the
head as an (invisible)
one of the 32
supreme marks of excellence of a Buddha.
These findings led Brinker to the conclusion
that in addition to the eye-opening ritual
during the consecration of Buddhist images,
‘[s]ecret caches and sacred enshrinements,
special interior markings and hidden inscriptions transform images into icons’ (p. 50).
The historical analysis throughout the
main part of the book (chapter 2: ‘Mysteries
of Buddha Relics and Esoteric Divinities’) is
based not only on a wide range of historical
textual sources but also impresses on account
of the vast amount of art-historical material
(drawings, paintings, sculptures, reliquary
caskets etc. from various archaeological excavations and museum collections), which is
meticulously scrutinised by the author.
Detailed descriptive accounts are dedicated to
selected topics, such as ‘The Esoteric Images of
Anguosi’ (pp. 54–59), ‘Ichiji Kinrin’ (pp. 63–71),
‘Buddhist Relic Caches’ (pp. 85–98), ‘The
Famensi Finger-bone Relic’ and ‘The Reenshrinement of the Relic’ (pp. 114–44). The
book is illustrated by 90 excellent black-and-white
photos and is accompanied by a very useful
glossary of Chinese and Japanese names and words
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


with corresponding scientific transliteration and
also in Chinese or Japanese script. A section with
notes (containing mainly bibliographic references
and short additional information), a comprehensive
bibliography, which provides an excellent overview
on primary sources, secondary works in Chinese,
Japanese and Korean as well as works in Western
languages and an index conclude this highly recommendable book.
From a wider perspective and with regard to a
more general theory of authentication of
Buddhist images, Brinker’s discussion of one
form (so far largely neglected or underrepresented in respective research) of the empowerment of Buddhist images – ‘in cache’ – cannot
be overestimated. As the title of the book
indicates, the other two forms would be
represented by empowerment ‘in clear’
(according to apparent or uncoded appearance)
and ‘in code’ (according to simple or complex
codes for expressing images and symbols of
Buddhist divinities). One can certainly agree
with the author that (whenever possible) the
analysis of such cached deposits is critical for
revealing the original meaning and function of
a particular icon (and therefore is of considerable help for clarifying the contemporary historical context of its creation), and that the
investigation and understanding of rituals that
transform(ed) images into icons will remain an
important task. From a social anthropological perspective, it may be added that (general) knowledge
of such rituals from texts must be complemented
(whenever possible) by a reconstruction or
documentation of the specific rituals performed.
Through the combination of art-historical
studies (in this case mainly of ritual objects) with
philological, archaeological and historical anthropological research, Brinker’s work gives a valuable
impetus for further investigations in the field of
Buddhist art of Central Asia, China and Japan
and at the same time opens up new dimensions
and a wider geographic and historical scope for
interdisciplinary research in Buddhist studies.
Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian
Academy of Sciences (Austria)



Déléage, Pierre. 2013. Inventer l’écriture: rituels
prophétiques et chamaniques des indiens
d’Amérique du Nord, XVIIe–XIXe siècles. Paris:
Les Belles Lettres. 248 pp. Pb.: €25. ISBN
Déléage, Pierre. 2013. Le geste et l’écriture:
langues des signes, amérindiens, logographies.
Paris: Armand Colin. 145 pp. Pb.: €20. ISBN
These two short books by anthropologist Pierre
Déléage gather a series of studies exploring the
boundaries of writing, from prophetic charts to
transcriptions of Sign Languages. While excellent
anthropological investigations have already
addressed the topic (like Carlo Severi’s work on
kuna picture-writing, an important influence on
the two books), Déléage’s inquiry stands out by
its theoretical ambition. The two books succeed
in combining detailed and erudite accounts of
Native American visual cultures with a broader
reflection on the nature and origins of writing.
Any author studying what used to be
called ‘pictographic’ or ‘ideographic’ symbols
must deal with the legends that surround
them. One such myth holds that there are
widespread, stable, all-purpose writing systems that refer immediately to things and can
be understood in a language-independent
way. (Today, Bliss symbols are the closest
one can get to an ‘ideographic’ system; but
such cases are as controversial as they are rare.)
According to a second myth, ‘pictographic’
systems are intrinsically incomplete forerunners of genuine writing. Like others before
him, Déléage dutifully debunks the two
myths; but he does more than that. He shows
how various transcriptions of Sign Languages
were influenced by the first myth – the view
that writing might work as a languageindependent medium. This is clearly the case
with Western attempts at writing the Plains
Indian Sign Language (PISL), described in Le
Geste et l’Écriture. The invention, by some
PISL users, of a pidgin used for trading
between tribes, meant that PISL could
ensure language-independent communication
between two users who could hear and speak,

but could not understand each other, except by
signing. Pidgin PISL worked very much in the
same language-independent way that Chinese
writing was (mythically) supposed to work. This
interpretation of PISL influenced not just linguists
and anthropologists, but also PISL-imitators,
from the US military to the Boy Scouts. Such a
pictographic view also informed many transcriptions of Western sign languages. Déléage, however, is not so interested in purely pictorial
transcriptions. The transcriptions that he studies
in depth are logographic (Lewis Hadley’s for
PISL or Joseph Piroux’s for the French Langue
des Signes). Beyond their genesis, what interests
the author in these writing techniques is their
ultimate failure. Pictographic transcriptions were
useful to compose dictionaries, and kinetographic
transcriptions found their niche in the scientific
literature, but logographic transcriptions never
seemed to succeed.
The reason, according to Déléage, is that
logographic writing systems usually begin,
and survive, as ‘bounded’ writing systems
(écritures attachées). In other words, their use
is restricted to a handful of specific contexts:
rituals and prayers. Since ‘bounded’ writing
systems do not need to possess the kind of
all-purpose generative power found in ‘unbound’ systems, their semiotic structure can
be quite free. Pure logography, for instance,
is much easier to apply to a bounded system
– where only a handful of relevant words need
to be encoded – than to an unbound one. In
Déléage’s words, most bounded writing
systems will be ‘selective’ (i.e. unable to
encode the totality of meaningful utterances
in a given language), while unbound writing
systems will always be ‘complete’. The problem of bounded systems is that they usually
disappear along with the practice they are
bound to. In both books, Míkmaq logographs
serve as the prototype of a ‘bounded’ writing
system. These glyphs were invented by 17thcentury missionaries in an attempt to help
natives memorise bits of Catholic liturgy
without having to teach them the Latin alphabet
(either to keep that knowledge for themselves,
or simply to spare the effort). This goal, Déléage
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


says, explains the structure of the system, which
was extremely logographic. As a consequence,
Míkmaq glyphs could hardly be used to
generate long, non-liturgical texts. Missionaries
chose a logographic medium to attach Míkmaq
writing to a specific ritual context.
Inventer l’Écriture is devoted to such
bounded writing systems in the context of five
rituals invented by Algonquian prophets and
shamans. Déléage distinguishes two main kinds
of visual notation for ritual narration. On the
one hand, Algonquian prophets made use of
elaborate maps to describe visions, cosmological
or eschatological narratives. Though they were
often called ‘books’ or ‘Bibles’ by the prophets’
followers, these visual props appear to have
been used in much the same way that children
use hopscotch patterns to recite certain rhymes:
a perilous journey from earth to heaven is
sketched in a pattern that encodes the main
scansions of a recitation, otherwise known by
heart. Déléage contrasts those highly ‘bounded’,
highly selective symbols with two liturgical
notation systems: Charles Meiaskwat’s
mnemotechnic for Catholic prayers, and the
symbols of the Ojibwe Midewiwin society.
Compared with prophetic maps or charts, those
notations were used to memorise texts of greater
length, or variety, in much greater detail. They
fitted a need for exact retention of relatively
long texts – a need created by the co-optation
of an exclusive elite of medicine men, such as
the Ojibwe Midews. Interestingly, such minute
transcription techniques did not make prophetic
maps obsolete; both coexisted in the Midewiwin
tradition – the map being used to narrate
cosmological tales, the transcriptions serving to
fixate therapeutic chants. Likewise, Déléage
notes that Cree prophets, who made use of
vision maps, were probably also using Evans’
Cree syllabary, as ‘bounded’ writing, to recite
Wesleyan hymns.
Déléage’s reflexions on bounded writing
systems do more than dispel the second myth
of pictography – the view that something like
‘pictography’ gave birth to modern writing
systems. He also sheds light on the reasons
that made the myth plausible. Both Inventer
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


l’Écriture and Le Geste et l’Écriture forcefully
argue against vague categories like ‘pictography’ or ‘ideography’, and the outdated evolutionary theories that popularised them. Both
books, however, suggest that ‘bounded’ and
selective writing systems are the right place
to consider if we want to understand how
writing was born. Inventer l’Écriture argues
that complete writing systems were more
likely to arise in small communities of ritual
specialists, like the Midewiwin. Their rituals
placed such high demands on human memory
that complex visual props became a necessity.
Those esoteric societies, however, were also
the least likely to propagate their invention
beyond narrow boundaries – to unbind their
writing. This intriguing view may help explain
why the rise of writing systems as we know
them – systems that were complete, unbound
and massively diffused at the same time – was
such a rare event in history.
Central European University (Hungary)
Dresch, Paul and Hannah Skoda. 2012.
Legalism: anthropology and history. Oxford and
New York: Oxford University Press. 360 pp.
Hb.: $97.44. ISBN 978-0-19-966426-9.
An edited volume with two introductions
such as Legalism: Anthropology and History
deserves a closer look. The two editors, Paul
Dresch (anthropology) and Hannah Skoda
(history), each address from their own discipline’s perspective the subject of the volume:
legalism. They define the concept, at its simplest, as ‘a discussion of moral order’ (p. 13)
and more specifically as ‘rules that are distinct
from practice (rules that are “formulated”, in
other words) and rules characterized by the
claim to be more than simply spontaneous
improvisations, but in some sense often systematic’ (p. 39). The two introductions emphasise
that the meaning of these rules is ‘to order a
vision of the moral world and endow it with
meaning’ (pp. 39–40). As people worldwide go
about this endeavour in manifold ways, the



editors argue, they have gathered a wide range
of chapters that range from ancient Asia Minor
to medieval England, classical India to 16thcentury Burma as well as 18th- and 19thcentury Algeria. By exploring legalism in these
different locales, all chapters aim at investigating
broad questions such as ‘What do we mean by
law? What is its place in different forms of society? How is law contingent upon geography,
economic considerations, religious and moral
outlooks, or political systems?’ (p. 42). Several
authors set their findings against certain
trends within legal anthropological writing that
they consider to have falsely overemphasised
the role of ‘practice’ in the investigation of
law to the disadvantage of the importance and
centrality of rules in people’s perceptions of
Several contributors to this volume,
including Judith Scheele, criticise the concept
of ‘legal pluralism’ as having ‘watered down’
the concept of law (referring to the two most
prominent critical texts by Tamanaha 1993
and Roberts 1998) by declaring non-state
practices of negotiation or implicit regulation
to be ‘law’, and thereby ‘implicitly smuggling
the state back in’ (p. 198). It is striking that in
their criticism, none of the more recent work
on legal pluralism has been taken into account.
Scheele herself speaks of giving but a ‘crude
summary’ of the tenets of legal pluralism in
her chapter. It would have been worth engaging with more recent contributions from this
body of literature, such as the work of Franz
von Benda-Beckmann (2006, 2011), which
clearly states that the problem is not whether
one takes into account non-state law as law,
but rather the fact that ‘law’ itself is a politically loaded concept. Being aware of the criticism brought forward against ‘legal pluralism’,
von Benda-Beckmann argues that even in those
cases where ‘law’ is coupled with ‘the state’, one
does not automatically get a definition of ‘law’
(2011: 181). What constitutes ‘law’ and what does
not is in the end not only always a political but,
for legal anthropologists, also an empirical question. It is in this regard that the more recent work
within the field of ‘legal pluralism’ and the volume

by Dresch and Skoda are actually striving for
much the same aim. The authors of this
volume thus have no need to juxtapose their
findings on legalism against ‘legal pluralism’ as
they are, in fact, arguing along similar
lines. Their own definition of ‘legalism’ as ‘a
discussion of moral order’ entails a processual,
interactional and practice-oriented dimension.
Most authors of this volume urge us to direct
our attention to ‘who speaks the law’ or who
‘claims to speak the law’, a point made by
Donald Davis Jr. in his chapter on ‘jurisdictional
pluralism’ in medieval India. And in her chapter
on ‘Legal performances in late Medieval
France’, Hannah Skoda herself speaks of ‘the
fact that all law was a performance’ (p. 283).
Rather than setting rules against practice, the
authors’ empirical studies might also be read
and understood as fine-grained analyses of rules
as practice (if we understand ‘practice’ to
include the act of speaking about rules or of
writing rules down without necessarily having
to be executed). It is in this regard as well as in
the vast historical and geographical range
covered in the nine chapters that I see the
strength of their volume.
This edited collection is of relevance to all
legal anthropologists, scholars of history with an
interest in legal issues and scholars of general
anthropology with an interest in understanding
the relationship between human sociality and law.

Benda-Beckmann, F. von 2006. The multiple edges of
law: dealing with legal pluralism in development
practice, in The World Bank (ed.), The World
Bank legal review. Law, equity, and development,
51–86. Washington DC: The World Bank,
Martinus Nijhoff.
Benda-Beckmann, F. von 2011. Recht ohne Staat im
Staat: eine rechtsethnologische Betrachtung, in S.
Kadelbach and K. Günther (eds.), Recht ohne Staat?
Zur Normativität nichtstaatlicher Rechtsetzung,
175–99. Frankfurt/New York: Campus Verlag.
Roberts, S. 1998. ‘Against legal pluralism:
some reflections on the contemporary enlargement of the legal domain’, Journal of Legal
Pluralism 42: 95–106.
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


Tamanaha, B. 1993. ‘The folly of the ‘social
scientific’ concept of legal pluralism’, Journal of
Law and Society 20: 192–217.

Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Germany)
Ingold, Tim. 2013. Making: anthropology, archeology, art and architecture. London and New York:
Routledge. xii + 163 pp., figures, references,
index. Pb.: $36.59. ISBN 978 0415567237.
What is it that anthropologists do? This is a
simple question to which no simple answer
can be given. Part of its complexity lies in the
climate of self-reflection that permeates public
discourses about anthropology in the last three
decades, and another part in the fact that many
practitioners, caught in the ongoing acceleration
of the contemporary world, sometimes forget to
go back to the basics. Going back to the basics is
what Tim Ingold does in this short and
beautifully written book. Whether writing
about technology (including an important reappreciation of French archaeologist André
Léroi-Gourhan’s geste), environment, lines,
sociality or simply ‘being alive’, the scope of
his interest in the last few decades (mostly
corresponding to his move to the University
of Aberdeen and the establishment of the
anthropology department there) has been
toward exploring the ways in which humans
interact with their surroundings and develop
as the result of this interaction. The emphasis
of the argument is on practice, on constant
doing and reshaping (‘making’ from the title
of the book), but also with practical
consequences for teaching since: ‘[t]o teach
anthropology is to practice anthropology; to
practice anthropology is to teach it’ (p. 13).
The first chapter of the book begins with the
maxim ‘Know for yourself!’ (p. 1). One is
reminded of another maxim, reportedly from
the oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece, around
2500 years ago, ‘know yourself.’ In this sense,
the main purpose was for an individual to
realise his/her limits: know that you are no
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


god. In Ingold’s work, it is an advice to practically learn something that would help him
understand the people he was studying. This
is important because it leads to a crucial
question: why do people do what they do?
And the answers to that can be primarily
learned from listening to people and observing
their interactions with the environment. This
book grew out of the advanced undergraduate
and postgraduate course Ingold has been
teaching at Aberdeen since 2004 (he refers to it
as the ‘4 As’). It connects anthropology with
archaeology, art and architecture. Ingold clearly
distinguishes anthropology (as a speculative, allencompassing discipline) from ethnography
(whose task is ‘to describe the things as they
are’; p. 4), and then proceeds to art, criticising
anthropologists’ tendency to treat art primarily
through objects, and ignore the intricacies of
the creative processes of creating works of art.
Similar type of criticism is directed at anthropologists mostly ignoring architecture as a field of
inquiry (at least with regard to traditions that
Ingold explores; Mesoamerican anthropologists
have long ago learned of the value of studying architecture and incorporating it in their works). Archaeology came to the equation as a result of Ingold’s
own interests, as well as a field that connected
anthropology, art and architecture through ‘their
unifying themes of time and landscape (…) and in
their mutual concern with the material and
symbolic forms of human life’ (p. 10).
Chapter 2 introduces ‘materials of life’,
while the next chapter presents an interesting
overview of how to make a hand axe. This might
sound more exotic to non-American readers, as I
remember being demonstrated the techniques of
making hand axes during my postgraduate
course in Prehistoric archaeology at Tulane
University by Professor Harvey Bricker, back
in 1991. Overall, the whole ‘archaeology +
anthropology’ formula will be familiar to readers
with some knowledge of the ‘four field approach’
in American anthropology. Perhaps the scale of
Ingold’s project could be compared with the
one that Franz Boas faced in the late 19th
century – and the question will be to what extent
are his colleagues ready to answer the challenge?



Chapter 4 explores the concept of architecture through another specific activity, building a
house. This includes distinguishing between
different types of activities (as Leon Battista
Alberti wrote around 1450: ‘an architect is not a
carpenter’; p. 49), understanding of practical
geometry, but also some aspects of practical
knowledge that ancient masons and builders
acquired as they went along when they faced
specific problems. Dealing with life’s uncertainties, including a very brief discussion of ‘the
argument from design’, is the basis of Chapter
5. Human beings, according to Ingold, seem to
be forever caught in ‘between catching dreams
and coaxing materials’ (p. 73). All of this
leads, in the next chapter, to considerations
of how we understand the physical characteristics
of the world we inhabit, beginning with the
mound. Chapters 7 and 8 deal with bodies: taking
as an example Henry Moore’s sculpture ‘Warrior
with Shield’, Ingold guides the reader through
bodies’ different movements, shapes and endurances. Developing further ideas first proposed
by Léroi-Gourhan, he introduces the reader to
the complex ways of interactions, for example,
between gestures and speech (‘telling by hand’;
p. 109). The final chapter, ‘Drawing the line’,
creates an interwoven summary based on delineating forms and shapes through which the acts of
knowing take place. However, these acts are never
complete since knowing (and, in a wider sense,
understanding) is an ongoing process, just as
human beings are constantly making the world
and themselves as part of that world.
Institute of Social Sciences and University of
Belgrade (Serbia)
Khazanov, M. Anatoly and Günther Schlee
(eds.) 2012. Who owns the stock? Collective
and multiple property rights in animals. Integration and Conflict Studies Volume 5. New York
and Oxford: Berghahn Books. 342 pp. Hb.:
$95.00. ISBN 978-0-85745-335-8.
Edited by two of the foremost authorities on
pastoralism in Eurasia and Africa respectively,

this volume re-examines the classic relation
between nomadic peoples and large stock
animals styled here as a property relationship.
This evolutionist idea has been reframed in this
volume with an accent on the complexity of
these relationships, with eleven highly detailed
case studies showing how property relationships are ‘multiple’ and ‘overlapping’ to this
day and not the unambiguous type of individual
ownership that we are told everyday should
predominate. The volume forms part of a series
from Berghahn that, up until this time, has
focused on regional politics in East Africa.
The book is divided into three sections:
‘Tundra and Taiga’, featuring primarily reindeer
pastoralists [5 chapters]; ‘The Eurasian Steppe’,
examining so-called multiple animal property
systems in Kazakhstan and Mongolia [2
chapters]; and ‘Africa’ [4 chapters – 3 on Fulbe
in Northwest Africa and 1 Eastern]. The
relatively large collection on reindeer societies
from Eastern Siberia and Northern China makes
this collection rather unique.
All seven of the Eurasian chapters are sophisticated studies based on long-term fieldwork by
specialists and up-to-date with the most recent
changes in the wild post-socialist reallocation of
resources. Patty Gray examines how ownership
models have become ‘confused’ and ‘alienated’
among Chukchi by several decades of state
ownership and now a corporate subsidised
‘privatisation’. Aimar Ventsel and Florian
Stammler give two nuanced chapters from Yamal
and Anabar. Ventsel puts his emphasis not on
private property rights but on personal relationships of reciprocity that are key to maintaining
herding collectives. Stammler’s chapter has a rare
focus on differing notations of ownership –
earmarks and furmarks – in Nenets society.
Stammler uses his data to correct an assumption
in the literature that tundra pastoralists do not
have complex forms of relationship to herd animals
by showing how kinship, corporate and state
obligations are balanced in the body of one
animal. Brian Donahoe (Tozhu/Tofa) and Hugh
Beach (Alouguya Evenki) examine the difficultto-access border region between China and
Russia, where reindeer pastoralists keep their
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


animals for transport, for milking and for antler
products while maintaining complex relationships
with hunted animals. Donahoe, while focusing on
a degradation of pastoral skill among Tofa, points
to the important role of taiga spirits in mediating
pastoral relations. Beach’s account of state-financed
antler harvesting is again one of the only such
ethnographic accounts in the literature.
The literature on the Eurasian steppe is thin
in this volume. These two chapters also, as in the
first section, focus on new forms of postsocialist property relationships in Kazakhstan
and Mongolia. Unlike the taiga/tundra section,
this reason is styled as a place where herding is
only possible with multiple animals (camels,
horses, cattle, sheep, goats). One is tempted to
ask why this is not also the case in Southern
Siberia, where horses, reindeer and hunting dogs
are usually kept together. It may be the case
that human–animal relationships, like property
relationships, are also multiple and overlapping.
The four North African examples, held
high by the editors, place their emphasis on
how kinship estates mediate individual
stewardship. There are three chapters on Fuble
societies. Here the main debate between the
three authors is the differing way that
commercial markets undermine the traditional
way that complex hierarchies of age and
gender create differential rights to cattle.
Günter Schlee has contributed an epic
overview of East African pastoral systems.
To a great degree this concluding chapter
serves as an introduction to the volume with
his account of why the study of multiple rights
is important (pp. 247–51). His ethnographic
synthesis, which will be of interest to many
specialists, examines the complex way that gifts,
bridewealth and inheritance function in these
This is a rich volume, with thick ethnography, which puts the classic issue of ownership
of so-called ‘stock’ animals back on the agenda.
For my part I wonder why the editors did not
go further to challenge the definition of property
itself. At some point, as many of the contributors
demonstrate, the old definition of property as
exclusive individual access folds into a complex
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


social landscape where reciprocity, relations with
spirit entities and the volition of the animals
themselves come into play. Even with the levelling of international markets and regulations,
most of these hunters and pastoralists carry out
complex relations with both wild animals and
other types of domestic animals (horses and dogs
perhaps the most important of them). Would not
an idiom of entitlement, or social responsibility,
be a better way to compare this ethnography than
that of a classic form of exclusive access
fragmented among the lines of multiple obligations? Although a rich collection, the focus on
the animals that ‘should’ be property seems
forced and a bit old-fashioned given what we
know about these complex contexts.
University of Aberdeen (Scotland)
Lenclud, Gérard. 2012. En Corse. Une
société en mosaïque. Paris: Editions de la
Maison des sciences de l’homme. Collection
Ethnologie de la France. 272 pp. Pb.: €21.
ISBN 978-2-7351-1430-6.

This book is a collection of previously published articles by Lenclud on his ethnographic
work on Corsican pastoralism, conducted
primarily in the 1970s. In a robust Foreword
to the book, Lenclud frames the interest of
the volume in historical terms: as shedding
light on the ethnographic past that he explored
through his study of past practices as they
were recounted in the ethnographic present,
reflected in archival materials and refracted in
both continuity and change in practices and
explanatory/ideological frames on the ground.
One of the strengths of this ensemble of work
is its detailed and nuanced treatment of
how principles of social organisation
that have their origins in a particular social,
economic, political and cultural context produce,
under conditions of economic and political
change, ‘des effets contradictoires seulement en
apparence: d’une part, de conservation des
formes anciennes d’organisation et, d’autre part,
d’ébranlement puis de dislocation de la société



que, justement, elles organisaient’ (p. 15). In this
respect, the book is a valuable resource for
understanding some of the profound changes that
have taken place on Corsica since the early part of
the 20th century, in particular, economic decline,
and ‘indivision’ of property.
The first chapter of the volume written
with François Pernet shows how, in the heyday
of Corsican shepherding (the late 1800s, up
until the First World War), forms of social
organisation and practices maintained an equilibrium between pastoralism and agricultural
cultivation of land. These included practices that
kept diverse property holdings ‘intact’
(undivided) in a family, as well as comparable,
exclusive control of local communities over
communal resources that sustained both
agricultural and pastoral activities. Property in
common – whether within a family or within a
community – was conceived of not as ‘owned’ –
and thus divisible – in equal shares by different
members, but as a ‘sorte de bien laissé à la
disposition commune, “un patrimoine resté dans
l’indivision”’ (p. 63). This principle of collective,
but indivisible, rights of use organises, as several
of the following chapters illustrate, Corsican
approaches to property, inheritance, households
and marriage patterns. Although persistent, it
also comes under pressure from Corsican
emigration, the decline of the agropastoral
economy and the privatisation and sale of coastal
(formerly grazing) lands and it has dysfunctional
results, visible today in the deterioration and
abandonment of houses and property.
Chapter 3 uses the case of household and
family structure and composition in the Niolu
region where Lenclud did his research to
illustrate the way in which bureaucratic
definitions and categories of ‘households’
(foyers/feux) fail to account for the wide
variety of principles and circumstances that
define ‘families’ and (conceptually distinct)
‘households’. He also points out that State
interests in individuating ‘owners’ come into
direct conflict with the principles organising
collective rights. He goes on to explore the
varied (and thus non-determinative) relationships between household and processes of

production and consumption. The chapter
ends with a section ‘Etre Parents’, which
focuses on the definition of ‘family’ independent of co-residence and its cultural role as
an anchor for identity, action and prestige.
Chapter 4 investigates principles and practices of transmission/inheritance as both forms
of social reproduction and cultural/symbolic
models. In addition to material analysed in the
first two chapters, it includes an interesting
analysis of discourse/terminology and a detailed
focus on marriage strategies and their role in
perpetuating a lineage and its undivided ownership and exploitation of property. The chapter
concludes with a reflection on the articulation
between the representation of the inheritance
system as ‘egalitarian’ and the differential
access seen in practice to the fruits of family
property. These themes are also pursued in
Chapter 7 which explores the ways in which
the Corsican case can complicate distinctions
between ‘private’, ‘communal’ and ‘personal’
Chapters 5 and 6 take up the ‘clan’ as a system of political action and influence. Chapter 5
identifies clanism as associated with four
interlocked historical features of the society: (1)
bipartisanism; (2) obligatory affiliation with
one party or another; (3) clientelism and (4)
partisan exercise of power between actors
conceptualised/idealised as equal and autonomous
(in what is seen as a zero-sum game). These features organise (and personalise) communication,
identities, alliances and action along principles of
segmentary opposition at all levels of Corsican
society. The clan, writes Lenclud, is both a ‘product of the society’ and a ‘cultural invention’, or
ideology. This does not prevent the clan from
playing a central, mediating role in relation with
the State, whose actions define its field of influence; a field in turn conditioned and transformed
by the clan and a uniquely Corsican system
of practices and values it incarnates. The State,
therefore, is not a ‘separate’ and all-powerful
entity, but can only exercise its power and be
grasped in its local manifestations, mediated by
the clan. This perspective undergirds Chapter 6,
a critical review of José Gil’s analysis of the
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


relationship between the clan and the State in his
1984 book La Corse: Entre liberté et terreur. In
this critique, Lenclud calls on Gil and other
analysts to go beyond the argument that the clan
in Corsica is generated both from within (‘d’ici’)
and from without (the State, ‘d’ailleurs’) to
conceptualise the logic and interests of both State
and clan as ‘compatible’ (p. 206).
Notwithstanding the many strengths and
interests of this volume, its relationship with the
present (ethnographic and theoretical) is
sometimes uneasy and not fully satisfactory. To
be fair, Lenclud makes it clear in the Foreword
that he has not continued to do fieldwork on
the island and cannot therefore provide an ethnographically grounded analysis of the last 40 years.
However, one cannot help but wish that he
would lend his analytical perspective to contemporary legal and cultural debates, such as those
surrounding special regimes for property inheritance and transmission on Corsica, and both
nationalist and recent ecological movements
resisting ‘outside’ land speculation. Instead of
addressing these areas in which he has specialist
knowledge, Lenclud makes a brief foray in the
Foreword into the issue of Corsican nationalism
that falls outside of the scope of expertise demonstrated in the book. Similarly, the republication of
‘S’Attacher’ with the most recent original publication date (which first appeared in Terrain in
1993), which proposes ideas about agency, structuration and the integration of ‘psychological’ or
individual-centred accounts of action with structural ones as though there was no precedent for
these ideas in the discipline at the time of writing
is disappointing. Overall, however, this is a rich
and rewarding book for all those interested in cultural, social and economic continuity and change,
and the contradictory consequences of change taking place at different paces across these domains. By
reading this compendium of Lenclud’s work, I
found my understanding of contemporary
Corsican society and culture in domains both near
and far from his ethnographic focus enriched.
California State University, Long Beach
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


Lianos, Michalis (ed.) 2013. Dangerous others,
insecure societies. Fear and social division.
Farnham: Ashgate. 174 pp. Hb.: £49.50. ISBN
Dangerous Others gathers a series of original
texts, offering various analyses on the increasing public concerns for security in the Western
world. Several approaches are represented,
ranging from speculative articles on new social
bounds to more empirical researches. Relying
on political philosophy, sociology or
anthropology, these texts explore the classical
and critical ideas of domination (inherited
from Bourdieu) and social control (from
Foucault) under the scope of ‘late modernity’
and ‘neo-liberalism’.
Some chapters in this book aim at a more
general, conceptualising scale. In his article on
‘council estate youth’ in France, Robert Castel
deconstructs the public discourses on this
stigmatised population of suburban, poor ethnic
minorities. In the aftermath of the 2005 urban
riots, he stresses that this construction relied
on post-colonial stereotypes in a general context
of fear and insecurity. Castel shows that while
referring to an exotic exteriority on the ‘margin’
these discourses reveal in fact the construction
of the ‘centre’, i.e. of ‘French identity’. The text,
which was published the year Robert Castel
died, illustrates his unique creativity and
originality. In the following chapter, Jacques
Donzelot analyses the transformations of the
Welfare State focusing on the idea of an
‘investment state’ coined by Anthony Giddens.
He examines policies of ‘social cohesion’ in
western countries, showing how political
measures such as affirmative action, deterrence
in the prevention of delinquency or socially
mixed real estate are constitutive elements of
these transformations of the Welfare State.
Under the banner of ‘equal opportunities’,
Donzelot sees the transition to neoliberal
policies, favouring competition over free
market. In his chapter, Michalis Lianos explores
Otherness under a global, geopolitical scope.
Analysing the notion of the ‘right to intervene’
and of ‘collateral damages’ in international



policies, he concludes that dangerousness
became the ‘sound criterion of otherness’
(p. 83). Indeed dangerousness has eclipsed the
older xenophobia or racism. Yet, this new
criterion targets the same population of young,
poor males, adjusting reluctantly to a world of
competition. In a similar perspective, Antonello
Petrillo studies the reshaping of European
racism into differentialism or negationism. And
both chapters by Jan Spurk and John D. Cash
examine the new social imaginaries based on the
idea of ‘malaise’ and ‘enemies’. Alexander
Newman focuses on the new authoritarian
movements, especially in France while Patrick
Cingolani explores how the inscription as ‘Other’
hinders emancipation for dominated groups.
The other contributions have a narrower
focus relying on first-hand empirical material.
Konrad Pedziwiatr’s study of the ‘new brokers
of Muslim identity’ in Brussels and London
deconstructs the Otherness of these young
Muslims, against a general background of
‘moral panic’. Pedziwiatr depicts a new Islam
of empowered citizens, primary socialised in
Europe, as opposed to a pre-existing,
stereotyped Islam of downgraded immigrants.
Yet his findings only concern a relatively small
elite compared with the large Muslim majority.
In the context of increasing anxieties
for security in Greece, Marina Petronoti
describes how a tolerant, multicultural
discourse hides subtle lines of distinctions and
domination towards others. Her chapter uses
two empirical materials: a media analysis of
the daily press on immigration, and an ethnographic study of interactions between Greek
and Eritrean refugees.
The notion of the ‘Other’ gives consistence
and unity to the volume. It highlights the
uncertainty related to the essence of this notion,
relying on both material and less material boundaries. This broad idea, however, becomes less
convincing when it leads to vague statements such
as ‘maintaining control over globalized capitalist
competition’ (p. 3) or when the rhetoric of
‘recuperation’ and ‘manipulation’ becomes
pervasive in the analysis (p. 69). Yet, Otherness
appears to be a useful tool for exposing

unapparent discriminations and it raises questions
about the otherness ‘from the inside’, such as the
mentally ill or the disruptive youth. One could
examine thus the role of medicine and especially
psychiatry in the management of such ‘dangerous
individuals’ against the neoliberal background
discussed in the book. The intimate, expanding
connections between dangerousness and
vulnerability are to be explored further. Even if
Dangerous Others does not address all these
questions, it has the great merit of raising them.
IRIS, EHESS (France)
Lindenfeld, David F. and Miles Richardson
(eds.) 2012. Beyond conversion and syncretism: indigenous encounters with missionary
Christianity, 1800–2000. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books. 328 pp. Hb.: $95.00/
£55.00. ISBN 978-0-85745-217-7.
This edited volume points out how different
understandings of ‘true’ religion, especially as
related to native or ‘primitive’ beliefs, determine
the conceptual discussion around conversion
and syncretism to this day. The book does
exactly what is proposes in its title: it goes
beyond the concepts of conversion and syncretism using a historical perspective that mainly
draws on the period of European Colonialism
but also including the recent past. Conceived
as an interdisciplinary endeavour, it recognises
and overcomes the shortcomings of three different disciplines: history and its lack of attention
to religion, anthropology and its bias towards
celebrating cross-cultural mixing and its keen
eye for cultural authenticity, and the selectivity
of focus in religious studies.
The book deals with conversion and
syncretism in separate sections. The section
addressing conversion shows the limits of this
concept, especially when understood as an
individual experience. For example, both
missionary activity and individual conversions
need to be considered in the larger context of
colonial power. Furthermore, missions often
had contradictory positions in the fabrication
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


of colonial cultures, as Saurabh Dube suggests
in his chapter. Converts reflected these tensions
through conflicts between the old and new way
of life. Conversions, understood as a process,
are important resources for understanding both
personal and social tensions, Dube argues.
Building on this discussion in Chapter 2,
Samson conceptualises conversion as an inbetween space where the tension of individual
change resides. As the interpretation of conversion takes place through culture and the blurring of boundaries between different spiritual
systems, he proposes ethnography as a proper
methodological choice. Furthermore, boundaries between cultures and religions are just as
important as geographical ones. In Chapter 3,
Elbourne draws attention to the specificities of
conversion to Christianity in frontier zones,
arguing that the degree of power available to
colonised groups and the specific stage of
imperial conquest influenced both the role of
religion and the importance of conversion.
The military, she explains, needs to be
considered as one of the main forces shaping
the interaction between missionaries and
the colonised. Certainly, conversion in some
geographical areas had more impact on the
converts and their cultures than in others. On
a more theoretical tone, Fox Young engages in
Chapter 4 with Horton’s ‘intellectualist theory’
to understand what is specific about South
Asian cases of conversion.
The second section of the book engages
critically with the concept of syncretism. In
this section attention is given to processes of
borrowing, incorporating and reshaping
religion and belief. In Chapter 5, Murphy
explores the coexistence of African and
Catholic elements in Cuban spiritual life,
arguing that a continuous reintegration of
African cultural traits takes place and shapes
an ever-changing folk Catholicism. Tran, in
Chapter 6, explains how a fluid boundary
between religious and spiritual traditions in
Vietnam ensured historically the borrowing
and cross-fertilisation among them. Christian
missionaries and priests adapted their teachings to the new environment, highlighting
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


aspects of the faith that could be recognised
by the Vietnamese. However, the balance
between the new and the old beliefs is
necessarily equal. In the following chapter
Lindenfeld draws attention to what he calls
selective inculturation: foreign Christian
elements are absorbed into the Chinese and
West African cultural matrix without becoming predominant. Furthermore, the adoption
of new elements is neither wholesale nor
uncritical. Religion is shaped, among others
by the dynamics of race and gender. In
Chapter 8, Frey shows how a different understanding of faith added to an African racial
background has provoked institutional divisions
within the American Catholic community in
New Orleans. Last but not least, Keary
brilliantly compares missionary and indigenous
encounters in northwestern America and eastern
Australia, showing how the impact of colonial
constructs on indigenous identity affected the
interaction, the nature of communication and
ultimately the character of one’s religious life.
Through its historical exploration of the
conceptual trajectories of conversion and
syncretism, this book is an important
theoretical addition to the library of any specialist or student of religion. Furthermore,
the empirical examples on which the different
contributions draw are rich, varied and
amply engage the reader with a wide variety
of historical and geographical contexts. This
is a great book to delve into, especially for
those interested in conversion.
Rotterdam University (The Netherlands)
Livingston, Julie. 2012. Improvising medicine.
An African oncology ward in an emerging cancer
epidemic. Durham: Duke University Press.
248 pp. Pb.: $23.95. ISBN 978-0-8223-5342-3.
This ethnography of a (or more accurately the)
cancer ward in Botswana is beautifully written,
uncompromisingly honest and an uncomfortable read. I’ve always thought that the hallmark
of great ethnography is that it transcends the



specificities of time and place, of the particular,
to offer a glimpse of the universal. I think this
book qualifies; the quality of the writing and
the limpidity of the ethnography make it a
path-breaking work of anthropology tout court.
They give the reader the sense of being allowed
to behold a truth otherwise not accessible.
The first part of the book lays out how
‘cancer’ as a clinical entity in Botswana
emerges when exposure to environmental and
infectious carcinogens intersects with a biomedical apparatus able to biopsy, diagnose
and treat. The site of this co-production is
the oncology ward, to which pain and other
physical symptoms drive sufferers. There their
bodies become available to bio-medical
scrutiny and intervention. Biology and society
are always already entangled, Livingston tells
us. Carcinogenic exposures are not purely
biological events, because they are themselves
conditioned by flows of capital and a global
architecture of regulation that together divert
dangerous toxins away from the wealthy
towards those who are the least shielded.
Nor are pains, growths and tumours merely
the result of DNA gone awry; they are
revealed through perceptions, norms and
economic conditions that factor into decisions
about when and where to seek care. Even
when a lesion is brought to clinical scrutiny,
biology and society continue to co-produce
each other. Diagnosis and treatment are the
product of an elaborate choreography, as STS
scholar Charis Thompson might put it, that
brings together aspirates, slides, microscopes
and the sharp eyes of Dr P.
A number of important points are being
made here. The first is a fundamental,
epidemiological point about the rise of cancer
in the global South and its causes. This is
important and only beginning to be discussed
in enlightened public health circles. The
second point, conceptualised as ‘improvisation’ (which I critique below), refers to the
configurations of people and objects that
make cancer ‘real’ and amenable to
intervention. And the third is an implicit critique of social suffering, and the strong

position held most noticeably by Paul Farmer,
that more bio-medicine is needed to address
issues of profound human suffering. Taken
together, a broader argument that remains
understated is being advanced here: biomedicine is not made in the West and applied
to the Rest. Rather, to understand biomedicine as a global enterprise we have to do
away with the core/periphery model – and
notions of diffusion of biomedical technologies – to face how biomedicine is assembled
through practice: ‘oncology as a set of
grounded practices’ (p. 29). What is being
assembled in Gaborone is not a derivative of
some purer, metropolitan form of biomedicine (or even oncology), but an integral
part of a global practice of healing. This is
not explicit in the ethnography, but we are
treated to a vision of travelling practitioners
(at least the physicians) whose diagnostic and
therapeutic subjectivity has been honed across
multiple sites – in the case of Dr P, Germany,
Zimbabwe, Botswana – and a glimpse of how
biotechnologies are honed across multiple sites
in order to consolidate their efficacy.
There is a tension between the ‘antihumanist’ ontology of the STS stance and the
humanist engagement that blossoms from the
interlude and from Chapters 4–6. After having
just finished the book, I was most struck by
how powerfully this section conveys the
embodiment of care. I am still haunted, not by
the accounts of suffering, but by the passages
where the author describes the changing of
bandages and the incredible ability the nurses
and even doctors have to redeem what would
seem irredeemable. This account of a cancer
ward brings alive the sociality of the body,
through its accounts of pain, laughter,
empathy and exhaustion. These two
dimensions of embodiment and sociality speak
to a broader, universal dimension of moral
experience and human dignity, wherein lies
what is most beautiful and moving about this
book. We have however clearly left the world
of non-human actors and assemblages. I don’t
think it is necessary to resolve any fundamental
ontological inconsistencies between these two
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


parts but there might be a better way to tie
everything together.
In addition to its suitability for courses in
medical anthropology and African studies, the
accessibility of the ethnographic material makes
this book a leading candidate for assignment in
introductory courses for medical students that
relate to the dilemmas of clinical practice and
the social dimensions of biomedicine. I think
here of ‘introduction to the physician–patient
relationship’ or ‘medicine and society’ type
courses now routinely offered in medical schools
across North America.
Université de Montréal (Canada) and Collège
d’études mondiales (France)
McDougall, James and Judith Scheele (eds.)
2012. Saharan frontiers. Space and mobility in
northwest Africa. Bloomington, Indiana:
Indiana University Press. 306 pp. Pb.: $30.00.
ISBN 978-0-253-00126-9.
This volume offers an important contribution
to the regional study of the Sahara, an area that
mostly falls through conceptual grids since
African Studies are generally concerned with
the Sub-Saharan region, and the Middle East
and Arab world considers the Sahara to lie
on its outer edge. The Introduction questions
whether the Sahara is a barrier, a bridge or a
borderland, and deals with the relationship
between ecology, exchange and connectivity,
and the frontiers of mobility. The authors
characterise the Sahara with a ‘high degree of
micro-regional specialisation and hence
large-scale, long-distance, and long-term
patterns of connections and interdependence’
(p. 12), and pursue an analysis by comparison
with the Mediterranean (following Fernand
Braudel). There, climatic and geographical
conditions are such that small areas tend to
specialise and seasonal instability has to be taken
for granted. Life depends on connectivity and
the places of production, habitation or exchange
are made and maintained by regional interactions. To this effect, the 14 contributors explore
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


in four parts Sahara’s ‘islands’ and ‘shores’ in
terms of connectivity, linkage, networks and
relationships. Most contributions stress the
present, but are also rooted historically.
The first part, ‘Framing Saharan Africa’,
deals with historical and theoretical approaches. Peregrine Horden’s contribution
takes a critical look at the comparison of the
Mediterranean and the Sahara and comes to
the conclusion that the Sahara might be
better put in a category with the area of the
Great Lakes or the Philippines instead of its
northern neighbour (p. 36). Ann McDougall’s
chapter follows with the question of what it
means to be Saharan, as a geographic space
and as a marker of identity. Without aiming
for a definitive answer, her approach examines
the Sahara as a dynamic historical construct,
which is not stable but remains very much
part of a global nexus. Katia Schörle provides
data on the Garamantian kingdom in the
Fezzan (South Libya) and the Saharan trade
in antiquity. Archaeological evidence proves
that the Sahara of antiquity consisted of
networks of contacts, ‘if only to cope with
the instability of the Saharan environment’
(p. 70). James McDougall relates the Sahara
into world history. Although until modern
times the Sahara has been recognised as a
limit, the edge of the unknown, or a space in
between, he argues for its integration into
long-term history: ‘The Sahara had always
been extraverted within its own relations of
connectivity, but now […] it was newly
subordinated from the outside, its people
relegated to frontier outbacks and no longer
able to dictate the term of exchange, of
mobility, or of alliance with […] polities
centered elsewhere’ (p. 87).
Part two, ‘Environment, Territory, and
Community’ comprises in-depth local case
studies. Fatma Oussedik describes a ritual of
two Ibadi groups in the Mzab in Algeria
through which they consolidate their origin,
social status and hierarchy. Abderrahmane
Moussaoui follows with a celebration of the
birth of Mohammed, in Timimoun, Algeria,
which establishes a synergy, brings together



local histories and unites different times with
different places. Charles Grémont shows how
the colonial French invented the concept of
territory to segregate Tuareg nomads from the
sedentary population in Mali. Subsequently, the
Tuareg put all efforts into territoriality and
established settlements that changed forms of
power, restricted access to natural resources
and strengthened the symbolic and practical
importance of spatial control. Olivier
Leservoisier deals with the historical constructions of Moorish and Haalpulaar territories
in the Senegal valley emphasising their
interdependence and the social and economic ties
between them that are essential for their selfdefinition.
Part three, called ‘Strangers, Space and
Labor’, starts with Armelle Choplin’s chapter
on the consequences of the European migration
policies in Mauretania and turns our attention to
sub-Saharans who are stuck in Nouadhibou in
the ‘post-transit’ situation. Laurence Marfaing
observes the relationship between long-term
residents and newly arrived in Nouakchott by
concentrating on the labour market. She
concludes that ‘the new socioeconomic configurations in the Sahara cities call existing urban
hierarchies into question, risking conflict […]
and pose a challenge to urban and municipal
administrators […] (and) to national policy
makers’ (p. 196). Dida Badi turns our eye to
the local economy in Tamanrasset in South
Algeria, highlighting cultural interactions in
terms of revival and transformation, like food
services and small restaurants of Sahelians, the
special ‘manufacturing’ of recycled materials,
or artisanal products of Tuareg blacksmiths
The last part of the volume dedicated to
‘Economies of Movement’ opens with Mohamed
Oudada’s analysis of the informal economy in
southern Morocco. The organisation of smuggling livestock, cigarettes, gasoline, consumer
goods and basic commodities reflects and
reactualises long-standing patterns of exchange
as ‘the Sahara continues to function as a
coherent commercial transit zone despite the
existence of borders’ (p. 221). Judith Scheele’s

description of the Malian border village of alKhalil, a centre of trading, smuggling and
contraband, presents it as a ‘cosmopolitan
place where solidarities are transnational rather
than local, and where identity, power, and
movement are closely linked’ (p. 234). Julien
Brachet, finally, draws attention to local
impacts and the dynamics of migration
toward and through the Sahara. The activities
around the smuggling routes have had
an important economic impact on relay towns
through structural and monetary incentives.
This edited volume presents a compilation
of coherent, well-structured case studies
addressing highly significant issues for the
contemporary Sahara. Although the case
studies give priority to the western Sahara
(Morocco, Mauretania) without including its
eastern parts (today’s Libya, Chad and Sudan),
the volume still offers a groundbreaking study
of the Sahara. What becomes clear throughout
is that its historical and contemporary connectivity is not limited to the Sahara as a
geographic, climatic or environmental entity
but characterises it as a fluid extending its
frontiers into its neighbouring areas and
pulling them, in turn, into its economy,
policies and social and cultural expressions.
Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian
Academy of Sciences (Austria)
Müller, Birgit (ed.) 2013. The gloss of harmony. The politics of policy-making in multilateral organisations. London: Pluto Press.
272 pp. Pb.: $40. ISBN 978-0-7453-3374-8.
Birgit Müller’s edited volume addresses a vital
question for global governance: how international organisations that have no constraint
mechanisms at their disposal ‘find ways and
means to make the world governable without
directly governing it’ (p. 7). The nine studies
undertake in-depth, multi-level and multi-sited
ethnographies in United Nations (UN) agencies
or are related to the UN from a historical
perspective. The studies do not seek to evaluate
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


the performance of such international agencies,
but rather address a three-dimensional tension
between ‘the normative idealistic aspect of the
organisation (do good, bring peace, be just), the
mechanistic technical one (order, control, audit)
and the political and economic interest that are
played out there’ (p. 2).
The first three chapters of the book look
at mechanisms that make the world
governable beyond official documents. The
study of Regina Bendix at the UN agency
World Intellectual Property Organization
reveals how important verbal and non-verbal
communication is for the dynamics of negotiations, and how translation becomes interpretation and couples with rhetoric in the
negotiation fora. Marion Fresia looks at the
making of global consensus around the norms
of refugee protection at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The study reveals that
consensus over international norms is not as
liberal as it is often assumed in the bulk of
governance literature, but rather ‘divergent
political interests, bureaucratic strategies and
cultural views’ (p.70) shape consensus. Peter
Larsen’s study stresses how the technicality of
international environmental guidelines displaces
or re-qualifies power relations among local actors
in the Peruvian Amazon.
The next section looks at how international
and local conflicts are diluted under certain
‘technicalities’ and how this contributes to
creating the impression of global harmony. Jane
Cowan’s study combines long-term historical
inquiry with ethnography in analysing a shift
in the logic of international surveillance from
external supervision of human rights within
the interwar League of Nations to the UN’s
mechanism of Universal Periodic Review
characterised by a self-accounting ‘audit culture’
articulated around values, such as objectivity,
cooperation, best practice that are impossible
to argue against without suspicion of losing
democratic credibility. Tobias Kelly continues
the discussion on human rights, bringing in the
case of the UK in the UN Committee Against
Torture in the context of the present-day ‘war
on terror’. The study concludes that the
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


mechanisms of ‘shame of torture’ produced by
international monitoring ‘easily dissipates within
bureaucratic regimes’ (p. 134). Last, HauserShäublin analyses UNESCO’s advocacy in the
dispute among various national states around
cultural artefacts. The study concludes that the
relationship between the offensive claimant and
defensive holder of a particular cultural artefact
can be switched with the help of law experts
who can dictate the terms of the return.
The last section looks at what enables the
participation of political actors across scales.
Irène Bellier shows how an international
movement for indigenous rights was made
possible during the 25-year negotiation of the
United Nations Declaration of the Rights of
Indigenous People. Birgit Müller brings the
concrete case of how FAO’s ‘technical advice’
conflicts with ‘food sovereignty’ in Nicaragua,
while Kenneth MacDonald shows how
interventionist global nature conservation
practices contribute to the trans-local ideological production of nature in northern Pakistan.
What is missing in this edited volume is
the articulation of individual contributions to
a common theoretical frame. Birgit Müller
and Irène Bellier use Foucault’s dispositif, a
machine analogy to institutional socialisation,
while the other authors float theoretically
unbidden. A link to recent studies from
neighbouring disciplines such as political
science and sociology would have benefited
the collection. However, the strength of this
book relies on the advanced methodology,
the ethnographic investigation of international
organisations and the relevance of the cases
selected. Few studies in the field of
organisational and global governance studies
ask the just question. By tearing apart the veil
of harmony that surrounds global governance,
and to which so many academics from various
disciplines mimetically contribute, this book
represents a laudable act of courage that
hopefully will be emulated in the future.
Humboldt University (Germany) and Francisc
I. Rainer Institute of Anthropology (Romania)



Palmié, Stephan. 2013. The cooking of history. How not to study Afro-Cuban religion.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 368 pp.
Pb.: $21.91. ISBN-13 978–0226019567.
Palmié’s book is a coming of age, not only of
his personal intellectual course, but also of a
‘school of thought’ that has been developing
over the last decades on the American
continent and, especially, in its Northern
‘half’. This ‘school’ is hardly a single approach
on a theme but, rather, it is more revealing of
the theme itself. This is precisely the broader
contribution of the book that offers rich
information on the building up of the theme
as an overarching and recurrent American
The immediate focus of the book is ‘AfroCuban religion’. The inverted commas here
are of importance because they indicate that,
whatever else the phenomenon might be, it is
also an object of study and a very particular
kind of discourse that implicates both practitioners and ‘outsiders’, such as researchers. In
fact, Palmié’s point is that it is hard to draw
the line between ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’
because they are interactive producers of
‘Afro-Cuban religion’ as a discursive object.
As Asad did for the concept of ‘religion’, Palmié
performs skilfully a genealogy of the term
‘Afro-Cuban religion’ and the various actors
implicated in it. The closest ones are practitioners and scholars (often the two roles collapsing into one individual), with a wide
geographical span, from the Caribbean, Brazil
and North America to Europe and Africa.
Out of the term ‘Afro-Cuban religion’,
the analytical and deconstructive emphasis is
put on the signifier ‘Afro’, because this is what
hides or reveals the ‘semiotic ideologies’ (p. 11)
Palmié is after. In essence, it is a discourse on
origins and the complex issue of continuities
and discontinuities that has preoccupied so
intensely generations of African Diaspora
scholars, most famously of North American
formation. Palmié amply demonstrates the
constant preoccupation with this overarching
theme among such scholars; what changes is

the content and value of the term ‘African’,
revealing not a stable, ‘natural’ state but a
dynamic and often conflictive process of the
‘politics of representing’ (p. 114), ‘identity politics’
(p. 121), ‘cultural legitimacy (p. 133) and ‘discourse on power’ (p. 147), among others.
Palmié demonstrates in detail how ‘AfroCuban religion’ can become the idiom and
vehicle for the extremely complicated issues
of race, ethnicity and cultural identity. Herein
lies an intense kind of ambiguity, both in the
relation between race and ethnicity and
Palmié’s own approach. In light of the first,
there is undoubtedly a strong connection,
although one has to acknowledge the wide
diffusion of Afro-Cuban religiosity outside
the sociological limits that could be strictly
designated (whether internally or externally)
as ‘Afro’. A very interesting and astute observation concerns the contrast between Cuban
and North American understandings of race
and ethnicity. While North American understandings tend to conflate and equate race with
ethnicity – in this case ‘Africanity’ with ‘blackness’ – Cuban understandings don’t make this
step. This leads to a quite different identity
formation through ‘Afro-Cuban religion’. In
North America, the phenomenon often
goes together with a more general political
radicalisation of ‘blackness’, its historical
subalternity and a subsequent adoption of an
‘African’ way of life as an oppositional stance
to the dominant culture that has marginalised
Afro-Americans. On the contrary, Cuban
understandings do not automatically equate
‘Africanity’ with ‘blackness’. For instance,
Cubans of white complexions might intimately identify with an African heritage
and even lineage, through and due to a ritual
link to a strand of Afro-Cuban religiosity.
The element of ambiguity that permeates
Palmié’s own approach rests on the fact that,
although the book makes us over-conscious
of the machinations, political and identity
agendas, and, thus, lack of neutrality of the
genealogical approach (as any genealogical
approach) falls prey, as it were, to its own
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


deconstructive intentions. Apart from these
machinations forwarded, we actually get to
know very little of what Afro-Cuban religion
is, not just as a mere discursive ideology, but
as a unique cosmological and practical pool
of knowledge of a wide sociological significance, at least in Cuba, which goes beyond
conventional notions of race and ethnicity to
become a way of life or understanding of the
world. I am sure Palmié is conscious of such
ambiguities, wittingly placing the subtitle: how
not to study Afro-Cuban religion. It is high time,
perhaps, to engage with how to do so.
CRIA/FCSH-Universidade Nova de Lisboa
Pedelty, Mark. 2012. Ecomusicology. Rock,
folk, and the environment. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 242 pp. Pb.: £18.99.
ISBN 978–1439907122.
Music’s relationship within societies and cultures
is a complex topic of research, one that rarely
seems to be agreed upon between disciplines.
However, we do know that music can be good
material for social inquiry as it mediates issues,
debates and potential solutions. In his book Mark
Pedelty asks the question of how music can be
used to promote sustainability. He takes us
through the political ecology of rock, using
examples in a geographic exposition from global
(Live Aid megaconcerts), national (political
music in USA), regional (bioregions in North
America) to local music. Taking an ethnographic
approach, Pedelty interfaces these geographical
components with an analysis of music as communication, advocacy and to a lesser degree as art.
Reflecting on the relationship between
musical genre and environmentalism, Pedelty’s
ecomusicology emerges throughout the book.
We learn that it includes, among other aspects,
environmentally engaged popular musicians
(e.g. those who partake in carbon offsetting of
their tours), certain musical timbres or instruments, or musicians with ‘environmental intent’,
who are considered as having ‘environmental
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


musicianship’ (p. 35). These musicians, argues
Pedelty, empower audiences by raising environmental awareness and providing opportunities
for action, reconnecting people with nature in
both imagination and activism. However, we
see little evidence of how this actually occurs
besides a handful of trite survey responses and
brief analysis of fan blogs (pp. 61–3).
And why rock particularly? Pedelty
asserts that rock has become the soundtrack
for the world system (p. 22). His argument is
that rock de-territorialises consciousness via
digital technologies of production and
consumption. This leads us to engage and
think less at a local level. The scale of the music
industry is at the same time its potential in that
it affords ‘global networking’ (p. 43). Rock
and pop are therefore seen as ‘placeless metagenres’ that ‘may begin to feel more ecological
relevance when generated in specific environmental contexts’ (p. 126). Accordingly,
Pedelty’s support of local music making is tied
to music as a place-making device, mediating
space into meaningful place.
The benefit to communities when music
is made locally is alluded to in Chapter 4
through description of his band in Minneapolis, for instance by telling us how their
audience is often made up of ‘family, friends,
neighbors, and colleagues’ (p. 171). Unfortunately the opportunity for ethnographic
insight is lost in the writing style and lack of
robust, well-worked examples, which seem
more appropriate for a blog, especially when
Pedelty engages in self-effacing comments
about learning or performing music: ‘My
microphone technique is crap’ (p. 144).
Moreover, the musical learning process never
emerges, rather Chapter 4 tells the reader
how he became a musician, which includes
details of how long it takes to set up for a gig
and the cost of his band’s first CD, along with
numerous photos of him performing that only
serve to document a musical event rather than
to develop a visual ethnography.
Pedelty states his commitment to understanding music in social, historical and material
contexts (i.e. an ecological approach to studying



music, not to be confused with ecomusicology,
which concerns music, sound and the environment). Music’s indexical nature is at the crux of
an ecological approach to music, yet
Ecomusicology vacillates on this point, or it is ignored completely, as evidenced by the author’s
discomforting opinions. For example, Pedelty
snubs ‘bubblegum pop’ and easy listening
(p. 19), explains away electronic music as
‘facilitating escape’ (p. 41), declares Muzak and
‘puritanical art’ as boring (pp. 18–19), labels
classical musicians ethnocentrists and braggarts
(pp. 135–6) along with unverified claims such as
‘baritone [voices] don’t work in rock’ (p. 180)
or ‘what music does best is provide pleasure’
(p. 171) and more. There is no supporting
evidence to these assumptions and moreover it
is far from being an ecological understanding of
music’s potential within situated contexts of
people, places, materials and discourses.
Descriptions as such reinforce genre
boundaries, which is an inhibitor in thinking
about collective action, communities and the
environment. If the goal is to promote sustainability, then divisions as such should be the
first to go, particularly since these genres result
from corporate distribution, market forces and
record label number-crunching in order to
categorise and maximise sales, underpinning
neoliberal thinking and consumerist practice
that Pedelty critiques throughout the book.
However, Pedelty is unashamed of these
‘normative judgments about music’ and asserts,
‘music should be able to play some role in fostering environmental sustainability, biodiversity
and human well-being’ (p. 202). Music needn’t
do anything, but it does anyway.
University of Exeter (UK)
Prébin, Elise. 2013. Meeting once more. The
Korean side of transnational adoption. New
York: New York University Press. 231 pp.
Hb.: $44.10. ISBN 978–0814760260.
Between 1958 and 2008 more than 160,000
South Korean children were adopted abroad.

When in 1988 media attention focused on
Seoul as the venue of the Olympic Games,
international criticism of this seemingly easy
way of dealing with problems of abandonment, broken homes and single motherhood
caused a remarkable change in official policy
and a definite commitment to increase the
number of domestic adoptions. During these
50 years, South Korea also changed from being
a poor country with a backward economy to
one of the leading industrial nations in Asia
that is concerned to position itself advantageously in a globalising world. Koreans living
abroad have become recognised as part of a
diaspora that can be of use to the mother
country. Although international adoptees no
longer have any legal ties with their birth
families and have acquired a different nationality, it is considered important to re-establish a
relationship with them when they return for
shorter or longer periods.
The author, who was adopted by a
French family, experienced what this meant
when in 1999 she participated in a regular
3-week programme organised by the Koreanbased agency through which she was sent
abroad. Apart from lectures on Korean life
and training in selected aspects of Korean
culture, she was also put in contact with
members of her birth family under the guidance of social workers who had been able to
trace them. Having spent most of the rest of
her summer holidays with these people,
she decided to redirect the focus of her study
of social anthropology to Korea and
completed a dissertation on ‘les revenants de
Corée’ in 2006.
In French revenants can refer to returnees
but also to ghostly apparitions. In the present
book Prébin shows that the oppressive and
sad feelings Korean mothers may have about
children who died (or aborted foetuses) can
find relief in shamanistic rituals that have their
parallel in the way returned adoptees are
expected to behave when they once again meet
their family, and especially their birth mother.
Typically these returnees express their lack
of resentment and their goodwill that are
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


celebrated with a communal meal and sealed
with a ritual offering at the grave or graves
of common ancestors. Whether the reestablished relationship continues and how it
develops are, however, largely dependent on
individual temperaments and contingent
A large part of the book is devoted to a
popular weekly television programme that aims
at bringing relatives who have lost contact
together again. The programme had its origins
in a major telethon in 1983 that expressed and
revived memories of sufferings caused by the
Korean war and its aftermath. The programme
started in 1997 and was still being broadcast in
2003 when the author investigated several
productions. Carefully screened people would
present cases of ‘lost’ relatives whom they
would like to see again. Older participants told
stories of separation of children from parents
and siblings due to poverty, single parenthood
or widowhood. The options had been child
servitude, fosterage, adoption by a relative or
acquaintance or (temporarily) an orphanage.
Narratives of a younger generation (18–35 years
old) showed a preference for international
adoption as the usual solution in an urban
industrialised setting. When the search is
successful, the reunion is staged during a later
broadcast or, if that is impossible, filmed and
shown by flashback. Much of the appeal of the
programme is the dramatic structuring of a
stereotypically tearful encounter with the lost
relative that evokes strong feelings of identification in the studio audience and viewers at home
with the protagonists.
In this and other ways the book succeeds in
presenting the birth parents’ side of meetings with
transnational adoptees. Anthropological readers
will admire the innovative way in which the
author uses various recent anthropological
perspectives when dealing with a topic that did
not even exist a generation ago. She also invites
us to rethink the supposedly fundamental distinction between the anthropologist and ‘the other’
that dissolves in her case. However, one wonders
if the theoretical sophistication of her book might
not interfere with her aim of defusing ‘potential
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


confusion and misunderstandings that stem from
the inevitable cultural gaps between transnational
adoptees and their birth families’ and of helping
‘adoptees rethink their adoptive ties in comparison not only to imagined biological ones – as
common representations have taught them – but
also to concrete post-meeting ties with birth
families’ (p. 181).
Utrecht University (The Netherlands)
Were, Graeme and J.C.H. King (eds.) 2012.
Extreme collecting: challenging practices
for 21st century museums. Oxford and New
York: Berghahn Books. 238 pp. Hb.: $90.
ISBN 9780857453631.
When Neil MacGregor, the Director of the
British Museum, takes us on a world Odyssey
in A History of the World in 100 Objects
(2012), he deals with many ‘difficult objects’
from Britain’s imperial and colonial record.
MacGregor tells bold world histories of
singular objects from 2,000,000 BC to AD
2010 carried by an ethos of Faustian curiosity.
His work is perhaps the most eloquent plea for
the role encyclopaedic museums can play in
serving the Enlightenment project. However,
most of the darker and uncomfortable
histories of ‘extreme collecting’ on which the
British Museum was partly built are often
muted, repressed or left out in MacGregor’s
narrative. Such institutional silences are what
Were and King’s volume discerns.
The book originates from a series of
workshops held at the British Museum in
2007–8 debating why some objects resist being
collected and how such objects at the margins
of acceptable collecting practices challenge
museological expertise and authority. These
debates have materialised into 12 chapters
framed by an introduction by Were, which
masterly reviews the topical literature on
collecting, and a brilliant interview with the
‘extreme collector’ Robert Obie by King. The
collection falls within the genre of critical
museology, moving the central perspective
from the front stage of public displays to the



back stage of acquisition departments and
basements. It thus affords a rare insight into
the making of collections and the underbelly
of a quintessential public institution.
What do the following material objects
have in common: 26 skeletons, Heinz baked
bean cans, late 19th century glass eyes from
the eugenic collection of Sir Francis Galton,
Navajo jewellery, representations of naval
warfare, such as an 18-inch gun, recycled
plastic loft insulation and time capsules? Well,
they all resist musealisation in various ways.
The material scope of the anthology is broad,
perhaps too broad? We find ourselves in a
rather confusing exhibition offering a myriad
of perspectives on the challenges of curating
‘difficult objects’ from an institutional
perspective. On the other hand, we learn a
lot about how museums think and work and
by implication the self-representation of
In the case of the eugenic collection of Sir
Francis Galton, McEnroe argues somewhat
surprisingly in her chapter ‘Unfit for Society?’
that the curation of this controversial material
requires a ‘deep-seated and ongoing process
of consultation and negotiation with users
and stakeholders’ (p. 89). This argument
would lend itself well to interesting comparisons with the curation of indigenous material
and relations to source communities. More
generally, there seems to be a great potential
in developing connections between the
chapters and/or the material collections in
question that is overlooked by both editors
and contributors (for example, between the
projections of race by the eugenic collection
and the shoes worn by an Auschwitz
survivor in Suzanne Bardgett’s original
chapter on how to showcase the Holocaust).
Given the disparity in material, the complete
lack of cross-references between the chapters
does not help the unity of the volume and
may seem somewhat odd for an anthology
emanating from a series of workshops.
If the scope of materiality is broad, so
is the theoretical ambition in the various
chapters. Some contributions are explicitly

theory-driven, such as Pearce’s chapter
‘Knowing the New’, which provides the
collection with a lucid theoretical and historical overview of different collecting taxonomies
and epistemological commitments. In ‘Awkward Objects’, Geisbusch is more preoccupied
with the definitional question of what exactly
renders objects extreme, arguing that such
objects ‘challenge our conceptions of boundaries and definitions’ (p. 127). A common
thread running through the volume concerns
the implications of the global market for
collecting practices. Tubb’s chapter on illicit
antiquities, Wilk’s on Japanese woodblock
prints and Lidchi’s contribution on Native
American crafts and arts centre on the
conundrums between the methodology of
collecting, connoisseurship, circulation and
authenticity in an ever-more intensive marketplace. Tubb advocates for transparency in the
antiquities trade, Wilk labours over what eBay
does to standards, pictorial genres and legitimacy
of Japanese prints and Lidchi takes her cue from
Annette Weiner’s re-configuration of exchange
theory to argue that ‘keeping-while-giving’
offers a refreshing theoretical perspective on her
field relations in the American Southwest.
However, a theoretical answer to what exactly
renders an object ‘extreme’ beyond the sheer
scale and material ontology seems to escape the
anthology as a whole.
King’s conversation with Robert Opie –
the director of the Museum of Brands, Packing
and Advertising in Notting Hill, London –
stands as the true gem of the collection:
personal, engaged, humorous and original.
Opie has been collecting objects, which the
conventional museum world has ignored:
packaging, cans and other items representing
consumer culture. Showcasing the evolution
of consumer society from Victorian times to
the present, Opie’s aim is nothing less than a
renewed understanding of trade, commerce
and the role of technology in history. Take,
for example, what is widely considered to be
the most masculine accessory for the contemporary man: the wristwatch. When clocks got
sufficiently small to go on wrists, they were
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


only intended for women; a man wearing a
wristwatch would be considered quaint, even
queer. What changed that? According to Opie,
the trenches of the First World War, where
officers had to wear a watch around the wrist
to synchronise charges across the front. King’s
interview is abundant with such stories of
surprise and suspense, and ultimately evokes
a new horizon of interpretation, where the
relations and transitional spaces between
objects are made into captivating displays and
compelling story telling. This chapter, in place
of a Conclusion, gets the key message of the
whole volume across, namely that assemblages
of cans and packaging – the muted relational
spaces between difficult objects – can be as
enlightening as MacGregor’s encyclopaedic
lessons of singular objects.

MacGregor, Neil. 2012. A history of the
world in 100 objects. London: Penguin.

University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
Williams, Robert Lloyd. 2013. The complete
codex Zouche-Nuttall: Mixtec lineage histories and political biographies. Austin: University of Texas Press. 456 pp. Hb: $54.00.
ISBN 978–0292744387.
Robert Williams’ The Complete Codex ZoucheNuttall belongs to a small but highly informative body of work aimed at presenting the
contents of Postclassic and early Colonial
Mixtec codices to modern readers. It is not an
introduction to the Mixtec culture or codical
tradition – for which readers should turn to
Elizabeth Boone’s Stories in Red and Black
(2000) and Bruce Byland and John Pohl’s In
the Realm of Eight Deer (1994) – but it extends
the work of those scholars and is a worthy
contribution to indigenous Mesoamerican
historiography. Its subject, the Codex ZoucheNuttall, is a screenfold manuscript produced
between ca. 1350 and 1450 in the present-day
Mexican state of Oaxaca. The two documents
© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists


in the codex (the obverse side is more recent)
are concerned principally with the royal lineage
of Tilantongo, especially the deeds of the
conquering hero Eight Deer.
Williams’ primary aim is to provide the first
close reading and explication of the full Codex
Zouche-Nuttall in the English language, a task
he unquestionably succeeds. The broader appeal
of this volume, however, derives from Williams’
engagement with questions of meaning and
communication: how certain can modern readers
be of what this codex says, when it relies almost
exclusively on narrative pictography and symbolic tableaux rather than linguistically specific
signs? How were the Codex Zouche-Nuttall
and other documents like it used in their original
social contexts, and to what extent did competent
readings depend on information not encoded in
the text itself? By showing how much of the
codex’s content can still be accessed, Williams
contributes to scholarly understanding of
communication technologies.
Following a summary historiography of the
corpus of Mixtec codices, presented in the first
two chapters, Williams introduces readers to
the techniques of graphic representation and
structural organisation Mixtec scribes employed.
This background is crucial for readers who hope
to follow Williams’ commentary, which
comprises the meat of the book. In it, Williams
analyses in turn each of the tableaux presented
in the codex, summarising historical narratives
and justifying potentially controversial interpretations with careful reasoning and close attention
to the conventions of Mixtec narrative pictography. The last chapter situates the Codex
Zouche-Nuttall in the context of the other surviving Mixtec screenfolds, explaining differences in
their accounts of some of the same historical events
in terms of the divergent political interests of the
polities in which they were produced.
Epigraphic specialists will appreciate
Williams’ deep knowledge of the entire Mixtec
codical corpus. Non-specialists will need to
have some familiarity with pre-Hispanic
Mesoamerican cultures and societies: Williams’
commentary, like the Codex Zouche-Nuttall
itself, demands both careful reading and



knowledge of background information. Yet his
prose is clear and accessible, supplemented by
appropriate illustrations, genealogies and summary tables throughout the text. The colour
reproduction of the codex presented at the end
of the volume is valuable in its own right and
invites readers to explore Mixtec codical history
first hand, with Williams as an expert guide.
Williams never loses sight of the Codex
Zouche-Nuttall’s nature as a physical object,
and his presentation of its content is informed
by considerations of how the screenfold pages
could have been folded or stretched out to omit
non-essential parts of the narrative, or to foreground an episode bracketed by two parts of a
larger story. This attention to physical interaction
with the codex points to the social context of its
use, discussed in the second and final chapters,
as a mnemonic aid in oral recitations of history.
A persistent typographical error, techutli
for the Nahuatl teuctli, is distracting but not
damaging. Deeper and broader considerations
of how meaning can be extracted from nonlinguistic texts, in and apart from their original
social contexts, would have been welcome –
perhaps in the concluding chapter, which ends
a bit abruptly. Yet allotting too much text to
such considerations would have taken space
away from Williams’ practical, and admirably

detailed, demonstration of how to extract
that meaning. Readers can draw their own
theoretical conclusions from what remains a
convincing exegesis of a difficult pair of texts.
More problematically, the volume lacks a map
showing the locations of the sites mentioned in
the codex, some (though not all) of which can
be identified with archaeological sites or living
Every serious student of Mesoamerican
anthropology or epigraphy should own a copy
of this work. More generally, scholars
interested in semiotics, literacy, memory and
performance will find in The Complete Codex
Zouche-Nuttall a fascinating example of how
a past society recorded its history in a linguistically ‘open’ script.

Boone, E. H. 2000. Stories in red and
black. Pictorial histories of the Aztecs and
Mixtecs. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Byland, E. B. and J. M. D. Pohl 1994. In
the realm of eight deer: the archaeology of the
Mixtec codices. Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press.

Brown University (USA)

© 2014 European Association of Social Anthropologists

Sponsor Documents

Or use your account on


Forgot your password?

Or register your new account on


Lost your password? Please enter your email address. You will receive a link to create a new password.

Back to log-in