Tag Archives: anthropology

  • Interrogating the Concept of Categories - an Interview with Lochlann Jain

    Stanford University anthropologist and artist, Lochlann Jain, speaks with Anne Brackenbury (former editor at University of Toronto Press who launched the ethnoGRAPHIC Series) to talk about Jain’s new book, Things That Art: A Graphic Menagerie of Enchanting Curiosity.

    This debut work of graphic non-fiction offers an opportunity to interrogate the concept of categories using text and image. Jain, a biracial, non-binary, interdisciplinary academic, is used to transgressing boundaries and this book offers a highly original way in which to understand the limits of categories while making visible the things that often get lost between. With over 50 works of original art, each based on fictional categories, and four interpretative essays, the book doesn’t just tell, it shows, in witty and sometimes profound ways, how we make sense of the world around us.


    AB: Thanks for sitting down to talk with me. I have been excited about your artwork since you first showed it to me a number of years ago. And I’m thrilled that it will now be available in book form for more people to discover.

    One of the book’s greatest strengths is that it is both a conceptual/philosophical exploration, but also seems to have real relevance for the world around us and the times we are currently living through. Who do you think will be drawn (sorry for the pun) to this book and how does it arm them for challenging (or dealing with) the world around them?

    LJ: Speaking of goofy puns, the funny thing about this book is that it started as just a joke, really. I was in a faculty meeting doodling; the doodle became my colleague’s nose, and then a bunch of different kinds of noses emerged from my pen, which I put under a heading, “kinds of noses.” Right away with that first collection (my sister’s nose, the nose of wine, a porcine nose, etc.) an implicit set of questions arose: what noses know what, how do we distinguish and recognize noses, who gets to do the recognizing, and so on. It was nearly accidental that I drew the nose – and yet noses turn out to be so rich with meaning. Who knew noses were so political? At the time, drawing offered some solace during an unhappy period. I continued with that series among my other drawings, and over the years I drew over 100 of the Things That collection.

    Things That Art both locates and creates frictions in the elements of the drawings: word, illustration, and collection. The goal is to undermine some of the expectations set up by the familiar forms that it builds on – that is, primarily the form of flashcard (word and illustration) and then the museum or zoo (curated collection of similar/related things). Many of the drawings use these elements to create little paradoxes and gaps where not everything matches up. The conceit of the project is that these gaps can shine a light on, and thus get an audience to think with me, about how categories work, and our assumptions about what belongs together and why/how. For example, how is money as a form of the representation of value (and state power) similar to lipstick as a form of representation and value (and gendered relations)? What kind of world/imagination makes these similar?

    I found the form of the word/image/collection generative in that it could push a fundamentally poetic project (making connections and leaps among meaning, sound, and the shapes of letters and words) into a visual mode. Things That Art investigates the registers and grammars of naming and abstracting in relation to each other, sometimes in arbitrary ways. The conceptual leaps thus make intuitive before rational sense and can create possibilities for knowing otherwise, disturbing fixed identities, and lateral thinking. At least that’s the aspiration.

    AB: I think this is what I found particularly exciting about this work. It doesn’t really ask: Which of these things don’t belong? Instead, it seems to ask: How are these things similar? That is a shift in the way we think, and therefore act, in the world. It suggests we are not individuals at the centre of life, but relational beings who make sense of the world in the way we relate to other beings/things. And as far as I can tell, that is hugely important for understanding how we might approach contemporary problems from climate change to artificial intelligence.

    LJ: Wow yes, that’s a really great point. I hadn’t thought of it that way. And in truth, I can’t stand those children’s menu games of which doesn’t belong. This game is much more fun: how can we challenge and provoke new kinds of communities?

    AB: So to take an example from the book – you created a collection of images under the label "Sounds like hairspray” which includes things like heresay, heresy, Hemingway, highway, fairway, harpsichord, aerosol, aperol. What prompted you to develop this particular category and how did you come up with these various “things” under this label?

    LJ: I found that sets of categories allowed me to look at things slightly askance, and so I informally cast about between drawings to see if I could access a range of those ways of looking. Sounds like hairspray just popped into my mind one day, as did the populating images and terms as something totally random and yet fully belonging to the collection. (For virtually all the cards I just used the first things that popped to mind, though for a few I asked friends and family for suggestions.) With that category, my curiousity was piqued to think about the reliance of category headings in determining our thinking. Consider for example the ways that gender-crossing has been described in different ways since the 1950s, in part influenced by contemporary and shifting notions of “headings” such as gender, biology, and binaries.

    Thinking through the work of categories, I also played with vectors, such as negatives or playing with the notion, letters, and sound of “thing.” Another line of investigation considers information that is slightly creepy when listed together (things used to test car safety, or historical techniques of treating drowning victims). Another vector ends up presenting pseudo-information, such as, say, things with epi, which plays with linguistic groupings. And so on!

    AB: The drawings in your book are very childlike. They exude a kind of innocence but also that uncensored honesty that children are known for. Was this intended or did it sort of emerge along the way as you started drawing?

    LJ: I have a couple of different ways of thinking about this question. First, there is a way in which abstracted knowledge forms are often presented as “elementary” – zoos and flashcards are for children and animals and illustrations are often presented in this naïve or cartoon style. Graphic charts will often simplify information as if the complexities were just noise. So I mimic this style on purpose. Perhaps an analogy to what I’m trying to do could be seen when “wild” things happen at the zoo that make frenzied parents cover their children’s eyes: the snake eats a live chicken whole, or the giraffe drinks the pee of the other giraffe.

    Second, I drew this over the course of 8-10 years, and so the style of images progressed with it. I redrew most of the early images that I include in the book, but the curious reader will still be able to divine the timeline of the drawings both conceptually and graphically, and I purposely made that part of the project. The idea is definitely, as you say, to present a straight-forward illustrative framing – even misleadingly simplistic. I think that works for what I am aiming toward with the project in terms of using simplified drawings and words to push the conceptual elements of word and image in various representational economies (art, economics, gender, marketing, grammar, charting, etc.). I’m hoping that in this way the reader will be surprised when they experience the darker and more conceptual elements of the project. Still, if I had continued the series I would have been interested in pushing in different ways on the illustrative dimension to see how to challenge that form. This was perhaps a good indication that this project had reached a natural conclusion.

    AB: The use of some more grotesque images and cuss words seems deliberate. Were you wanting to shock the reader or make them laugh or get at something more authentic?

    LJ: I have always been interested in how at base, so many insults are simply meaningless – as a person of half-Indian descent, even though my father disavowed everything Indian except the sweets (which I still love), my sisters and I were occasionally called “Paki.” This could be painful even though (a) not strictly true, and (b) not in fact an insult. When we were kids my best friend used to whisper that “bastard” was the absolute worst thing someone could say. Another virtually meaningless word. And once when a kid named Craig was teasing me about my name, my mother suggested I call him “craggy mountain,” which I did. It infuriated him. These swears and insults indicate how language is both meaningless at one level, and extraordinarily active and effective on another. The collection “Things generally used as insults” aims to open this gap between the innocence of the thing that suddenly finds itself exploited as an insult, the word with its different textures and meanings, and the thing we already know or imagine, which is the person to whom the insult is addressed. The purpose then is not really to shock or to make someone laugh, but to crowbar the gap between word, thing, and meaning in a context where there is already only a tenuous relationship.  These words are so often used as linguistic pellets of exclusion, so I wanted to literally draw the odd-balls back into the equation.

    I was kind of amazed and intrigued to see how this form I’d developed for the initial nose drawing became so useful as an interpretive and experimental device: I sort of loved seeing what would happen as I kept slotting different ideas through the keyhole.

    AB: If you were taking a transatlantic flight, what would you bring with you to read/look at/watch? (Or would you just watch an inflight movie?) 

    LJ: My flights are so boring! Once I get over the initial disappointment of no free upgrade, I use the time to catch up on email, write reviews and reference letters, and catch up on other work. I do like watching in-flight movies though because they tend to be better at altitude. I’ve always thought that and someone recently told me that it’s a real thing.

    AB: Really? What is it about altitude that makes a movie better??

    LJ: Something about being packed in the space with others, the stress, and so on. Maybe the movies aren’t as good in business class because there is more space and fewer people; we’d need to gather some data on that.

    AB: Will you ever write a purely textual book again? Or are you hooked on the image/text relationship for good?

    LJ: I’m currently working on several projects, and I think the projects tell me what genre they are meant to be, in a way. The history of hepatitis B I’m working on would make a great graphic novel. But there are many fascinating details and a complex argument that lends itself to text. I’m also working on a graphic novel (for lack of better word) called My Failed Transition, about the weird and wonderful aspects of a gender non-binary existence. Finally, I’ve been working on a series of drawings related to the history of technology and discovery of air.

    AB: Some people think you can make complex theoretical arguments in the context of a graphic novel but I get that text is sometimes the most appropriate format to work out a theory or argument. Once it is worked out though, a graphic novel of hepatitis B would be wonderful! Don’t rule it out. And a graphic novel on your transition would be more than welcome as well. I assume the graphic novel is a natural fit because of the growing interest in graphic memoir and its ability to capture memory and experience more viscerally?

    LJ: Note the book is on my Failed Transition, that’s a crucial point but I’m not sure why yet. It’s still in process as an idea, but the goal will be to experiment with text and images in new ways and work out the ideas that way. I don’t think graphic memoir is any more visceral than words per se, it’s more about the fit among ideas and author. I will always be a huge proponent and admirer of words and text. In my view it’s tragic that in general people don’t read as much. Many of the social and even academic conversations I used to have about books are now about Netflix.

    AB: So do you think scholarly communication is changing with the growth of the digital humanities, comics, podcasts, games, and other multimodal formats?

    LJ: It’s an exciting time to be an academic in the sense that there are spaces and opportunities to do more innovative and experimental work. When I first started in the academy about 25 years ago, the questions (and answers) were more staid and uninteresting; this wasn’t because  they had to be textual, but because of the self-generated ideas for evaluation which were based less on originality and rigor than on disciplinary canons. Stanford asked me to resign three or four years after I was hired because my colleagues didn’t consider my first book to be anthropological enough, though they had hired me, technically, as an STS scholar and supposedly read the dissertation on which the book was based. Since I was in the middle of cancer treatment and had two small children, I realized in a very deep way how excruciatingly vulnerable scholars are to the judgements and tastes of senior academics and so how beholden we are to try to second-guess what they might want. For those institutional reasons it has been tremendously difficult to open the academy up to new questions and forms of investigation. But I see a change with the current generation of now senior professors more open to seeing and appreciating new kinds of work. Or maybe that’s just the small academic world in which I travel.

    AB:  I think it’s more than just the world in which you travel. I believe the academy is making changes (albeit small changes) as the world around it changes. Things That Art is a book about categories that is not easy to categorize. If you were a bookseller and had to file this away in a particular section, which would you choose?

    LJ: I’d probably file it with art books or graphic novels. I think it would appeal to folks who like to look at, and think with, pictures and I’m super excited to see where the popularity of this genre will go – I think there is so much untapped potential to work with word-concept-image that is just now being explored, and I envision that we will come up with a series of new terms that expand the graphic novel category: graphic biography, philosophy, memoir, etc.

    AB: Yes there are many different genres emerging with forms like graphic medicine, graphic journalism, and of course, graphic memoir, but I like the way Things That Art charts its own space in that growing field as a graphic philosophy of sorts that uses the medium in a highly original way to show and tell how we sort information, thoughts, and concepts.  

    So who do you see as the audience for this book? Scholars? Artists? Students? The general public?

    LJ: Which categories of people will like the book? I sense a new card to be drawn!!

    But seriously, one of the things I appreciate about the project now that it has been put together as a collection, is that I keep finding new ways into it, and it keeps surprising me. I’ve been thinking for example about how the range of representation works across the collection: charts, maps, graphics, dollar bills, diagrams, etc. … how do things that are already representations of things operate as things? I discuss some of that in my essay, but there is more there to mine. So I guess the point is that I can still entertain myself with my little paper mates, and the ability to self-entertain is a crucial part of living a happy life.

    AB: Thanks for speaking with me. I’m excited to see how people respond to Things That Art. And I’m excited to see where your interest in art/visual formats and your scholarly research go in the future.

    LJ: It has been great!! Thank you for all you have done to spearhead new work thinking across genres.


    Lochlann Jain is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University and a professor in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London.

    Want to learn more from Things That Art?

    • Purchase your copy of the book.
    • Read an exclusive excerpt from the book.
  • What Students Deserve in a Textbook

    With the recent release of Through the Lens of Cultural Anthropology, we asked author Laura Tubelle de González to talk about her new textbook, and her hopes for its use in the classroom. Here, González discusses what inspired her, why she includes her own personal experiences, and how her strategic use of language and graphics will allow students to easily place themselves within the book.


    Excerpt from Chapter 8: Gender and Sexuality in Through the Lens of Cultural Anthropology.

    When my daughter, Maya, was very little, I made sure to provide her with all kinds of toys, including those “meant” for boys, like cars, excavation kits, robots, and other toys from the blue aisle. I didn’t want to confine her imagination to those things that North American society deemed appropriate only for girls. One day, I came into her room, and she was playing with a set of little Hot Wheels cars. I gave myself an imaginary pat on the back, feeling smug that she had chosen the cars over her dolls for playtime. Wanting to know more, I asked, “I see you’re playing with your cars. What are you playing?” Expecting to hear something typical for car play, like “car chase” or “car crash,” I was flabbergasted when she replied, “well, this is the daddy car, this is the mama car, and these are the baby cars.” I realized then that there are aspects of gender that are unquestionably intrinsic to each individual. Maya was who she was, no matter what toys I offered her.

    My lower division cultural anthropology courses are full of personal examples, like this one about Maya’s Hot Wheels cars and expectations of gender. I can’t resist telling stories about my first night of fieldwork in Oaxaca when I was served fried grasshoppers, or how deliberating whether or not to buy the most popular (pooping!) baby doll as a holiday gift illustrates the market economy. There are so many ways in which life as a teacher, family member, community member, and citizen highlights anthropological ideas. I believe that the classroom community is made richer when we share our own life examples. My new textbook from UTP, Through the Lens of Cultural Anthropology, seeks to create the kind of reading environment that connects author and students in the same way we connect in the classroom.

    The textbook is an adaptation of a four-field general anthropology textbook that I co-authored with my Canadian colleague, Bob Muckle, called Through the Lens of Anthropology, Second Edition. As we wrote, we made an effort to create a text that was engaging and geared toward lower-division students. The book has a special focus on food, sustainability, and language throughout, with pop culture references that students will recognize. We also tried to write a true North American text, that felt relevant to students from both the US and Canada. Through the Lens of Cultural Anthropology develops the cultural and linguistic sections into a full semester’s course text with 12 chapters and additional chapter topics, retaining an emphasis on those areas mentioned above.

    When writing Through the Lens of Cultural Anthropology, I thought of my own students, and what they deserve in a textbook. First, it’s essential that all students see themselves reflected in the book. For this reason, I put special emphasis on the use of gender-neutral pronouns and inclusion of transgender and non-binary issues throughout, not just confined to the gender and sexuality chapter. My research among gender expansive students in community colleges underscores the importance of inclusion of all genders and sexualities in the classroom and in course material.

    Credit: Karen Rubins/Alpa Shah.

    Secondly, the book makes a special effort to include narratives that are not always emphasized, such as the contributions of Black anthropologists, issues of White privilege, the voices of Canadian First Nations peoples, and others. It is important to me as a teacher and textbook author to enable students to connect to course material in not only logical but also emotional ways. I believe that transformative learning comes from compassion, not only intellectual understanding. Therefore, the book attempts to make these kinds of connections. I deeply appreciate the comment made by my friend and fellow UTP author, Tad McIlwraith, when he said the book “reads like a provocative argument in favour of cultural diversity.”

    Finally, following the lead of editor Anne Brackenbury (who has recently left her position at UTP), the textbook uses comics and graphic panels to help tell the story of anthropology in a visual way. The cover has a preview of that focus, with a wonderful set of images of diverse people from the text by artist Charlotte Hollands, who regularly creates graphic panels for the American Anthropological Association. My students enjoy the way that a graphic story can draw them into a set of ideas in ways that text alone often can’t. For instance, reading about praxis may not be as successful as engaging with a graphic panel on praxis in the context of collaborating with the mermaid community (drawn by Karen Rubins, illustrating the article by Alpa Shah).

    When I mention to people that I teach anthropology, I often hear “that was my favorite class in college!” The way cultural anthropology connects students’ lives to others around the world makes it a potentially transformative course, especially for students thinking about ethnocentrism or cultural relativism for the first time. Engaging in the act of deconstructing our own behavior – questioning our beliefs and behaviors – is a way to make course material real, both in the classroom and in our texts.


    If you want to find out more about Through the Lens of Cultural Anthropology, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.

    Laura Tubelle de González is a professor of Anthropology at San Diego Miramar College in Southern California.

  • #BalanceforBetter: Our Top Titles for International Women's Day

    This International Women’s Day, who will you celebrate? From radical housewives to the future of work, from violence to trafficking to politics and law, this week we’re highlighting top titles that celebrate women’s achievements, participate in a larger conversation, and reflect diverse and global voices.

    On March 8, we’re joining groups worldwide in the call for a more gender-balanced world.

    Let's turn the page.


    Disrupting Breast Cancer Narratives: Stories of Rage and Repair

    Resisting the optimism of pink ribbon culture, these stories use anger as a starting place to reframe cancer as a collective rather than an individual problem. Emilia Nielsen looks at documentaries, television, and social media, arguing that personal narratives have the power to shift public discourse.

    Female Doctors in Canada: Experience and Culture

    The face of medicine is changing. Though women increasingly dominate the profession, they still must navigate a system that has been designed for and by men. Looking at education, health systems, and expectations, this important new collection from experienced physicians and researchers opens a much-needed conversation.

    Wrapping Authority: Women Islamic Leaders in a Sufi Movement in Dakar, Senegal

    Since around 2000, a growing number of women in Dakar have come to act openly as spiritual leaders for both men and women. Learn how, rather than contesting conventional roles, these women are making them integral parts of their leadership. These female leaders present spiritual guidance as a form of nurturing motherhood, yet like Sufi mystical discourse, their self-presentations are profoundly ambiguous.

    Women and Gendered Violence in Canada: An Intersectional Approach

    A significant expansion on the conversation on gendered violence, this new book from Chris Bruckert and Tuulia Law draws on a range of theoretical traditions emerging from feminism, criminology, and sociology. Find compelling first-person narratives, suggested activities, and discussions on everything from campus violence to online violence to victim blaming.

    The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work

    This book is a first. Two women from different generations debunk commonly held myths about older workers, showing how the future of work requires engaging employees across all life stages. Work-life longevity is the most influential driver transforming today’s workplace – learn how to make it a competitive advantage.

    Indigenous Women’s Writing and the Cultural Study of Law

    How do Indigenous women recuperate their relationships to themselves, the land, the community, and the settler-nation? Through a close analysis of major texts written in the post-civil rights period, Cheryl Suzack sheds light on how these writers use storytelling to engage in activism.

    Responding to Human Trafficking: Dispossession, Colonial Violence, and Resistance among Indigenous and Racialized Women

    In the first book to critically examine responses to the growing issue of human trafficking in Canada, Julie Kay reveals how some anti-trafficking measures create additional harms for the very individuals they’re trying to protect – particularly migrant and Indigenous women. An important new framework for the critical analysis of rights-based and anti-violence interventions.

    Becoming Strong: Impoverished Women and the Struggle to Overcome Violence

    What role can trauma play in shaping homeless women’s lives? Drawing on more than 150 in-depth interviews, Laura Huey and Ryan Broll explore the diverse effects of trauma in the lives of homeless female victims of violence. This essential read offers not only a comprehensive examination of trauma, but also explores how women may recover and develop strategies for coping with traumatic experiences.

    Lissa: A Story about Medical Promise, Friendship, and Revolution

    Two young girls in Cairo strike up an unlikely friendship that crosses class, cultural, and religious divides. The first in a new series, Lissa brings anthropological research comes to life in comic form, combining scholarly insights and rich storytelling to foster greater understanding of global politics, inequalities, and solidarity.

    Ms. Prime Minister: Gender, Media, and Leadership

    News about female leaders gives undue attention to their gender identities, bodies, and family lives – but some media accounts also expose sexism and authenticate women’s performances of leadership. Offering both solace and words of caution for women politicians, Linda Trimble provides important insight into the news frameworks that work to deny or confer political legitimacy.

    A New History of Iberian Feminisms

    Both a chronological history and an analytical discussion of feminist thought from the eighteenth century onward, this history of the Iberian Peninsula addresses lost texts of feminist thought, and reveals the struggles of women to achieve full citizenship. Learn what helped launch a new feminist wave in the second half of the century.

    Radical Housewives: Price Wars and Food Politics in Mid-Twentieth-Century Canada

    This history of Canada’s Housewives Consumers Association recovers a history of women’s social justice activism in an era often considered dormant – and reinterprets the view of postwar Canada as economically prosperous. Discover how these radical activists fought to protect consumers’ interests in the postwar years.


    Want to keep learning? Visit International Women’s Day for more details about this year’s #BalanceforBetter Campaign.

  • Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos

    Guest post by Mary Lorena Kenny

    Mary Lorena Kenny is Professor of Anthropology at Eastern Connecticut State University. She is the author of Hidden Heads of Households: Child Labor in Urban Northeast Brazil (2007) and Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos 

    Over the course of three hundred years, Brazil imported over five million slaves, more than any country in the Americas. One hundred years after abolition, the 1988 constitution included a clause guaranteeing quilombolas (federally recognized descendants of self-ascribed, traditional Black settlements) collective land titles as a type of reparation. Thanks to an international collective of scholars and activists, reparation policies and projects are gaining momentum.

    There are an estimated four thousand quilombo communities in Brazil. The quilombola heritage policy (ideally) offers a legal instrument for enhancing social and economic inclusion, as the daily life for quilombolas is marked by a troubling history shaped long ago by slavery and colonialism. It is manifested today by some of the worst indicators in terms of access to healthcare, schooling, and basic infrastructure. Three quarters of the families living in quilombos are categorized as living in extreme poverty and receive public assistance. Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos maps some of the ways these communities address the still unresolved legacies of slavery through empowering narratives of resistance, land rights, material practices (heritage), and activism. I felt it was important to highlight how past practices are linked to contemporary conditions of exploitative, slave-like labor practices, violent conflict over access to land, and police violence targeting people of color. Woven throughout the book are discussions of how quilombola heritage policies are tied to these social, economic, political, and racial realities of the country.

    The book is for general readers rather than specialists in anthropology or Brazilian studies.

    The chapters focus on the history of slavery in Brazil, the quilombola movement, and a case study to examine some of the issues and challenges for these “maroons” (communities formed by persons fleeing slavery). Since their inception, the quilombo heritage policies have been stalled by bureaucratic obstacles, violent conflict over land rights, and shifts in the definition of quilombola. One of the first chapters discusses some of the trials and tribulations of field work, which in my experience garners many questions from students. At the end of the book, there is a section of further readings for those who would like to explore more deeply some of the issues raised.

    Overall, the material can be useful for generating discussions on how people give meaning to where they have been, who they are now, and (ideally) where they can go in a shifting political, economic, and social context. Re-conceptualizing “who we are” has disrupted some core historical and cultural beliefs. How quilombolas see themselves does not always coincide with how others view them. Opponents claim that the land grant program is unconstitutional and illegal. They argue that slavery ended 130 years ago in Brazil, and that quilombolas are irrelevant in the twenty-first century. They assert that acknowledging a quilombola ethno-racial claim to land as a land reform strategy is corrupt because it provides free land to undeserving recipients, is exclusionary because it encourages groups to invent an identity that did not exist before, and excludes poor, non-quilombolas. This policy, they argue, encourages racial polarity, which is seen as un-Brazilian and imported from a US model that does not correspond to the Brazilian reality of race relations. They contend that it is misguided and does little to help the quality of life for residents in traditional Black settlements. Strong, vocal objection to the reparations program is made by powerful people: agro-industrial oligarchs, logging and mining companies, the military, real estate developers, and, most recently, those responsible for preparing roads and stadiums for the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, during which time quilombolas were threatened with expulsion and activists have been murdered.

    Students will recognize the generational differences in how groups articulate their reality, with some younger members questioning the usefulness (politically, economically, and socially) of “taking on” this identity. The material is framed by key questions in anthropology about identity, heritage, and culture. It includes an appendix that lists ways students can explore their own heritage and identity, including virtual, online communities, and contemporary issues such as gun control, gender, and BlackLivesMatter. In-class or field projects can explore how heritage is expressed in material objects or physical and oral forms. Since so much of the history of enslaved and marginalized groups has been muted, invisible, outlawed, or excluded, students can explore places, monuments, or rituals that have significant religious, political, or social value for different groups, noting which ones have a louder voice or bigger “footprint.” They can tie their own family histories to changes in their community (e.g., the closing of car or textile factories, urban renewal, extreme weather conditions, forced relocation, or resettlement) and note how this larger context has shaped the lives of the members of the community. Students can identify cultural practices in their own community that have continued, disappeared, or reemerged in a new way (e.g., death and burial practices, dance, music, language, food). Which ones have led to a revalorization of social identity, or new source of income? Can they identify development projects that have led to impoverishment, social dislocation, and the erosion of heritage (e.g., oil pipelines and dams built on Indigenous sacred territory)? They can also investigate how development projects have led to clashes over cultural heritage, e.g., construction of a building that unearthed a graveyard, or a heritage building scheduled to be demolished for modern development.

    Overall, the book shows how social action can lead to change, how groups give meaning to who they are, and in the process, disrupt historical narratives, re-articulate social relations, and foment political agency.

  • Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food, Second Edition

    Feast on this! We have just published a gorgeous new edition of Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food, with a full-colour interior and a range of new features for students and instructors. In this blog post, the author, Gillian Crowther, provides background on how the book has changed from the first to the second edition and on some of the important issues raised in its pages. We highly recommend this book not only as a textbook but as a fascinating introduction to thinking about food and culture in very different ways!

    Over the last few years we have heard a lot about avocados; entertained the consumption of all things charcoal; experimented with chickpea pancakes and aquafaba; worried about palm oil, plastic packaging, weighed-up sugar taxes; warmed to the wonders of fermentation; watched hands-and-pans videos; and have learned (despite IKEA’s claim) that meatballs are actually Turkish! Each day brings a new food story, and the challenge for anyone teaching the anthropology of food is to provide an approach that can accommodate the dynamic nature of our collective food culture. The opportunity, then, to dish up another serving of Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food was enticing. It has allowed me to modify its recipe, mix in some new ingredients, and rearrange the existing core to improve the original textures and tastes, and to keep it relevant.

    The book still incorporates an emphasis on listening to public food discourses to understand local food culture—the nutritional, culinary, gastronomic, and sustainable meanings and values surrounding avocados, charcoal, and meatballs, for instance. The basic structure remains the same, moving from our nutrient needs, global patterns of food acquisition, cooking, and commensality, towards contemporary social, economic, and political realities. Ethnographic examples continue to explore the similarities and differences of our relationships with food, to address varied cosmological ideas and the identity-work of gender, age, class, and ethnicity, while considering the dynamics of power and authority manifest in the control of food. The materiality of food, and our embodied experiences of cooking and eating, are also persistent themes extending into the new edition.

    Each chapter, however, has been refined, and some substantially re-written, to more clearly address an anthropological framework for making sense of our global food system. More specifically, the discussion of the globalization of food production, distribution, and consumption has been reworked and updated. It now includes the work of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization to explore how top-down global models intersect with grassroots food security, sovereignty, and activism. Consequently, the global gastro-anomie chapter is now organized around specific food challenges—famine, climate change, and non-communicable diseases—and the gastro-politics of varied solutions concerning quantity, quality, and access to food are assessed. These serious realities are balanced by recognition of the satisfaction and pleasure that are gained from food, its creative potential, and its eminently social capacities. Each chapter is accompanied by some suggested further readings drawn from the work of current food scholars, which can be useful as course supplements or student assignments.

    The new edition remains structured around the conceptual frame of cuisine as a significant facet of everyday culture, deeply tied to personal and group identity, and memory-making. The book’s case studies, from Britain, Guatemala, France, India, and the United States, among other locales, serve to contextualize cuisines in the wider historical, social, economic, and political processes of everyday life. These model the questions food anthropologists pose and the sources of evidence studied, and serve as comparison points against which the reader’s own cuisine can be brought into focus. To facilitate a process of self-reflection, this edition includes new experiential learning assignments to accentuate the “guide” quality of the text. There are two types of practical exercises, which focus on specific foods and related fieldwork activities. These were designed to make classes interactive and to bring food into the room without the logistics of food safety! Each applies the frame of social anthropology to interrogate the values and meanings that shape everyday food activities, environmental and social relationships, and our sense of identity.

    “Pondering a Foodstuff” boxes focus on particular foods, ranging from raw ingredients such as sugar, fat, and meat, to specific cooked dishes like pies and chocolates, for instance. These are served as tastes of the research possibilities that surround any food and illustrate how embedded food is in the social fabric of any cultural context. Toward this end, the book moves Malinowski’s “imponderabilia of actual life” into the twenty-first century, making methodological use of the Instagram-able quality of food and our fondness for smartphone photography. The photographs, now in full colour, model the anthropological lens, framing our everyday food encounters as worthy of study. These practical boxes encourage photographic scavenger hunts, which sharpen observational skills, and prompt anthropological questions based on each chapter’s terms and themes. While images cannot replace the materiality of food, they certainly cut down on classroom messiness and foster productive chat-‘n-chew teachable moments. For instance, the images can facilitate an interrogation of a food’s material substance, allowing its objective, sensorially assessed physical properties to be recalled and considered as cues for handling, processing, cooking, and eating. A picture can easily trigger sensory memories and start the conversation about how meanings and values are assigned to food, transforming its properties into sought after or avoided qualities. Furthermore, the range of food images, from fruit to meat, opens the door to debates about health and ethical choices, the pleasures of gastronomy and commensality, and grave sustainability issues surrounding global food patterns.

    “Foodscape Grounded” boxes, on the other hand, provide specific, self-guided, out-and-about activities to bring another practical engagement with the book’s content. Included are an exploration of food labels, supermarket and farmer’s market fieldtrips, an assessment of food security using the four pillars approach, and a guide to restaurant reviews. These cultivate an awareness of the global food system’s reach, bringing home the global ramifications of our eating practices and directly tapping into students’ engagement with public food discourses as part of classroom discussions. Furthermore, the experiential activities are a powerful reminder of the important concept of embodiment, which is particularly relevant to the anthropology of food. For instance, cooking is an embodied skill, calling upon the cook to manipulate foods, to engage with its materiality, and to perform patterned tasks to make something to eat. The “Chaîne Opératoire” exercise asks for a step-by-step account of the bodily and cognitive skills and knowledge required to transform raw ingredients into a cooked dish. It makes apparent how culture is written into physical experiences, including the sensory engagement with food.

    As a teaching tool, Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food dishes up an anthropological perspective that invites students to apply its ideas through testing, sampling, and discussion, and to formulate an understanding of their local food culture. It encourages students to regard their recent food experiences as valuable, meaningful, relevant, and worthy—the stuff of anthropological research. It also emphasizes that wherever anthropologists conduct fieldwork, we engage with the everyday lives of ordinary people—just like our students, and their ideas, behaviours, and experiences are what constitute culture, everywhere.

    Gillian Crowther is Professor of Anthropology at Capilano University in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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