Author: yaelazar

Q & A with Brad Weiss

Weiss 1Brad Weiss is Professor of Anthropology at the College of William & Mary and the author of The Making and Unmaking of the Haya Lived World: Consumption, Commoditization, and Everyday Practice, also published by Duke University Press, and Street Dreams and Hip Hop Barbershops: Global Fantasy in Urban Tanzania. In his new book, Real Pigs: Shifting Values in the Field of Local Pork, Brad Weiss traces the desire for creating “authentic” local foods in the Piedmont region of central North Carolina as he follows farmers, butchers, and chefs as they breed, raise, butcher, market, sell, and prepare their pasture-raised hogs for consumption.

real pigsIn Real Pigs, you grapple with the definition of “real food.” In a nutshell, what’s your interpretation of the term?

I approach this question in an ethnographic way. What I mean by that is I’m really interested in how and why various communities use this term – in their writing, in their sales, in their own accounts of why they do what they do. And then I try to understand the patterns – the convergences and the conflicts – that come to define (if loosely) what makes some food “real.”  For people who are interested in “real pigs” (which is, after all, the title of the book) it has something to do with both the pigs themselves – the fact that these animals have characteristics that distinguish them from industrially produced pigs – but probably even more to do with the methods by which they are raised. That is, in the outdoors, reproducing under their own terms (e.g., building nests), and with a concern for their welfare as living creatures.  Somehow, this makes the pork that derives from this encounter between “pigs and the people that love them” (this was the joke title my farmer friends came up with for this book) more “real.”  I should add that I also want to hold the term “real food” up to some scrutiny. It can often lead us to misunderstand how and why people who do not have access to what is deemed “real food” actually eat.  So much of the language of food politics has an unfortunate moralizing tone, and I want to be cognizant of the implications of this kind of discourse.

As part of your research, you spent most of a summer working on a North Carolina farm. How did this experience change your perspective on pig farming?

Well, I’m not sure I had any perspective on pig farming before I did this work. I had done work with farmers in Tanzania for some earlier field research (I’m really an Africanist; I just happened to find the pigs while I lived in North Carolina), some of whom raised animals, though by no means were they engaged in animal husbandry as a livelihood. Many folks had a goat or two, but that was about it.  My very anecdotal understanding of pig farming was that a lot of people I knew talked about how intelligent pigs are, and I thought that this must inform how farmers thought about their work with these animals. Indeed, lots of farmers do talk about this, and adapt their husbandry to their animals’ personalities. On the other hand, there are plenty of farmers that don’t care about this very much at all – they just like having a few pigs around to eat up their garbage, the leavings from their gardens, and turn their soil for them.  And the pigs are happy to oblige.  What I really learned about pig farming was how complicated the entire operation is, and not just the pigs.  What do you do when the price of feed goes up 40% because of a massive drought in Russia? If blight decimates your tomatoes, where are you going to get the money to build the farrowing houses you’ve planned on?  Can you raise the price of your pork if half of the turkeys you decide to breed keel over in a rainstorm? Everything is interconnected in farming, and you are very much at the mercy of natural and cultural forces beyond your control.

In the book, you publish interviews with several figures in the food community: farmers, restaurant owners and chefs, and marketers. Why was it valuable to you to include these interviews?

As I say in the book, I wanted to let some of the most important people – activists, entrepreneurs, scholars – in this food movement in the Piedmont speak for themselves.  I tried to very minimally edit the conversations to allow their views to come through. In part, I wanted readers to recognize how some of the wider themes I address in the book as a whole – about “connection” and other topics – are really very present in these kinds of conversations. I also wanted to present views that are, each in their own way, somewhat different from my own. In this way I hope there is a kind of open-ended quality to the discussions that allows- or maybe requires- the reader to decide for themselves what the important questions are.

In the chapter “Pigs in a Local Place,” you note the strong appeal of local food. Why do you think farmers and consumers have fixated so heavily on locality?

The whole question of “local food” is in some ways an overarching theme of this book, and that is because it is so strongly associated with efforts to create an alternative food system.  Why this is so is a pretty complicated matter, and I’m as interested in how it is put into practice as I am in suggesting reasons why “the local” is so important.  I would say there are different kinds of reasons at different scales of analysis.  For one thing, in Europe there are very specific ideas about how regional foodstuffs and cuisines are threatened by commodity production; but then many of these products are protected as regional products through a legal order of what is called denomination.  So the current scene is, in many ways, overdetermined by this longstanding effort to legally protect culinary products in ways that ties them to specific places of origin.  At the same time, many activists argue that there are strong connections between places and tastes, and it is this sensory relationship that is central to “good” food.  I try, in the book (and this chapter in particular), to ask: what is it that makes places so compelling? What are their sensory, and social, and cultural qualities? How does place become an expression of value? Because, ultimately, a place is not just a geographical location, it is a way of evaluating the relationships that define and inhabit a recognizable locale.

You mention that “the presence of people of color remains notably limited in farmers’ markets, farm-to-table restaurants, and the like” (253). What potential solutions exist for this racial divide?

If I could really answer this question it would be a major accomplishment. It is a challenge, and  – I hasten to add – it is one that almost everyone in the alternative food scene in the Piedmont recognizes, and is trying to address. North Carolina has a long, well-documented history of systematic discrimination against African-American farmers, and not just because of slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow. US Department of Agriculture policies denied farm loans to qualified African-American farmers through the 1990s. The courts are just beginning to address these claims, which entails the largest civil rights settlement in US history.  So it’s perfectly predictable, in many ways, that African-American farmers would have a hard time bringing their products to market, and African-American consumers would be wary of, even progressive, “alternatives” that seem to want to include them in North Carolina.  How do we overcome this history and its ongoing effects? As I’ve said, many very talented activists, market managers, and others are sincerely working to do better outreach, make Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT, or Food Stamps) viable for use at farmers markets, recruit farmers of color, etc.  There is some limited change that can be seen on these fronts. I also think the efforts to pull more African-American farmers into marketing relationships that do not require them to go to farmers’ markets (which can be incredibly time consuming, and might just not be worth it at all for farmers raising only a few animals, or growing limited quantities of produce) are promising.  The North Carolina Natural Hog Growers Association has made efforts to include a diverse group of farmers, as have aggregators like the company First Hand Foods that I discuss at length in the book.  These efforts are certainly not free of racial conflict. But they are aware of the challenges, and they are definitely creating more opportunities.

Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from this book?

I have to say that I have a diverse readership in mind, and so I would expect different people to get different things out of the work.  In part, of course, this is a work of anthropology and I would like to think that I am making some contribution to the anthropology of food, of value, and of space.  But, I have also really tried to write this book in a way that almost anyone who has ever been to a farmers market, or eaten grass-fed beef at a restaurant – or even wondered what that was – might find something interesting and engaging in the work. I hope that these readers come to understand how complex the relationships between farmers, chefs, markets, and consumers are. They can see that every market has its contradictions and its challenges.  I do also want avid participants in these alternative practices- folks who already buy pasture-raised pork chops, and go on farm tours – to recognize that just buying local food, or cooking for your family really is not sufficient as a political action to overcome the effects of industrialized production. These are nice, even fun things to do; I do them myself. But they can also reinforce some of the very problems of exclusion and stratification that American society is not very good at recognizing, let alone confronting.

You can order Real Pigs from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available), or order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E16PIGS to save 30%!

New Books in August

Summer is almost over, students are getting ready to return to campus, and our Fall season is already in full swing. Check out these new titles coming out in August.

Instaying with Staying with the Trouble, renown feminist science studies scholar Donna J. Haraway refigures our current epoch, moving away from the Anthropocene toward the Chthulucene: an epoch in which we stay with the trouble of living and dying on a damaged earth while living with and understanding the nonhuman in complex ways conducive to building more livable futures.

The Rise of the American Conservation Movement is a sweeping social history, in which Dorceta E. Taylor examines the emergence and rise of the multi-faceted conservation movement from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century, showing how race, class, and gender influenced its every aspect.

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A unique collection edited by anthropologist Charles Piot contains essays by Duke University undergraduates in which they recount their experiences initiating small research and development projects in Togo. Of interest to students and teachers involved in service learning and study abroad, Doing Development in West Africa provides a relatable and intimate look into student-initiated development projects.

In Terminated for Reasons of Taste, veteran rock critic Chuck Eddy brings lost, ignored, and maligned pop music to the fore, considering marginalized styles and artists right alongside pop music’s heavyweights like Bruce Springsteen, the Beastie Boys, and Taylor Swift.

In Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists, Aya Hirata Kimura traces the experiences of citizen scientists—particularly mothers—who after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster collected scientific data that revealed radiation-contaminated food, showing how the Japanese government used neoliberal and traditional gender ideologies to discount and socially sanction these women and their findings.

Third World StudiesThird World Studies: Theorizing Liberation by Gary Y. Okihiro presents the intellectual history of the core ideas, concepts, methods, and theories of Third World studies—an academic field first proposed in 1968 that never existed—in order to provide tools for understanding power and ending oppression.

The contributors to Ghost Protocol , edited by Carlos Rojas and Ralph A. Litzinger, examine the ways the legacies of socialism continue to shape and inform China’s capitalist present, contending that contemporary China is shaped by an overlapping mix of socialist and capitalist institutional strategies, political procedures, legal regulations, religious rituals, and everyday practices.

telemoIn TelemodernitiesTania Lewis, Fran Martin, and Wanning Sun analyze the complex social and cultural significance of lifestyle television programming in China, India, Taiwan, and Singapore, showing how it adds insight into late Asian modernity, media cultures, and broad shifts in the nature of private life, identity, citizenship, and social engagement.

placingIn Placing Outer Space, Lisa Messeri traces how planetary scientists—whether working in the Utah desert, a Chilean observatory, or the labs of MIT—transform celestial bodies into places in order to understand the universe as densely inhabited by planets, in turn telling us more about Earth, ourselves, and our place in the cosmos.

In Film Blackness, Michael Boyce Gillespie shifts the ways we think about black film, seeing it not as the representation of the black experience, but as the visual negotiation between film as art and the social construction of race, as well as an interdisciplinary form that enacts black visual and expressive culture.





New Books in July

We are excited to open our Fall 2016 season with these wonderful books, coming out in July. From Black music to the Cold War, we have something for everyone. Keep an eye out for these books this month.


Flyboy 2 provides a panoramic view of the last thirty years of Greg Tate’s influential cultural criticism of contemporary Black music, art, literature, film, and politics. These essays, interviews, and reviews cover everything from Miles Davis, Ice Cube, and Suzan Lori Parks to Afro-futurism, Kara Walker, and Amiri Baraka.

In Real Pigs Brad Weiss traces the desire for creating “authentic” local foods in the Piedmont region of central North Carolina as he follows farmers, butchers, and chefs as they breed, raise, butcher, market, sell, and prepare their pasture-raised hogs for consumption.


from washingtonIn Cold War Ruins Lisa Yoneyama argues that the efforts intensifying since the 1990s to bring justice to the victims of Japanese military and colonial violence have generated what she calls a “transborder redress culture” that has the potential to bring powerful challenging perspectives on American exceptionalism, militarized security, justice, sovereignty, forgiveness, and decolonization.

In From Washington to Moscow veteran US Foreign Service officer Louis Sell draws archival sources and memoirs—many in Russian—as well as his own experiences to trace the history of US–Soviet relations between 1972 and 1991 and to explain what caused the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Nation Within is the complex history of the events between the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 and its annexation to the United States in 1898. Highlighting the native Hawaiians’ resistance during that five year span, Tom Coffman shows why occupying Hawaii was crucial to American imperial ambitions.

this thing called.jpgDebjani Ganguly’s This Thing Called the World theorizes the contemporary global novel and the social and historical conditions that shaped it, showing how in 1989 the consolidation of the information age, the perpetual state of war, and the focus on humanitarianism transformed the novel into a form that addresses contemporary social, technological, and political upheavals.

Offering a new queer theorization of Melodrama, Jonathan Goldberg explores the ways melodramatic film and literature provide an aesthetics of impossibility and how melodrama as a whole provides queer ways to promote identifications that exceed the bounds of the identity categories that regulate and constrain social life.

color of violenceIn Encoding Race, Encoding Class Sareeta Amrute explores the lives of Indian IT coders temporarily working in Berlin, showing how their cognitive labor reimagines race and class and how their acceptance and resistance to their work offers new potentials for alternative visions of living and working in neoliberal economies.

Presenting the fierce and vital writing of organizers, lawyers, scholars, poets, and policy makers, Color of Violence radically repositions the antiviolence movement by putting women of color at its center, covers violence against women of color in its myriad manifestations, and maps strategies of movement building and resistance.




Gisela Fosado’s Top Ten Books about Brazil


It’s less then 2 months until the Olympic games in Rio, and with the end of our sale approaching there’s no better time than now to read about Brazil. Editor Gisela Fosado wants to help you understand Brazil better. Check out her recommendations and enter coupon code STOCKUP at checkout, now through June 20.

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Barbara Weinstein, The Color of Modernity: São Paulo and the Making of Race and Nation in Brazil

The Color of Modernity is a pathbreaking work. Barbara Weinstein’s exhaustive research and nuanced analysis of twentieth-century Brazilian political and social history will substantially reshape the field. The Color of Modernity will be required reading for all students of modern Brazil.” — Bryan McCann, author of Hard Times in the Marvelous City: From Dictatorship to Democracy in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro


bruno.jpgRobert Gay, Bruno: Conversations with a Brazilian Drug Dealer

“In telling the story of Bruno, sociologist Robert Gay succeeds in demystifying not only gangs and the drug trade but also an entire country. This is a carefully crafted study of a criminal career embedded in a society that for generations has denied citizenship to large numbers of its population…. This is an important book that skilfully utilises ethnographic interviews to tell the story of one man in the trenches of the global war against drugs.” — Dick Hobbs, Times Higher Education


Daryle Williams, Amy Chazkel, and Paulo Knauss, editors, The Rio de Janeiro Reader: History, Culture, Politics

“Prepared by three leading Rio de Janeiro scholars, The Rio de Janeiro Reader offers a sweeping and in-depth exploration of the city. Lively and interesting, it provides a gateway into understanding the social, economic, political, and cultural diversity of the city over the last 500 years.” — James N. Green, author of We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship in the United States


samba.jpgMarc A. Hertzman, Making Samba: A New History of Race and Music in Brazil

“A sublime example of social history at its best. . . . Of special interest for samba enthusiasts is the magnificent, if lamentably brief, photo gallery of musicians. The book is ideal for the scholars of the music industry, Brazilian music, and the creation of popular music. With commendable English-language translations of idiosyncratic phrases, Making Samba is entirely accessible to those who are new to the Brazilian context.” — Michael Iyanaga, Ethnomusicology Review

John F. Collins, Revolt of the Saints: Memory and Redemption in the Twilight of Brazilian Racial Democracy

“Honest, engaged, and theoretically informed, Revolt of the Saints will take its place among the very best ethnographies of recent years. It represents original thinking of the first order and committed engagé scholarship. John F. Collins manages not only to produce a remarkable account of the multiple and changing ways that race and history matter in Bahia, but he also gives us all a lesson in the production of history and of historical memory. It’s a book that readers won’t soon forget.” — Richard Price, author of Travels with Tooy and Rainforest Warriors

hard timesBryan McCann, Hard Times in the Marvelous City: From Dictatorship to Democracy in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro

“McCann’s analysis is insightful, and his research brings exciting new perspectives to contemporary Rio de Janeiro’s urban history and, more generally, the history of Brazil, Latin America, the Global South, and urbanity.” — Peter Beattie, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

negotiating.jpgJeffrey Lesser, Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities, and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil

“[V]ery well written . . . . The clarity of the writing, combined with plentiful and well-chosen examples, guide the reader through the very complicated experiences of native Brazilians and immigrants. An impressive array of sources and careful documentation supports the credibility of Lesser’s arguments. Historians of Brazil, of immigration, and of ethnicity who ignore this book will be making a serious mistake.” — Gail D. Triner, Luso-Brazilian Review

we cannotJames Green, We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship in the United States

We Cannot Remain Silent is a valuable addition to the historiography of Brazil and Brazilian-U.S. relations. The presentation allows readers from various disciplines as well as the general reader access. Green is successful in exploring the role of nongovernmental actors in the U.S. fighting against human rights abuses in Brazil, thus providing a new narrative in U.S.-Brazilian relations.” — Monica I. Orozco, The Historian

in search.jpgSeth Garfield, In Search of the Amazon: Brazil, the United States, and the Nature of a Region

“Garfield is to be commended for shedding so much light on the cultural and eonomic history of the Amazon in the twentieth century. This book is a must have for all those interested in development policy in the Amazon.” — Nigel Smith, Journal of Historical Geography

the brazil readerRobert M. Levine and John J. Crocitti, editors, The Brazil Reader: History, Culture, Politics

The Brazil Reader captures the history and culture of the South American country in small but powerful doses. . . [A] splendid work. . . . The scholar will find it a source of reference, while the general reader will gain a general knowledge of Brazil’s past as well as acquire an understanding of the country’s problems and prospects.” — Melvin D. Davis, South Eastern Latin Americanist

Head to our website now to buy any or all of these books for 50% off. Enter STOCKUP at checkout and save!

Chris Robinson’s Title Recommendations


Copywriter Chris Robinson is the resident theory nerd in Duke University Press’s Marketing and Sales Department. In this post he shares five books that left an impact on him during graduate school, as well as a few more he is champing at the bit to read. Chris’ picks have a little bit for everybody, especially for all the theory heads out there. All are available for 50% during our Stock Up and Save Sale. Just enter coupon code STOCKUP at checkout.

Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1992)
A classic touchstone of postmodern theory. It’s not easy, but all those who want to know what postmodernism is, or have stayed in the Westin Bonaventure hotel in Los Angeles and want to understand its madness, go here.


Jazz Among the Discourses, edited by Krin Gabbard (1995)
This is one of THE foundational jazz studies texts, with influential essays by Gabbard, Bernard Gendron, Nathaniel Mackey, Ronald Radano, Eric Lott, and others.


Sherrie Tucker, Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s (2000)
Tucker interviewed over 100 women who performed in swing bands, showing how and why whole bands of talented women were dropped from our national memory. Going far beyond restoring these women to history, Tucker shows how these women navigated Jim Crow laws, sexism, and travel restrictions while analyzing various public representations of women.


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Inderpal Grewal, Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neoliberalisms (2005)
This book had absolutely nothing to do with my academic interests, but Grewal’s argument that contemporary notions of gender, race, class, and nationality are linked to earlier histories of colonization was revelatory to me at the time. I will never forget her chapter analyzing Mattel’s marketing of Barbie dolls in India.


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Kathleen Stewart, Ordinary Affects, (2007)
This book has spent a lot of time on my nightstand, and I have two copies—a heavily marked up one, and a clean copy to read. Stewart’s poetic and compelling writing, mixed with vignettes of everyday life, demonstrate the importance for paying attention to the affective dimensions of everyday life.


And a few titles I’m itching to read:

coolJean Baudrillard, Cool Memories II, 1987–1990 (1996)
I own a ton of Baudrillard’s books, and strangely enough I go to him when I need comfort reading. Cool Memories II is in the same vein as his classic work America, and contains Baudrillard’s takes on everything from Reagan’s smile and Kennedy’s death to waterfalls, stealth bombers, and Italian politics.


C.L. R. James, Beyond a Boundary: 50th Anniversary Edition (2013)
I don’t know anything about cricket, but want to. Sports Illustrated named this one of the Top 50 Sports Books of All Time. That endorsement along with James’ stature is all I need to get me started.


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Eugenie Brinkema, The Forms of the Affects (2014)
Marking a new turn in affect theory and film studies, Brinkema studies works by Barthes, Freud, Hitchcock, and David Lynch to show how paying attention to form, structure, and aesthetics enables a fundamental rethinking of the study of sensation. And besides, who can’t pass up reading a book that looks this good?


These great books and all other in-stock titles are 50% off through June 20. See the fine print here. Shop now!

More recommendations from our Ken Wissoker


It’s week two of our 50% off sale! Do you still have more money in your books budget? Couldn’t decide what to buy last week? Editorial Director Ken Wissoker continues to guide you with his second set of suggestions of recent titles to buy during the sale. Just enter coupon code STOCKUP at checkout.

intimacies.jpg Lisa Lowe, The Intimacies of Four Continents
Reading across archives, canons, and continents, Lisa Lowe examines the relationships between Europe, Asia, and the Americas in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth- centuries. She argues that Western liberal ideology, African slavery, Asian indentured labor, colonialism and trade must be understood as being mutually constitutive.



Vicente  L. Rafael, Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation
Vicente L. Rafael examines the vexed relationship between language and history as seen through the work of translation in the context of empire, revolution, and academic scholarship in the Philippines, the United States, and beyond.


sensing Nina Sun  Eidsheim, Sensing Sound: Singing and Listening as Vibrational Practice
Through an analysis of four contemporary operas, Nina Sun Eidsheim offers a vibrational theory of music that radically re-envisions of how we think about sound, music, and listening by challenging common assumptions about sound, freeing it from a constraining set of fixed concepts and meanings.


after.jpgZoë  H. Wool, After War: The Weight of Life at Walter Reed
Zoë H. Wool explores how the most severely injured veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars rehabilitating at Walter Reed Medical Center—whether recovering from losing a limb or sustaining a traumatic brain injury—struggle to build some kind of ordinary life in a situation that is anything but ordinary.

Nick Salvato, Obstruction
Drawing on an eclectic range of texts and figures, from the Greek Cynics to Tori Amos, Nick Salvato finds that embarrassment, laziness, slowness, cynicism, and digressiveness can paradoxically enable alternative modes of intellectual production.


the needLiisa H. Malkki, The Need to Help: The Domestic Arts of International Humanitarianism

In this ethnography Liisa H. Malkki reverses the study of humanitarian aid, focusing on aid workers rather than aid’s recipients. She shows how aid serves the needs of its recipients and providers.


indian givenMaría Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, Indian Given: Racial Geographies across Mexico and the United States
María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo provides a sweeping historical and comparative analysis of racial ideologies in Mexico and the United States from 1550 to the present to show how indigenous peoples provided the condition of possibility for the emergence of each nation.



Brian Massumi, Ontopower: War, Powers, and the State of Perception
In this original theory of power, Brian Massumi explains how the logic of preemption governs U.S. military policy in the War on Terror and how that logic spills over from the war front to the home front. Threats are now felt into reality and power refocuses on what may emerge. The mode of power embodying the logic of preemption is ontopower.

Vincanne Adams, Metrics: What Counts in Global Health
The contributors to this volume use ethnographic evidence from around the globe to evaluate the accomplishments, limits, and the consequences of applying metrics to global health. Now the standard in measuring global health program success, metrics has far implications that extend beyond patients to the political and financial realms.


In It’s Been Beautiful, Gayle Wald examines Soul!, the first African American black variety television show on public television, which between 1968 and 1973 was instrumental in expressing the diversity of black popular culture, thought and politics, as well as helping to create the notion of black community.

These great books and all other in-stock titles are 50% off through June 20. See the fine print here. Shop now!


Q & A with Elizabeth Chin

Chin S16 author photo (Credit Charles Chessler)

Elizabeth Chin is Professor of Media Design Practices at Art Center College of Design and the author of Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture. Her new book, My Life with Things, is a meditation on her relationship with consumer goods and a critical statement on the politics and method of anthropology in which she uses everyday items to intimately examine the ways consumption resonates with personal and social meaning.

Where did the idea for this project come from and how did it evolve?

Chin.jpgThe idea for the diary part initially began as a series of emails I sent out to a small group of friends.
This was in the early 2000s before blogs were even much of a thing. If I had started the project a few years later, it might just have been a blog, and the book might never have happened. Along the way, though, I became fascinated with thinking about Karl Marx and his relationship to consumption. I wondered what his personal relationship to things might have been, and this spurred me into exploring all kinds of things from the economy in secondhand clothes to lace-making and the ins and outs of carbuncles. I was interested in Marx and his family as people, not icons or two-dimensional figures. It was when I was exploring the world of pawn in Marx’s time that I also realized pawn had been so important for Native people in the U.S., and that sent me on a whole new exploration. The evolution of the book overall was never straightforward, and certainly was not the result of some sort of well-laid plan. It was a series of explorations and journeys that then had do be cobbled together into the book.

Was there a particular writer or scholar who inspired you to experiment with writing voice and the limits of ethnography?

Actually I think the main inspiration for experimenting with the writing was my father. My dad, Frank Chin, is a writer – all he does is to write. He’s written plays, novels, nonfiction. He writes every single day. Even after a devastating stroke he’s written several books. I grew up around writing, and I’ve always written and taken it seriously as a craft. I like to joke that in my family you don’t really grow up until you publish your first book. So because of that, my orientation toward writing has always had what I suppose might be called a writerly orientation that is concerned with the writing itself as a form of practice and expression.

In My Life with Things you are remarkably candid – almost shockingly so – about your personal life. Did you have any reservations about revealing that level of detail, or was it just a necessity of the project?

Early on I decided this project had to be done wholeheartedly and without self-censoring. Part of this was because that is really how I think the best work gets done, you just have to dive in and not worry while you’re doing the work whether or not it can be declared “good” or “acceptable” or “embarrassing.” I knew I had no hope of producing good work if I was actually trying to do good work. My goal was to be as honest as possible in producing the material; I knew I could always worry afterward whether anybody else should ever see it. In the book itself, there were some people who had to be edited out after the fact, and some events that had to be re-framed, as well. I made the choice to do this because to include them would have exposed very private moments without their consent. In this way I still stuck to the ethical code we use in any kind of ethnographic work: I did not have their permission to reveal a particular event, so including them was not ethical. I never felt I had the right to publish things about people in my life, even true things, which would be hurtful to them. Some of the most painful material does deal with my mother and her struggles with mental illness. She read the manuscript before it was published, and if she had asked me to remove those entries I would have.

How did you choose which of your things to write about? Are there any items that didn’t make the cut?

With the entries, I just would sit down and write about whatever came to mind. This meant that there were plenty of entries that were boring, or just never really went anywhere. Sometimes I was sure that some item I was writing about was just an amazing journey, but later it would be excruciating to read myself obsessing of some minute consumer decision or other. At other times I could see in the writing that I was trying to hard to make a workable entry. This is partly why it was so important to write and write and write. I knew there was no guarantee that every entry was going to have a life.

You close the book with the fictional account of Dr. ——, a hoarder/collector/consumer and anthropologist whose house—stuffed to the gills with things—explodes. Is there any overlap between yourself and Dr. ——?

Writing that section was a ball. I loved making fun of myself and making fun of anthropology. Like so many academics I tend to take myself so very seriously and every single tiny slight or ego poke can keep me boiling for weeks. I absolutely think that I could become a hoarder. My husband thinks I already am. For my part, I see many surfaces in my house that remain undecorated and under-occupied. Part of me would love to continue that piece of writing, turn it into a whole crazy novel.

What do you hope readers take away from this book, both in terms of your arguments and in the methodology and your writing voice?

For me this book has been about embracing a kind of fearlessness, and in a way that is the thing I hope people respond to most, the notion that fearlessness is possible, even in the midst of terrible depression, even while struggle to keep going is endless. As an undergraduate I attended NYU in the drama program, and I’ve danced very seriously all my life. In the performing arts, you have to be fearless as well, even in the midst of profound insecurity. When you are on stage and performing, you never reach the heights if you are working at being good. You have to get out there with all your training behind you and then throw it away and trust that somehow you’ll fly. This is my attempt at flying in my writing. Most of me is utterly terrified, but there was this other part of me that had to make the attempt, so I’m trusting that part while also planning to crawl into a hole for a while.

You can order My Life with Things from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or order directly from Duke University Press. From now until June 20, this title and all other in-stock books and journal issues are 50% off using coupon code STOCKUP.

Courtney Berger’s New Title Recommendations


You know you want to take advantage of our great 50% sale, but are you overwhelmed by your choices? Let Senior Editor Courtney Berger’s suggestions guide you. Here are her top ten recent titles to buy during the sale. Just enter coupon code STOCKUP at checkout.

alien capital
 This book retheorizes the history and logic of settler colonialism by examining its intersection with Asian racialization and capitalism, showing how the conflation of Asian immigrants to Canada and the United states with the abstract dimensions of capital became settler colonialism’s defining feature.


 A presentation of  how twentieth-century U.S. imperial expansion was dependent on controlling the spread of disease through the transformation of humans, animals, bacteria, and viruses into living theaters of warfare and securitization.


Mohawk Interruptus
 A bold challenge to dominant thinking in the fields of Native studies and anthropology. Combining political theory with ethnographic research among the Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke, a reserve community in what is now southwestern Quebec, Simpson examines their struggles to articulate and maintain political sovereignty through centuries of settler colonialism.




 An examination of the roles of mobility and immobility in the history of political thought and the structuring of political spaces.


Simone Browne, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness
Browne shows how racial ideologies and the long history of policing black bodies under transatlantic slavery structure contemporary surveillance technologies and practices. Analyzing a wide array of archival and contemporary texts, she demonstrates how surveillance reifies boundaries, borders, and bodies around racial lines.


Rachel E. Dubrofsky and Shoshana Amielle Magnet, Feminist Surveillance Studies
A field-defining collection that places gender, race, class, and sexuality at the center of surveillance studies. Concerned with exposing the ways in which surveillance is tied to discrimination, the contributors investigate what constitutes surveillance, who is scrutinized, why, and at what cost.


The Undersea Network
Nicole Starosielski, The Undersea Network
This book examines undersea communication cable network, bringing it to the surface of media scholarship and making visible the “wireless” network’s materiality. Starosielski argues that the network is inextricably linked to historical and political factors and that it is precarious, rural, aquatic, territorially entrench and semi-centralized.



Elizabeth Wilson, Gut Feminism
 This study shakes feminist theory from its resistance to biological and pharmaceutical data and urges that now is the time for feminism to critically engage with biology. Doing so will reanimate feminist theory, strengthening its ability to address depression, affect, gender, and feminist politics.


Victoria Pitts-Taylor, The Brain′s Body: Neuroscience and Corporeal Politics

 Victoria Pitts-Taylor applies feminist and critical theory to recent developments in neuroscience and new materialist social thought to demonstrate how the brain interacts with and is impacted by power, social structures, and inequality.



Michel Chion, Sound: An Acoulogical Treatise
Appearing here in English for the first time, Michel Chion’s study addresses the philosophical questions that inform our encounters with sound, stimulating our thinking about being open to new sounds and to explore the links between language, technology, culture, and hearing.


These great books and all other in-stock titles are 50% off through June 20. See the fine print here. Shop now!

On Second Book-Writing



Today we are happy to present a guest blog post from Duke University Press author Nick Salvato, who is Associate Professor and Chair of Performing and Media Arts at Cornell University, and the author of Uncloseting Drama: American Modernism and Queer Performance, and our recent book Obstruction. Here, Salvato discusses the privileges and un-obstruction of second book-writing.

obstructionLast year, colleagues at Williams College, participating in a reading group on affect theory, invited me to share material from my then-forthcoming book Obstruction, which has since been published by Duke University Press. As expected, we discussed affect, its relationship to sensation and intellection, and the role of each of these key terms in my book project. What I did not expect, but was grateful to have an opportunity to consider with smart fellow travelers in the humanities, was how to respond to an invitation posed by one of the reading group’s organizing members, who said pointedly, “We need to talk about the fact that this is a second book—and that it couldn’t be a first book.”

Let me zoom out from that splendid provocation and offer a context in which to situate it. Obstruction is not only a specimen of scholarly writing but also a book about scholarly writing. It takes up the experiential stuff of everyday academic life that we suppose to be bad for projects like book-writing—embarrassment, laziness, slowness, cynicism, digressiveness—and turns each of these phenomena on its ear in order to disclose its unexpected, paradoxical value. Neither naively embracing the productivity demanded of professors in the corporatized, neoliberal university nor proposing an abandonment or supersession of work, Obstruction walks a fine line by asking its readers to acknowledge negative or impedimental conditions precisely as impediments, yet at the same time to generate out of them some things of promise or hope: whether as small as a sentence or a close reading of a cinematic scene or as large as an argument about contemporaneity and global capitalism.

So why couldn’t Obstruction have been a first book? A number of speculations were tested in the conversation at Williams. A scholar has to have traction in the profession, which the first book helps signally to provide, in order to write a meta-professional book in whose legitimacy anyone will invest. Authors of first books are not as likely to be encouraged by editors and peer reviewers to tackle big questions of potentially general interest (what exactly is embarrassment? why might cynicism not only be toxic? how could it be that a lot of hand-wringing over the ostensible speed and distraction associated with contemporary media is misplaced?). And readers may question the chops of a young scholar who tackles a very varied archive, as I do in Obstruction when I survey popular music, experimental theatre, independent film, cable television, and journalistic blogging; the first book is expected to establish one’s narrower bona fides as, say, a theatre historian or a media theorist—certainly not as both, at once.

In other words, it is an extraordinary privilege to expect to be taken seriously in writing reflexively about writing, in supposing that the reach of one’s work may surpass disciplinary specialization, in aiming to demonstrate that one can rigorously interpret many different kinds of objects—let alone to do all three under one cover. But there is a further matter of what we could variously call authorial persona, voice, or style that I would be remiss not to address as well in trying to understand the second bookishness of Obstruction. Trusting the basic stability and credibility of my voice (it took in part having written the first book to enjoy such confidence), I wanted to see what would happen if I stretched it in various ways: risking more confessional asides, more sly humor, denser clauses, stranger lexicons. And, it will at this point be little surprise, the best models I identified for such writerly experimentation came in many instances from the second books of some of my favorite scholars: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet, Lauren Berlant’s The Queen of America Goes to Washington City, Ann Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feelings, to name a few. A certain boldness and eccentricity, which is also to say a certain difficulty, is a luxury to which second book writers may find that they will have greater access, permission, or indulgence.

But does it have to be thus? Why do various forms of professional gate-keeping and policing, including but by no means beginning or ending with self-policing, make some scholarly moves ones that I mark here as forms of privilege or luxury? In chewing on that question, I have been thinking a lot about a passage from Sedgwick’s 1993 essay, “Queer and Now,” which I quote in one of Obstruction’s longer, more discursive footnotes but which ought to be shared more emphatically, hence its reinvocation here: “It is not a simple fact…for the facilities of creativity and thought to represent rare or exorbitant privilege. Their economy should not and need not be one of scarcity.” I could not agree more with Sedgwick’s still-timely assertion and the alternative intellectual economy, one opposed to scarcity, toward which she gestures obliquely. How to make such an alternative economy obtain is a question for which Sedgwick did not, in “Queer and Now,” have a direct answer. And I am not sure that I feel any closer to one in turn.

Or at least not to a systematic one. I can inhabit, and imagine many others inhabiting, and imagine advocating that many others should inhabit, a consistent position of critical generosity and indeed expansiveness when advising junior colleagues how to think about what forms and terms are possible for their work—and especially when evaluating that work. But that position, however consistently adopted, feels nonetheless too nonce and incremental to me. A more radical, wholesale reorientation of our scholarly expectations and norms, pushing our more vulnerable writers past the current can’ts and shouldn’ts, is a goal for whose realization I am impatient. I don’t want to wait for the authority conferred on the third book, or on any individually written book at all, to help make more wholly un-obstructed who ventures to write beyond the rules.

You can order Obstruction from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E16NSALV  to save 30%.

New Books in May

We have some great new titles coming out in May. To be sure you never miss a new title from us, and to be first to know about special sales and promotions, subscribe to our email newsletter, Subject Matters.

Activist archives

Doreen Lee’s Activist Archives investigates the origin, experiences, and legacy of the radical Indonesian student movement that helped end Suharto’s thirty-two year dictatorship in May of 1998, showing how student activists claimed their rich political and historical inheritance passed down by earlier generations of activist youth.
In The Brink of Freedom David Kazanjian revises dominant understandings of nineteenth-century conceptions of freedom by examining the letters of black settler colonists in Liberia and the letters and literature of Mayan rebels and their Creole antagonists in Yucatán, showing how they disrupted liberal formations of freedom.



Tell Me Why My Children Died narrates the efforts to identify a strange disease that killed thirty-eight people in a Venezuelan rainforest between 2007 and 2008 and sketches out systematic health inequities regarding the rights to produce and circulate knowledge about health throughout indigenous communities.

In Endangered City Austin Zeiderman focuses on the new political imperative to govern the present in anticipation of future disasters in Bogotá, Colombia, where the state works to protect the lives of poor and vulnerable citizens from a range of threats, including environmental hazards and urban violence.

In The Minor Gesture Erin Manning develops the concept of the minor gesture to rethink common assumptions about human agency, the ways we experience the everyday world, and the possibilities for new political praxis. This is the first book in the new series Thought in the Act, edited by Manning and Brian Massumi.

TVAnikó Imre’s TV Socialism provides an innovative history of television in socialist Europe during and after the Cold War, finding a variety of programming and economic practices that exceed state propaganda and challenge conventional understandings of culture and politics under socialism.

My Life with Things is Elizabeth Chin’s meditation on her relationship with consumer goods and a critical statement on the politics and method of anthropology in which she uses everyday items to intimately examine the ways consumption resonates with personal and social meaning.

Robert Bailey’s Art & Language International reconstructs the history of conceptual art collective Art & Language to show how its international collaborations with dozens of artists and critics between 1969 and 1977 laid the foundation for global contemporary art, all while highlighting how conceptual art exceeds the visual to impact the philosophical and political.

blacktinoContaining nine performance scripts by black and Latino/a queer playwrights and performance artists—each accompanied by an interview and essay, Blacktino Queer Performance approaches the interrelations of sexuality, blackness, and Latinidad.

In Biocultural Creatures Samantha Frost brings feminist and political theory together with findings in the life sciences to create a new theory of the human that explains the mutual constitution of the body, environment, biology, and habitat, while offering new resources for responding to political and environmental crises.

In The Value of Comparison Peter van der Veer highlights anthropology’s continuing ability to gain insights on the whole through the comparative study of the particular and unique while critiquing the quantitative social sciences for their sweeping generalizations.


In Hope Draped in Black Joseph R. Winters responds to the belief that America follows a constant trajectory of racial progress, using African American literature and film to construct an idea of hope that embraces melancholy in order to acknowledge and mourn America’s traumatic history.

In Ghostly Desires Arnika Fuhrmann examines post-1997 Thai cinema and video art to show how vernacular Buddhist notions, stories, and images combine with sexual politics in figuring current struggles over gender, sexuality, personhood, and collective life.