Anthropology

New Books in September

Start off the semester strong by perusing our new September releases!

Drawing on oral and written testimonies from academics and students who have made complaints about harassment, bullying, and unequal working conditions at universities, Sara Ahmed examines what we can learn about power from those who complain about abuses of power in Complaint! Angela Y. Davis says, “Complaint! is precisely the text we need at this moment as we seek to understand and transform the institutional structures promoting racism and heteropatriarchy.”

Mark Rifkin examines nineteenth-century Native writings by William Apess, Elias Boudinot, Sarah Winnemucca, and and Zitkala-Ša to rethink and reframe contemporary debates around recognition, refusal, and resurgence for Indigenous peoples in Speaking for the People: Native Writing and the Question of Political Form.

In The Nature of Space, pioneering Afro-Brazilian geographer Milton Santos attends to globalization writ large and how local and global orders intersect in the construction of space.

In Hawaiʻi is my Haven: Race and Indigeneity in the Black Pacific, Nitasha Tamar Sharma maps the context and contours of Black life in Hawaiʻi, showing how despite the presence of anti-Black racism, the state’s Black residents consider it to be their haven from racism.

The contributors to Assembly Codes: The Logistics of Media, edited by Matthew Hockenberry, Nicole Starosielski, and Susan Zieger, document how media and logistics—the techniques of organizing and coordinating the movement of materials, bodies, and information—are co-constitutive and key to the circulation of information and culture.

In Philosophy for Spiders: On the Low Theory of Kathy Acker, McKenzie Wark combines an autobiographical account of her relationship with Kathy Acker with her transgender reading of Acker’s writing to outline Acker’s philosophy of embodiment and its importance for theorizing the trans experience.

In A Mass Conspiracy to Feed People: Food Not Bombs and the World-Class Waste of Global Cities David Boarder Giles traces the work of Food Not Bombs—a global movement of grassroots soup kitchens that recover wasted grocery surpluses and redistribute them to those in need—to examine the relationship between waste and scarcity in global cities under late capitalism and the fight for food justice

Patricia Stuelke traces the hidden history of the reparative turn, showing how it emerged out of the failed struggle against US empire and neoliberal capitalism in the 1970s and 1980s and unintentionally supported new forms of neoliberal and imperial governance in The Ruse of Repair: US Neoliberal Empire and the Turn from Critique.

Michael K. Bourdaghs, in A Fictional Commons: Natsume Sōseki and the Properties of Modern Literature, presents a radical reframing of the works of Natsume Sōseki—widely considered to be Japan’s greatest modern novelist—as critical and creative responses to the emergence of new forms of property ownership in nineteenth-century Japan.

The contributors to Embodying Black Religions in Africa and Its Diasporas, edited by Yolanda Covington-Ward and Jeanette S. Jouili, investigate the complex intersections between the body, religious expression, and the construction and negotiation of social relationships and collective identities throughout the Black diaspora.

Sarah Jane Cervenak traces how Black artists and writers who create alternative spaces for Black people to gather free from those Enlightenment philosophies that presume Black people and land as given to enclosure and ownership in Black Gathering: Art, Ecology, Ungiven Life.

The exhibition catalog to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse, by curator Valerie Cassel Oliver, chronicles the pervasive visual and sonic parallels in the work of Black artists from the southern United States.

Andil Gosine revises understandings of queer desire in the Caribbean in Nature’s Wild, Love, Sex and the Law in the Caribbean, showing how the very concept of homosexuality in the Caribbean (and in the Americas more broadly) has been overdetermined by a colonially-influenced human/animal divide.

In Between Gaia and Ground: Four Axioms of Existence and the Ancestral Catastrophe of Late Liberalism, Elizabeth A. Povinelli theorizes how legacies of colonial violence and the ways dispossession and extraction that destroyed indigenous and colonized peoples’ lives now poses an existential threat to the West.

In Roadrunner, cultural theorist and poet Joshua Clover examines Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers’ 1972 song “Roadrunner,” charting its place in rock & roll history and American culture.

Drawing on close readings of 1960s American art, Jason A. Hoelscher offers an information theory of art and an aesthetic theory of information in which he shows how art operates as information wherein art’s meaning cannot be determined in Art as Information Ecology: Artworks, Artworlds, and Complex Systems Aesthetics.

Events in September

Several of our authors are giving talks online and even in person this month. Hope you can catch them! Please note the local time zone in each listing.

September 10, 1:00 pm EDT: Brown University Center for Middle East Studies sponsors a talk by Hagar Kotef, author of The Colonizing Self.

September 10, 3 pm EDT: Join the authors and editors of Meridians’ new issue, Transnational Feminist Approaches to Anti-Muslim Racism, for a conversation.

September 16, 6:30 pm EDT and September 17, 11 am EDT: The journal liquid blackness celebrates their first three issues with an online event, Atonal Symphonies: Conversations on Blackness and Liquidity at the Threshold of Thinking and Making.

September 20, 6:00 pm PDT: Joshua Clover, author of Roadrunner, will be in conversation with Justin Desmangles in an event sponsored by City Lights Bookstore.

September 23, 1:00 pm EDT: The CUNY Center for Place, Culture, and Politics sponsors a conversation between Kareem Rabie, author of Palestine Is Throwing a Party and the Whole World Is Invited and Mezna Qato and David Harvey. 

September 25, 2:45 pm EDT: Amitava Kumar appears in person at the Albany Book Festival, in conversation with Ayad Akhtar and Joe Donahue. Kumar is the author of several books, including A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb, and, most recently, Every Day I Write the Book.

September 28, 6:15 pm EDT:  The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University sponsors a talk by Kevin Fellezs, author of Listen But Don’t Ask Question

New Books in August

Don’t miss all our exciting new releases in August!

In three long-form poems and a lyrical essay, fahima ife speculates in Maroon Choreography on the afterlives of Black fugitivity, unsettling the historic knowledge of it while moving inside the ongoing afterlives of those people who disappeared themselves into rural spaces beyond the reach of slavery.

Rachel Zolf activates the last three lines of a poem by Jewish Nazi Holocaust survivor Paul Celan—“No one / bears witness for the / witness”—to theorize the poetics and im/possibility of witnessing in No One’s Witness.

In Amkoullel, the Fula Boy, Malian writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ—one of the towering figures in the literature of twentieth-century Francophone Africa—tells in striking detail the story of his youth, which was set against inter-ethnic conflict and the arrival and installation of French colonialism.

In The Politics of Decolonial Investigation Walter D. Mignolo provides a sweeping examination of how colonialty has operated around the world in its myriad forms between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries while calling for a decolonial politics that would delink from all forms of Western knowledge.

Laurence Coderre explores the material culture of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in Newborn Socialist Things to show how it paved the way for rampant commodification and consumption in contemporary China.

Carolyn Hardin offers a new way of understanding arbitrage—the trading practice that involves buying assets in one market at a cheap price and immediately selling them in another market for a profit—as a means of showing how its reliance upon taking on risk is fundamental to financial markets in Capturing Finance.

Monica Huerta draws on her experiences growing up in her family’s Mexican restaurants and her life as an academic in Magical Habits to sketch out habits of living that allow us to consider what it means to live with history as we are caught up in it and how those histories bear on our capacities to make sense of our lives.

The contributors to Long Term, edited by Scott Herring and Lee Wallace, use the tension between the popular embrace and legalization of same-sex marriage and the queer critique of homonormativity as an opportunity to examine the myriad forms of queer commitments and their durational aspect.

In Domestic Contradictions Priya Kandaswamy brings together two crucial moments in welfare history—the advent of the Freedmen’s Bureau during Reconstruction and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996—to show how they each targeted Black women through negative stereotyping and normative assumptions about gender, race, and citizenship.

In Policing Protest Paul A. Passavant explores how the policing of protest in the United States has become increasingly hostile since the late 1990s, moving away from strategies that protect protestors toward militaristic practices designed to suppress legal protests.

In A Black Intellectual’s Odyssey Martin Kilson—the first tenured African American professor at Harvard—takes readers on a fascinating journey from his upbringing in a small Pennsylvania mill town to his experiences as an undergraduate to pursuing graduate study at Harvard before spending his entire career there as a faculty member.

In Whiteness Interrupted, Marcus Bell presents a revealing portrait of white teachers in majority Black schools to outline how white racial identity is constructed based on localized interactions and the ways whiteness takes a different form in predominantly Black spaces.

Jennifer C. Nash examines how the figure of the “Black mother” has become a powerful political category synonymous with crisis, showing how they are often rendered into one-dimensional symbols of tragic heroism and the ground zero of Black life in Birthing Black Mothers.

Transnational Feminist Itineraries, edited by Ashwini Tambe and Millie Thayer, demonstrates the key contributions of transnational feminist theory and practice to analyzing and contesting authoritarian nationalism and the extension of global corporate power.

In Reimagining Social Medicine from the South Abigail H. Neely explores social medicine’s possibilities and limitations at one of its most important origin sites: the Pholela Community Health Centre (PCHC) in South Africa.

Q&A with Liz P. Y. Chee, author of Mao’s Bestiary

In Liz P. Y. Chee is Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute and Lecturer at Tembusu College, both at the National University of Singapore. In her new book, Mao’s Bestiary: Medicinal Animals and Modern China, she complicates understandings of Chinese medicine as timeless and unchanging by historicizing the expansion of animal-based medicines in the social and political environment of early Communist China. Chee is Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute and Lecturer at Tembusu College, both at the National University of Singapore.

In Mao’s Bestiary, your focus is on the production rather than the consumption of animal-based drugs. As a reader, it’s hard not to wonder about the efficacy of some of the therapies you describe. From the consumer’s perspective, do you have a sense as to why faunal medicalization remains popular?

I agree it’s hard to understand why demand continues in the present day despite the lack of science-based proofs of efficacy, and given the awareness that so many animal species are facing extinction, but let me provide two reasons. One is prestige. In China and elsewhere in Asia, rare animal parts and tissues have been highly valued within a gifting economy. I first became aware of this on a trip to Boten City, Laos in December 2009, where in the lobby of my hotel, which faced the entrance to a casino, venders were selling boxes of bear bile wrapped in neat red packaging. Jill Robinson, founder of Animals Asia Foundation, has discussed how such high-end animal medicinals are often never consumed, but permanently displayed as trophy objects. Others have written of how the gift of an expensive animal-based medicine to a sick relative is taken as a sign of caring, regardless of whether it is used.

A more general reason is the belief, deliberately cultivated during the period I write about, of the greater potency of animal tissue in preventing or curing diseases as compared to herbs. The Chinese medical belief of “like-cures-like” has always contributed to the use of animals parts as cures, though my book documents many cases of animals being given new medical powers in the modern period that have little or no sanction in classical texts. Contributing to the decimation of the rhino population, for example, has been a surge in Vietnamese demand for rhino horn, based on its claimed efficacy in curing cancer, or just hangovers. And in post-war Singapore, the horns of Saiga antelope were made into a cooling drink. I remember drinking this as a child and believing in its cooling effects. That Saiga horn is still openly sold here probably relates to this earlier marketing, which like all marketing need not be backed by scientific proofs. When such parts and tissues are officially banned, their trade goes underground, or operates through the internet. Only educating consumers has a chance of ending it.

Instead of using Eastern and Western medicine as analytic categories, you compare Chinese medicine with biomedicine. What do you think Western historians of science and medicine, or, perhaps, historians of Western science and medicine, can take away from this reframing of geography and tradition?

“Eastern” and “Western” are artefacts from the colonial period, so didn’t work for me in telling this story. Even “Chinese medicine” and “biomedicine”, the two broad-brush descriptors I settled on, needed to constantly be given more nuance in the text. It’s well-accepted now that “Chinese medicine” is a modernizing and heterogeneous set of practices and materials, hence full of innovation, and I’ve further documented that. But another reason the directional categories didn’t work in my manuscript is because Soviet or socialist medicine had a large influence in China from the 1950s, and its openness to herb-based and animal-based therapies—which were out of favour in “The West”—acted as a bridge to traditional Chinese drug culture. Russia is also in Asia, so its floral and faunal materia medica overlapped with that of China, as did its medicinal farming of deer. Other scholars have already documented the way that Japanese research influenced the whole range of medicines in China, including traditional pharmaceutics, and we can add North Korea in the case of bear bile farming. As a Singaporean, I was also very aware of the north-south axis; how what happens to the north of us effects the Southeast Asian rain forest where we live, and which has traditionally supplied so many animals for Chinese medicinal markets.

In your own life, you have been both a consumer of Chinese medicine and an activist for wildlife and biodiversity. How do these two things sit in tension for your generation? How do you imagine this tension might shape conversations about Chinese medicine moving forward?

I’m currently in my early 40s, and it’s not easy to generalize about my generation of Chinese-Singaporeans. While we’re more educated than our parents, we’re still quite immersed in inherited ways of thinking. My family origins are in Southern China, where animals were never treated humanely or with a view toward conservation. I was brought up eating shark fin soup and consuming Chinese medicine made with dried lizards, in addition to the antelope-horn drink I mentioned. I only became sensitized to ethical issues around animals in my late teens, but even then felt powerless to change anything. One turning point came when I saw (in the early 2000s) a BBC documentary on bear farming, and then witnessed it first-hand in Laos. While I think I’m still more the exception than the norm among my generation, an active minority of us have contributed to a strong and increasingly effective movement for the ethical treatment of animals here, as I mention in my book. We are ahead of China in that regard, though attitudes there are changing as well.

I’m more hopeful about the younger generations of Singaporeans and Chinese, who have been more outspoken in voicing their distaste for exploiting endangered species. The Guizhentang controversy of 2012, which I describe in my book, and which saw young mainland Chinese demonstrating against bear bile farming in front of the company’s outlets, was early evidence of a more dynamic and ethically-focused generation evolving. Celebrities like basketballer Yao Ming have also spoken up in challenge to conservative voices in the Chinese medical community. As an academic, my job is to contextualize and explain why and how animals came to be medicalized on such a scale. And my book rejects the claim that an unbroken Chinese tradition is the reason for the current industrial-scale exploitation, thereby skipping over the influence of nation-building in Mao’s China. But even without this historical evidence, I believe the younger generation prefers a Chinese medicine which does not endanger biodiversity, threaten the survival of species, harm individual animals, or harm us through the spread of zoonoses. They realize that continuing to medicalize animals is not essential to the survival of this healing tradition. It may rather threaten it.

You reference the COVID-19 pandemic several times in your introduction, and again in your conclusion. What impact, if any, do you think COVID-19 will have on future uses of medicinal animals? Do you think your book would have looked different if you had started it, and not finished it, in the middle of a pandemic?

As mentioned, one origin of this book was the trip I made to a bear bile farm in Boten City, Laos, a story I tell in the introduction. My team and I were there because the bears were diseased and dying, and I was struck that liquid extracted from sick bears was being sold locally as “medicine.” So zoonotic disease was a specter hovering about my project from the beginning. But I was more interested at that moment in the ethical question of how Chinese farmers could engage in such a cruel practice, and the historical question of where medicinal animal farming originated, and why. Going into the archives to understand faunal medicalization as an historical process, zoonoses faded from view because they were outside the consciousness of my actors and informants. Now of course they are front and center. But in some sense I’m glad I finished the book just before the pandemic, so as not to see the history of medicalizing animals solely through that contemporary lens. I’m hopeful, however, that the pre-history provided by the book will be useful to those working today to limit zoonotic disease by ending the global wildlife trade, so much of which is linked to medicalization. “Tradition” has always been a black box (or perhaps wall) limiting what people felt they could do to institute change. Understanding it as a process of constant re-invention and choice, and in this instance one that has become detrimental to both human and animal health, is an important step.

Read the introduction to Mao’s Bestiary and save 30% on the paperback edition using the code E21CHEMB

New Books in June

Looking for some summer reading? Check out the great new titles we have coming out in June!

Jennifer L. Morgan draws on the lived experiences of enslaved African women in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries in Reckoning with Slavery to reveal the contours of early modern notions of trade, race, and commodification in the Black Atlantic.

In Decolonizing Memory, Jill Jarvis examines the crucial role that writers and artists have played in cultivating historical memory and nurturing political resistance in Algeria, showing how literature offers the unique ability to reckon with colonial violence and to render the experiences of those marginalized by the state.

The contributors to Beyond Man, edited by An Yountae and Eleanor Craig, reckon with the colonial and racial implications of the philosophy of religion’s history by staging a conversation between it and Black, Indigenous, and decolonial studies.

In Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, Martin Savransky draws on the pragmatic pluralism of William James and the ontological turn in anthropology to propose a “pluralistic realism”—an understanding of ontology in which at any given time the world is both one and many, ongoing and unfinished.

In How to Go Mad Without Losing Your Mind, La Marr Jurelle Bruce ponders the presence of “madness” in black literature, music, and performance since the early twentieth century, showing how artist ranging from Kendrick Lamar and Lauryn Hill to Nina Simone and Dave Chappelle activate madness as content, form, aesthetic, strategy, philosophy, and energy in an enduring black radical tradition.

Việt Lê examines contemporary art in Cambodia and Việt Nam in Return Engagements to trace the entwinement of militarization, trauma, diaspora, and modernity in Southeast Asian art.

In Images of Beirut, Hatim El-Hibri explores how the creation and circulation of images has shaped the urban spaces and cultural imaginaries of Beirut, showing how images can be used to consolidate or destabilize regimes of power.

Editors Diana Paton and Matthew J. Smith combine more than one hundred classic and lesser-known texts in The Jamaica Reader to present a panoramic history of the country—from its pre-contact Indigenous origins to the present—and provide an unparalleled look at Jamaica’s history, culture, and politics.

In Colonial Debts, Rocío Zambrana uses the current political-economic moment in Puerto Rico to outline how debt functions as both an apparatus that strengthens neoliberalism and the island’s colonial relation to the United States.

Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández challenges the stereotypes of machismo in Archiving Mexican Masculinities in Diaspora with nuanced portraits of Mexican men and masculinities along and across the US-Mexico border.

The contributors to Words and Worlds, edited by Veena Das and Didier Fassin, examine the state of politics and the political imaginary within contemporary societies by taking up the everyday words such as democracy, revolution, and populism that we use to understand the political present.

A concise, easy-to-understand reference book, the revised and updated second edition of the bestselling All about Your Eyes tells you what you need to know to care for your eyes, various eye diseases and treatments, and what to expect from your eye doctor. The editors, Sharon Fekrat, Tanya S. Glaser, and Henry L. Feng are all physicians at the world-renown Duke Eye Center.

In an indispensable guide for all ethnographers, the editors of Experimenting with Ethnography, Andrea Ballestero and Brit Ross Winthereik, collect twenty-one essays that offer concrete suggestions for thinking about and doing ethnographic research and writing.

The contributors to Sound Alignments, edited by Michael K. Bourdaghs, Paola Iovene, and Kaley Mason, explore the myriad forms of popular music in Asia during the Cold War, showing how it took on new meanings and significance as it traveled across the region and forged and challenged alliances, revolutions, and countercultures.

Shaoling Ma examines late Qing China’s political upheavals and modernizing energies through the problem of the dynamics between new media technologies such as the telegraph the discursive representations of them in The Stone and the Wireless.

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New Books in April

Check out the great new titles we have coming out in April!

Right Here Right NowIn Right Here, Right Now, Lynden Harris collects the powerful first-person stories of dozens of men who are living on death row in the United States, offering a glimpse into the lives of some of the most marginalized people in America. Watch the trailer.

Rafico Ruiz uses the Grenfell Mission in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, to theorize how settler colonialism establishes itself through the building, maintenance, and mediation of site-specific infrastructure in Slow Disturbance.

Analyzing a range of Chicano/a and Native American novels, films, short stories and other cultural artifacts from the eighteenth century to the present, Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita in Spatial and Discursive Violence in the US Southwest examine literary representations of settler colonial land enclosure and dispossession in the US Southwest.

Hentyle Yapp analyzes contemporary Chinese art as it circulates on the global art market to outline the limitations of the predominant narratives that currently frame understandings of non-Western art in Minor China. Join an online book launch for Minor China on April 15.

We are excited to be bringing out two new volumes in the Stuart Hall: Selected Writings series. Selected Writings on Marxism, edited by Gregor McLennan, collects Stuart Hall’s key writings on Marxism surveys the formative questions central to his interpretations of and investments in Marxist theory and practice.

Race and DifferenceAnd in Selected Writings on Race and Difference, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Paul Gilroy gather more than twenty essays by Stuart Hall that highlight his extensive and groundbreaking engagement with race, representation, identity, difference, and diaspora.

The contributors to Religion, Secularism, and Political Belonging, edited by Leerom Medovoi and Elizabeth Bentley, examine how the new political worlds that are emerging—from Trump’s America to the post-Arab-Spring Middle East—intersect with locally specific articulations of religion and secularism.

Todne Thomas explores the internal dynamics of community life among black evangelicals and the ways they create spiritual relationships through the practice of Kincraft—the construction of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, partners in prayer, and spiritual mothers, fathers, and children.

Edited and translated by Ilinca Iurascu, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, and Michael Wutz, Operation Valhalla collects eighteen texts by German media theorist Friedrich Kittler on the close connections between war and media technology.

Eating in TheoryAnnmarie Mol reassess notions of human being and becoming by thinking through the activity of eating, showing how eating is a lively practice bound up with our identities, actions, politics, and senses of belonging in the world in Eating in Theory.

Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu examines the legacies of the Vietnam War on contemporary ideas about race and beauty, in Experiments in Skin, showing how US wartime efforts to alleviate the environmental and chemical risks to soldiers’ skin has impacted how contemporary Vietnamese women use pharmaceutical cosmetics to repair the damage from the war’s lingering toxicity.

The Long EmancipationRinaldo Walcott posits that Black people globally live in the time of emancipation and that emancipation is definitely not freedom in The Long Emancipation, showing that wherever Black people have been emancipated from slavery and colonization, a potential freedom became thwarted.

Drawing on Black feminism, Afro-pessimism, and critical race theory, the contributors to Antiblackness, Moon-Kie Jung and João H. Costa-Vargas,trace the forms of antiblackness across time and space, showing how the dehumanization of Black people has been foundational to the establishment of modernity.

Thomas Aiello traces the complicated and fascinating life of pioneering journalist, television host, bestselling author, and important yet overlooked civil rights figure in The Life and Times of Louis Lomax. Lomax became one of the most influential voices of the civil rights movement despite his past as an ex-con, serial liar, and publicity-seeking provocateur.

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Q&A with Elizabeth Povinelli, Author of The Inheritance

Elizabeth A. Povinelli is Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies at Columbia University and a founding member of the Karrabing Film Collective. She is the author of five books from Duke University Press, including Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism (2016). Her newest book is a graphic memoir called The Inheritance, in which she explores her family’s history and the events, traumas, and social structures that define our individual and collective pasts and futures.

This book is a major departure for you in two ways: it is a memoir, and it is a graphic memoir. How do you see The Inheritance fitting in with or diverging from your body of scholarly work? Do you consider The Inheritance to be a scholarly text?

I think any way I answer this question of whether The Inheritance is a scholarly text will come across as a dodge. On the one hand, my scholarly life cannot be excised from my work in other genres—in this text or the films and installations I do with other members of the Karrabing Film Collective. And, in the case of The Inheritance, several specific scholarly debates animate and influence the text including debates in critical race and indigenous theory, in affect theory and the nature of subjectivity, and, of course, history and memory. On the other hand, I don’t intend it to be a scholarly history, but rather a memoir of accumulated affects and memories as these have hardened and cracked across the infrastructures of a socially formed life. Even as I believe that theory always works best when understood as a drama of thought, I let a certain meandering of being in the world take charge of The Inheritance in a way I wouldn’t in my scholarly work.

The combination of COVID-19 isolation and the increased attention to Black Lives Matter and the racial divide in America made 2020 a year of introspection for many Americans, both in terms of encouraging renewed appreciation for the importance of their communities, and demanding a recognition of their complicity in the racist structures that have shaped our world. The Inheritance feels timely for the way it captures your own process of grappling with these questions. How long have you been working out this story for yourself, and why was it important for you to tell it now?

I began concentrating on this project in 2015. One of the initial impetuses was to respond to the weird way I saw white Americans using DNA testing to give themselves an ethnicity while nevertheless  retaining their racial superiority. I thought, what were these people trying to dodge ethically while they socially maintained their position in an American racial and colonial structure? Having a culture became a way of being something other than just white as white became more marked within anticolonial and antiracism movements. As I fiddled with the form and movement of the story across the years, White Nationalism and White Pride seized this discourse of White Culture. From Proud Boys to many Trump supporters, we hear explicitly what I thought I was hearing in the background of the DNA commercials, “Why can’t white people have pride in their culture?” For me, this is another way of saying, “Europeans are the creators and owners of civilization.”

In other words, The Inheritance is an invitation for readers to reflect on their motivations for looking to the past to find their truth as well as to  understand that the racial and colonial infrastructures that convey us in the present find their roots there. I guess the last bit of text in Act II sums this up for me: “As Mother held her hand to my face and we looked into the mirror, I wondered who I was becoming in the unbridgeable rift between Carisolo and Karezol. I should have been thinking about what was happening to me as this fault line opened up in America.”

If the book feels timely, no matter that it started in 2015, I think this is because the Black Lives Matter protests are building on a problem that is lodged in the origins of the so-called American Experiment. It is part of the American grammar, as Hortense Spillers put it. A large part of the story I tell is located in the deep South but, as James Baldwin noted, racism was never just a Southern problem. I grew up in the racial and colonial grammar of the US, no matter that my family drama was focused on a tiny village across the Atlantic, nestled in the foothills of what are now the Italian Alps. I thought it was important to show that even if you know exactly where you come from—I mean exactly and for hundreds of years—if you are absorbed into the racial and colonial structure of the US, your life is implicated in this structure. It’s for this reason, I end the book with the assertion that inheritance doesn’t merely come from the past, but is a place in the ongoing present in a world structured to care for the existence of some and not of others. The point is to think about how we wish to alter these infrastructures of inheritance.

Maps and schematics feature prominently in your illustrations, as do old family photos. Why was the visual element of this story so important to convey? How, if at all, does your work on film with the Karrabing Collective prepare you to transition to graphic storytelling?

Yes, another impetus for the project was to give a sort of backstory to my long relationship with Indigenous Belyuen families and then with the Karrabing Film Collective. When I arrived at Belyuen in 1984 fresh out of St John’s College, I felt such an uncanny kinship with people living there. I think The Inheritance gives a sense why—our shared love of hunting in the bush/woods; our shared relationship to a nonnational kinship-based mode of belonging to country, and our shared history of personal and social violence. But as I said above, these shared affiliations are located within and apprehended by structures of social discrimination that exist no matter how one’s deep love and regard. These racial and colonial infrastructures are not melted because one loves others, although love can provide a motive force for unworking them.. I use affiliation in the way Edward Said suggested, as distinct from filiation. Filiation for him refers to a set of inherited locations while affiliation refers to networks of relationships that people consciously create. 

My Povinelli family never made a huge distinction between artistic and scholarly practices—science experiments went side-by-side with short story writing, drawing, painting, and song performance. Exuberance and melancholia were always side-kicks in these endeavors. My father had wanted to be an artist, but it was hard enough for him to convince his father to let him become an engineer. He hid his drawings in the bottom drawer of his desk at home—and told us that engineering was at its heart a form of truthful creation. My mother wanted to be a singer but had us instead. I guess, as a kind of compromise formation, she made up songs for us to sing along to. We were that kind of family–everyone assumed that everyone could move across expressive, creative genres and that science, art, and thought were all inventive and all oriented to uncovering truth. This Povinelli attitude toward thought and expression is very much conversant with the Karrabing.

As for the visual element, The Inheritance initially had almost no written text. My first idea was that the reader should feel the force of the images with very little by way of writing in order to simulate the experience of looking at an image (the map) one cannot make sense of as one is hearing it passionately described in a language one does not know. I was curious how much a reader would comprehend, how deeply they might be affected, whether it would suggest to them the inseparable but irreducible difference between affect and sense. 

Has putting together The Inheritance at all changed how you think about writing? Are there more graphic or personal works ahead for you?

I think it has helped hone my writing in this genre—a nonfiction story-telling form. But I remain committed to maintaining, where necessary, thick distinctions between genres of writing. My academic work is doing something different from what I am doing in The Inheritance and what we are doing in our Karrabing films. I wouldn’t want to live in a world in which there was only one mode of voicing across all the genres of thought, writing, and image work. For me at least, the way my mind works in my academic books is different to how it works drawing and painting, writing goofy poems and songs, telling tall tales and recounting more serious histories. 

The short answer to whether more graphically oriented works are coming is, yes! How I answer the question of the personal is trickier. All my work is deeply personal. On the one hand, I always tell students that the best intellectual work comes from placing critical thought at the root of a personal passion. I know the personal conditions that drive my academic writing. On the other hand, I don’t think of The Inheritance as personal. I think of it as using me (little Elizabeth) as a case study of the ancestral present. I hope there are other installments, but no one has invented that time expansion/compression machine yet, so it all depends on how much time I can sequester for these and Karrabing projects. 

Read a selection of The Inheritance for free and save 30% on the book using the coupon code E21PVNLI. And stay tuned for Elizabeth Povinellli’s next book, Between Gaia and Ground, out in September 2021.

World Anthropology Day

Today we celebrate Anthropology Day! Duke University Press joins the American Anthropological Association to recognize the research and achievements of anthropologists around the world. Check out these exciting possibilities for the discipline’s future with our new and recent titles. We hope especially that you’ll share them with your students.

Marilyn Strathern’s Relations provides a critical account of anthropology’s key concept of relation and its usage and significance in the English-speaking world, showing how its evolving use over the last three centuries reflects changing thinking about knowledge-making and kin-making.

In Afterlives of Affect Matthew C. Watson considers the life and work of artist and Mayanist scholar Linda Schele (1942–1998) as an entry point to discuss the nature of cultural inquiry, decipherment in anthropology, and the social conditions of knowledge production.

Bret Gustafson’s Bolivia in the Age of Gas examines the centrality of natural gas and oil to the making of modern Bolivia and the contradictory convergence of fossil-fueled capitalism, Indigenous politics, and revolutionary nationalism.

Andrew Bickford analyzes the US military’s attempts to design performance enhancement technologies and create pharmacological “supersoldiers” capable of becoming ever more lethal while withstanding various forms of extreme trauma in Chemical Heroes.

Building Socialism by Christina Schwenkel analyzes the collaboration between East German and Vietnamese architects and urban planners as they attempted to transform the bombed-out industrial city of Vinh into a model socialist city.

Abigail A. Dumes’s Divided Bodies offers an ethnographic exploration of the Lyme disease controversy to shed light on the relationship between contested illness and evidence-based medicine in the United States.

In Demanding Images, Indonesia’s post-authoritarian public sphere, Karen Strassler explores the role of public images as they gave visual form to the ideals, aspirations, and anxieties of democracy.

Dwaipayan Banerjee explores the efforts of Delhi’s urban poor to create a livable life with cancer as they negotiate an over-extended health system unequipped to respond to the disease in Enduring Cancer.

Lyle Fearnley’s timely Virulent Zones situates the production of ecological facts about the likely epicenter of viral pandemics inside the shifting cultural landscapes of agrarian change and the geopolitics of global health.

Porkopolis by Alex Blanchette explores how the daily lives of a Midwestern town that is home to a massive pork complex were reorganized around the life and death cycles of pigs while using the factory farm as a way to detail the state of contemporary American industrial capitalism.

Arlene Dávila draws on numerous interviews with artists, dealers, and curators to explore how and why the contemporary international art market continues to overlook, devalue, and marginalize Latinx art and artists in Latinx Art.

As vast infrastructure projects transform the Mekong River, Andrew Alan Johnson explores of how rapid environmental change affects how people live, believe, and dream in Mekong Dreaming.

Paper Trails edited by Sarah B. Horton and Josiah Heyman examine migrants’ relationship to the state through requirements to obtain identification documents in order to get legal status.

In Writing Anthropology, edited by Carole McGranahan, fifty-two anthropologists reflect on scholarly writing as both craft and commitment, offering insights into the myriad roles of anthropological writing, the beauty and the function of language, the joys and pains of writing, and encouragement to stay at it.

Check out our full list of anthropology titles, and sign up here to be notified of new books, special discounts, and more. Share your love of anthropology on social media with the hashtag #AnthroDay today.

New Books in February

Winter is a great time to curl up with a good book. In February we have notable titles in media studies, critical race studies, and more!

Universal Tonality Jazz critic and historian Cisco Bradley tells the story of the life and music of bassist and composer William Parker in Universal Tonality, which documents fifty years of the monumental figure’s life in free jazz. Be sure to join us for a live online event featuring Bradley, Parker, Anthony Reed, and Senior Executive Editor Ken Wissoker on February 19.

Drawing on interviews with industry workers from MTV programs such as The Real World and Teen Mom, Amanda Ann Klein in Millennials Killed the Video Star examines the historical, cultural, and industrial factors leading to MTV’s shift away from music videos to reality programming in the early 2000s and 2010s.

Lauren Steimer’s Experts in Action examines how Hong Kong-influenced action movie aesthetics and stunt techniques have been taken up, imitated, and reinvented in other locations and production contexts around the globe.

Marina Peterson traces entanglements of environmental noise, atmosphere, sense, and matter that cohere in and through encounters with airport noise at Los Angeles International Airport since the 1960s, in Atmospheric Noise, showing how noise is central to how we know, feel, and think atmospherically.

Point of ReckoningTheodore D. Segal’s Point of Reckoning narrates the fraught and contested fight for racial justice at Duke University—which accepted its first black undergraduates in 1963—to tell both a local and national story about the challenges that historically white colleges and universities throughout the country continue to face. Catch Segal at two online events this month: on February 10, sponsored by the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies, and on February 24, sponsored by the Duke Alumni Association.

Kevin Quashie in Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being analyzes texts by of Lucille Clifton, June Jordan, Toni Morrison, Evie Shockley, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others to argue for a black aliveness that is disarticulated from antiblackness and which provides the basis for the imagination and creation of a black world.

Throughout The Powers of Dignity Nick Bromell examines how Frederick Douglass forged a distinctively black political philosophy out of his experiences as an enslaved and later nominally free man in ways that challenge Anglo-Continental traditions of political thought.

Black UtopiasEngaging with the work of Black musicians, writers, and women mystics, Jayna Brown’s Black Utopias takes up the concept of utopia as an occasion to explore new states of being, doing, and imagining in Black culture. You can catch Brown’s first online event this Thursday, February 4.

Samantha A. Noël investigates how Black Caribbean and American artists of the early twentieth century responded to and challenged colonial and other hegemonic regimes through tropicalist representation in Tropical Aesthetics of Black Modernism.

Candace Fujikane draws upon Hawaiian legends about the land and water and their impact upon Native Hawai‘ian struggles in Mapping Abundance for a Planetary Future to argue that Native economies of abundance provide a foundation for collective work against climate change.

A time of YouthA Time of Youth brings together 89 of the more than 2000 photographs William Gedney took in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood between October, 1966 and January, 1967, documenting the restless and intertwined lives of the disenchanted youth who flocked to what became the epicenter of 1960s counterculture.

In Coed Revolution Chelsea Szendi Schieder examines the campus-based New Left in Japan by exploring the significance of women’s participation in the protest movements of the 1960s.

Ma Vang examines the experiences of Hmong refugees who migrated to the United States following the secret war in Laos (1961–1975) to theorize “History on the Run” as a framework for understanding refugee histories, in particular those of the Hmong.

Empire's MistressVernadette Vicuña Gonzalez follows the life of Filipina vaudeville and film actress Isabel Rosario Cooper to explore the contours of empire as experienced on the scale of personal relationships in Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper, taking us much deeper into her life story than merely her role as the mistress of General Douglas MacArthur.

Jonathan Beller traces the history of the commodification of information and the financialization of everyday life in The World Computer, showing how contemporary capitalism is based in algorithms and the quantification of value that intensify social inequality.

In The Charismatic Gymnasium, Maria José A. de Abreu examines the conservative Charismatic Catholic movement in contemporary urban Brazil to rethink the relationship between theology, the body, and neoliberal governance, showing how it works to produce subjects who are complicit with Brazilian neoliberalism.

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Writing through Political Despair: A Case for Ethnographic Fiction, A Guest Post by Kristen Ghodsee

Five years ago, I began writing a series of essays and short stories to reflect on the upcoming centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution. I wanted to better understand the contemporary legacies of 20th century state socialism in Eastern Europe. At the time, I was living in the city of Jena where the long, dark days of the Eastern German winter kept me huddled indoors listening to David Bowie’s Blackstar on autorepeat.

I’d been reading about the post-WWII denazification process and comparing it to the later de-communization programs that allowed government officials of newly reunified Germany to purge thousands of former members of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) from their jobs after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. These state-organized lustration efforts targeted professors in East German universities, and even mathematicians and natural scientists found themselves summarily dismissed and replaced by West German academics considered untainted by the Marxist politics of the previous regime.

At stake was the moral standing of professors who had either actively or passively collaborated with totalitarianism and whether they could be trusted to educate the next generation of East Germans into the habits of mind necessary for liberal democracy and free market capitalism. Many East German scholars had only joined the SED because they had no choice; professors and academic researchers were expected to be party members in good standing. But during the lustration process, West German leaders insisted that no educators tainted by the previous ideology should have an opportunity to corrupt the minds of the young.

At the same time, I watched the American presidential primaries from afar. An ever-sinking premonition had me convinced that Donald Trump would win the Republication nomination. My German colleagues chastised me for being paranoid and opined that Americans would never be so reckless as to elected someone like Trump to the White House. But by March 2016, when only Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich remained in the race, I had recurrent nightmares about my country under a Trump presidency even as my German and American peers continued to roll their eyes at my alarmist predictions.

I began writing “Interview with a Former Member of the United States Democratic Party” as a way of working through my political despondency. I imagined myself as someone being judged for their lack of resistance to (and thereby tacit collaboration with) a political regime which had been subsequently deemed “evil.” I set the story in 2029, make-believing that someone named Daniel Drumph, Jr. had passed a constitutional amendment allowing him to remain president indefinitely. National Guardsman massacred peaceful demonstrators in Washington and a wave of American intellectuals and anti-Drumph dissidents were seeking political asylum in Germany.

I sat in judgment on myself the way I imagined so many East European intellectuals might have been judged after 1989. The story takes the form of a letter written by a representative of the “Federal Ministry of Immigration and Resettlement” who is reviewing my case. Based on two interviews with me, he works up a recommendation about whether I should be allowed to hold an academic post in a German university even though I was a “former member of the United States Democratic Party.”

I included the story in the manuscript submitted to Duke University Press in May after Trump had clinched the nomination but most observers still believed that Hillary Clinton would win the presidency. The reactions to the story by the anonymous reviewers were mixed. One reviewer felt that the story painted a dystopian and apocalyptic scenario. Although this reader shared my “dark, neurotic forebodings” and “the same creepy Weimaresque feeling” about current political events, they also felt that the story would be “very controversial.”

The second reviewer felt the piece did not fit well into the overall collection. Although they agreed that the story provided “a useful tool for revealing how easy it is for a citizenry to be complicit with state actions,” they felt it also ran “the risk of apologism” for state socialism.

After a thoughtful conversation with my editor, Courtney Berger, I decided to cut the story.  We agreed that it was perhaps too controversial and that no one would remember that Donald Trump was the Republican nominee by the time the book came out in October 2017. Scholarly prudence demanded that I keep my “dark, neurotic forebodings” to myself.

Then on November 10, 2016, I emailed Courtney this note: “So as I crawl out from under the mountain of despair, I am thinking about my “Interview” story.  I know the book is already in production, but is there any possible way to reinsert the story, even as an afterword?  Just feeling like this nightmare is going to get a whole hell of a lot worse before it gets better.”

“I know, Kristen, I know,” Courtney replied. Luckily, the manuscript had not yet been sent out for copyediting; she gave me twenty-four hours to deliver the final version of the story which appeared as chapter thirteen of Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism.

978-0-8223-6949-3_prLast week, almost exactly five years after I began writing Red Hangover, I watched live footage of a pro-Trump mob storming the Capitol building in what felt eerily reminiscent of the colored revolutions that once brought regime change to Eastern Europe. When I look back at the “Interview” story today, I think we are even closer to regime change in the United States than we were then. My forebodings remain decidedly dark and neurotic. For those of us who study the histories and societies of state socialism in Eastern Europe, we know that superpowers can collapse without warning and that the human costs of these collapses are severe.  

Lately, I’ve been listening to Pete Seeger’s “My name is Lisa Kalvelage” on autorepeat, still struggling with that “creepy Weimaresque feeling.” If our democracy collapses and these United States of America cease to exist as a unified and functioning country, I will be forever grateful to Courtney for letting me slip the “Interview” story into the book at the last minute.

I think it highlights the importance of ethnographic fiction, a genre that allows us to enrich our critical imaginations by conjuring potential futures through the creative interplay of history, politics, and cultural interpretation as a supplement to theoretically driven empirical analyses. Duke University Press has kindly agreed to make this story freely available on its website. I hope it inspires other ethnographers to write more experimentally (and that we’ll all be granted political asylum somewhere when the time comes).

Kristen Ghodsee is Professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of a number of books including Second World, Second Sex: Socialist Women’s Activism and Global Solidarity during the Cold War (2019), Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism (2017), The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe (2015), Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism (2011), and The Red Riviera: Gender, Tourism, and Postsocialism on the Black Sea (2005). She is also a contributor to the volume Writing Anthropology: Essays on Craft and Commitment (2020), which features fifty-two essays on anthropological writing.