In the News

2019 Foerster Prize Winner Announced

We’re pleased to announce the winner of the 2019 Norman Foerster Prize, awarded to the best essay of the year in American Literature: “Reconstructing Revenge: Race and Justice after the Civil War” by Gregory Laski, published in volume 91, issue 4. Read the essay, freely available through the end of March, here.

The prize committee had this to say about the winning essay:

“Gregory Laski presents an ambitious, thorough, and wide-ranging discussion of the vexed rhetoric of revenge and forgiveness in the postbellum South. His reading of diverse historical and legal documents concerned with vengeance demonstrates both the risks and utility of vengeance during this period; it also deftly sets up his persuasive reading of Pauline Hopkins’s understudied 1902 novel Winona. Laski dismantles the false distinction between justice and revenge through the notion of “righteous revenge” in paradigm-shifting ways. That this idea engages with larger ethical questions about the redress of (ongoing) wrongs perpetrated against African Americans is made explicit in the elegant coda.”

There were two runners-up for this year’s Foerster Prize: Sara Marcus’s “‘Time Enough, but None to Spare’: The Indispensable Temporalities of Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition” (volume 91, issue 1) and Julius B. Fleming Jr.’s “Transforming Geographies of Black Time: How the Free Southern Theater Used the Plantation for Civil Rights Activism” (volume 91, issue 3). Both essays are freely available through March. The committee had these comments to share about the two runners-up:

“Sara Marcus’s essay challenges the prevailing tendency to associate linear time with heteronormativity, capital, racism, and imperialism and—correspondingly—nonlinear time with queerness, resistance, refusal, and escape.  Although this association has been useful in some ways, Marcus argues that it sets up a simplistic binary. In an insightful reading of Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition, Marcus shows that both normative and nonnormative temporalities are utilized by white supremacists to maintain and assert power. Conversely, teleological concepts for time can be embraced by black characters in the name of progress, while blackness can also interrupt the violence of racism by suspending time. Marcus strongly and convincingly makes the case that neither linear nor nonlinear temporalities are inherently oppressive or liberatory and therefore that scholars working on time abandon these cut-and-dried associations.

“Julius B. Fleming Jr. assembles a wide-ranging and unique archive to theorize what he terms ‘black patience,’ a concept whose contours, uses, and misuses he traces with meticulous care and bold insight. In the process, he advances a methodological approach to black patience (and to other useful notions, including time and timing more generally) that should deeply inform scholarship in African American culture, political organizing, and performance. This essay is a feat of original research, syncretic analysis, and inventive theorization.”

Congratulations to Gregory Laski, Sara Marcus, and Julius B. Fleming Jr.!

New Books in December

‘Tis the season for brand new books! This month, we’re releasing a variety of compelling titles from a wide range of disciplines—art, history, music, theory and philosophy, cultural studies, and many more. Check out these great reads available in December.

Andrea Smith examines the racial reconciliation movement in Evangelical Christianity through a critical ethnic studies lens in Unreconciled, evaluating the varying degrees to which Evangelical communities that were founded on white supremacy have attempted to address racism and become more inclusive.

In Picasso’s Demoiselles, eminent art historian Suzanne Preston Blier uncovers a previously unknown history of the influences and creative process of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, one of the twentieth century’s most important, celebrated, and studied paintings.

In The Sonic Episteme Robin James examines how twenty-first-century conceptions of sound as acoustic resonance shape notions of the social world, personhood, and materiality in ways that support white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

In Listen But Don’t Ask Question Kevin Fellezs traces the ways in which slack key guitar—a traditional Hawaiian musical style played on an acoustic steel-string guitar—is a site for the articulation of the complex histories, affiliations, and connotations of Hawaiian belonging.

Militarization: A Reader, edited by Roberto J. González, Hugh Gusterson, and Gustaaf Houtman, offers an anthropological perspective on militarization’s origin and sustained presence as a cultural process in its full social, economic, political, cultural, environmental, and symbolic contexts throughout the world.

Originally published in French in 1997 and appearing here in English for the first time, David Lapoujade’s William James: Empiricism and Pragmatism is both an accessible and rigorous introduction to and a pioneering rereading of James’s thought.

With topics that span the sixteenth century to the present in Latin America, the United States, Australia, the Middle East, and West Africa, the contributors to Ethnopornography show how ethnopornography—the eroticized observation of the Other for supposedly scientific or academic purposes—is fundamental to the creation of race, colonialism, and archival and ethnographic knowledge. This volume is edited by Pete Sigal, Zeb Tortorici, and Neil L. Whitehead.

In Otaku and the Struggle for Imagination in Japan Patrick Galbraith examines Japanese “otaku,” their relationships with fictional girl characters, the Japanese public’s interpretations of them as excessive and perverse, and the Japanese government’s attempts to co-opt them into depictions of “Cool Japan” to an international audience.

In Mafalda: A Social and Political History of Latin America’s Global Comic—first published in Argentina in 2014 and appearing here in English for the first time—Isabella Cosse examines the history, political commentary, and influence of the world-famous comic character Mafalda from her Argentine origins in 1964 to her global reach in the 1990s.

In The Licit Life of Capitalism Hannah Appel uses a case study of U.S. oil industry in Equatorial Guinea to illustrate how inequality makes markets, not just in West Africa but globally.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Save 40% During Our Cyber Monday Sale


Today only! Save 40% on all in-stock books and journal issues during our special one-day-only Cyber Monday sale.

To get the discount, shop our website and enter the coupon code CYBER40 when you check out. Please note that the discount does not apply to journal subscriptions or society memberships. See all the fine print here.

Stock up on books for next semester’s courses or get your holiday shopping done. Books ordered today will arrive in time for Hannukah and Christmas if shipped to a U.S. address. We cannot guarantee holiday arrival for international shipments.

But act fast, because this sale is over at 11:59 PM EST.

Legacies of ’68: Histories, Geographies, Epistemologies

In the newest issue of Cultural Politics, contributors discuss the historical significance and cultural legacies of 1968 from the vantage point of contemporary politics. “Legacies of ’68: Histories, Geographies, Epistemologies,” edited by Morgan Adamson and Sarah Hamblin, maps out the transnational connections between the various 1968 movements and traces the legacies of these ideas to see how the year continues to shape political, cultural, and social discourse today.

Topics covered include the Third World student strike at San Francisco State College, the decade-long revolution known as May ’68 and its connection to anticolonial struggle and the emergence of “the world university system,” and radical feminist author Shulamith Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex.

Check out author Quinn Slobodian’s article, “Anti-’68ers and the Racist-Libertarian Alliance: How a Schism among Austrian School Neoliberals Helped Spawn the Alt Right,” made freely available for three months.

Browse the issue’s contents and read the introduction, freely available. Be sure to sign up to receive email alerts about new issues of Cultural Politics!

Archives, Archival Practices, and the Writing of History in Premodern Korea

In premodern Korea, archives were gathered and housed not only in official or state storerooms but also in unofficial sites such as libraries of lineage associations and local academies. Contributors to the newest Journal of Korean Studies, “Archives, Archival Practices, and the Writing of History in Premodern Korea,” edited by Jungwon Kim, take these archives beyond their usual definition as collections of historical documents of the past by revealing how these archives cast light on what and who were left out of the conventional historiography of premodern Korea.

Topics addressed include how premodern Korean record-keeping was used to shape contemporary historiographical knowledge of Chosŏn Buddhism, the role of the Catholic Archives in documenting life in Chosŏn Korea, and whether the term “archive,” as used in European traditions, is relevant to premodern Korean traditions.

Browse the issue’s contents; and read the editorial note and the introduction, both freely available. Be sure to sign up to receive email alerts about new issues of the Journal of Korean Studies!

Diving Deep into Black Sacred Music

In today’s post, Dan Ruccia, Marketing Designer at Duke University Press and PhD in music composition, digs deep into our journal Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology (published 1987–1995), outlining its highlights and contributions. Access to Black Sacred Music’s full archive is now available via individual subscription or library purchase.

coverimageIn the preface to “The Theology of American Popular Music” (3:2, 1989), Black Sacred Music editor Yahya Jongintaba (then known as Jon Michael Spencer) described theomusicology as “a musicological method for theologizing about the sacred (the religious/churched), the secular (the theistic unreligious/un-churched), and the profane (the atheistic/irreligious) . . . principally incorporating methods borrowed from anthropology, sociology, psychology, and philosophy.” Jongintaba saw theomusicology as a distinct branch of musicological study akin to ethnomusicology. He further envisioned it as a way to drive scholarly interest in popular music, which was then still largely ignored by musicology (popular music studies was still very much in its infancy) and religious studies. 

During its nine years of publication (1987–1995), the journal took a broad approach to its subject area, publishing scholarly essays on spirituals, the blues, rock, hip hop, and musical practices of the African and African-American church alongside a rich collection of archival documents recounting Black musical life from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Below are a few highlights.

coverimageIn “Musicology as a Theologically Informed Discipline” (8:1, 1994), journal editor Yahya Jongintaba lays out what he sees as the parameters of theomusicology as distinct from ethnomusicology. As he re-articulates the points about the interdisciplinary influences mentioned above, he also makes pointed critiques about the colonialist, eurocentric, and racist roots of those disciplines. He suggests that “theology can, in turn, liberate the social sciences by its willingness to confront oppressive scholarly methods, constructs, and intents on ethical grounds.” 

On Afro-American Popular Music: From Bebop to Rap” (6:1, 1992), part of the special issue “Sacred Music of the Secular City: From Blues to Rap,” is a reprint of a 1983 article in which Cornel West “provide[s] a cognitive mapping of the major breaks and ruptures in Afro-American popular music in light of their changing socioeconomic and political contexts from bebop to rap, from Charlie Parker to the Sugarhill Gang.” He gives special attention to Motown, the “technofunk” of Parliament/Funkadelic, and rap as dynamic expressions of Black identity and norm-breaking.

coverimageThe journal also featured some of the earliest scholarly discourse around hip hop, contained in the issue “The Emergency of Black and the Emergence of Rap” (5:1, 1991). Contributors to the issue chart the distinct phases of rap’s first decade, analyze the way Nation of Islam ideology weaves its way through Public Enemy’s music and performance, and investigate the African spirituality of MC Hammers “U Can’t Touch This.” Perhaps the most provocative article in the issue is Sonja Peterson-Lewis’s “A Feminist Analysis of the Defenses of Obscene Rap Lyrics,” which responds to the 2 Live Crew obscenity trial in 1990. Peterson-Lewis critiques 2 Live Crew’s lyrics, particularly the way their depictions of violence against women reinforce sexist tropes.

coverimageAnother key contribution from the journal was its publication of important archival materials. Most of its regular issues feature some kind of historical reprint: antislavery songs; accounts of the use of spirituals in various contexts; and articles by figures such as Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Paul Robeson, and Langston Hughes. In the issue Unsung Hymns by Black and Unknown Bards (4:1, 1990), Jongintaba collected 100 hymns—some are just lyrics, others include sheet music—written by 14 hymnists over nearly two centuries. While none of the authors are anonymous (like the authors/composers of many spirituals), most had been forgotten to history.

Finally, the journal published two invaluable readers of the prominent African-American composers William Grant Still (6:2, 1992) and R. Nathaniel Dett (5:2, 1991). The Dett Reader compiles 20 essays written between 1918 and 1938, documenting his research into the origins and history of spirituals. The Still Reader features 35 essays spanning 40 years discussing his views on classical music, race, and the role of the composer in the 20th century. These issues represent the most comprehensive collections of primary documents by these men.

Black Sacred Music provided a trove of innovative research and significant historical documents that cannot be found anywhere else. Today, scholars on four continents are involved in producing an array of theomusicology-focused books, articles, dissertations, theses, papers, lectures, blogs, and courses.

Q&A with Jacob Blanc, author of Before the Flood

blanc-photo.jpgJacob Blanc is a lecturer in Latin American History at the University of Edinburgh and coeditor of Big Water: The Making of the Borderlands between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. His newest book, Before the Flood: The Itaipu Dam and the Visibility of Rural Brazil, examines the creation of the Itaipu Dam—the largest producer of hydroelectric power in the world—on the Brazil–Paraguay border during the 1970s and 1980s to explore the long-standing conflicts around land, rights, indigeneity, and identity in rural Brazil.

What first drew you to study the Itaipu flood? When in your research did you realize the history of Itaipu was rich and complex enough for you to write an entire book on it?

In full disclosure, I had not even heard the name ‘Itaipu’ before my first semester of graduate school. I knew I wanted to study some aspect of rural labor history, but aside from my general interest in politics of the Latin American countryside, I did not have a specific case study to start with. Eventually I came across Itaipu, and it seemed like each time I found a new body of sources, or each time I thought I had a clear sense of what the main narrative was, it kept changing. Was this a history of farmers versus a dictatorship? Yes, but it was more complex. Was there solidarity amongst the different displaced groups? Yes, but it was more complex. Was land a central catalyst for the protest movements? Yes, but the lands that would be flooded did not have the same social meanings for all of the displaced communities. I started out thinking this would be a history about rural protest against military rule, but the kaleidoscope of stories that Itaipu brought together resulted in something much bigger: a history of rurality, and the contingencies of life, political struggle, and community in the countryside.

There were a few key moments in my research where these insights really took root. The first was when I began my interviews with farming communities in western Paraná, Brazil. My first stage of research had mostly focused on archival evidence of the protest encampments against Itaipu, which yielded a lot of fascinating and important details on the standoff between rural communities and the dictatorship. In this initial research I come across some hints of internal conflict in the camps, but it was only when I spent time talking with people that had participated in the protests did I begin to understand the full complexity of what took place. Landless peasants spoke of feeling marginalized within the movement (where their demands for redistribution of land was drowned out by the call for higher prices to be paid for legally owned property), indigenous leaders told me about their parallel movement to seek cultural and political rights, and even the landed small-farmers who had led the main protests shared memories that were far more nuanced than the archival record suggested. It was in this vortex of testimonies that I began to piece together the complex and often-contradictory ways that the displaced communities mobilized in defense of their soon-to-be-flood lands.

A second key moment was when in a twist of good fortune and perseverance, I gained access to the archives of the Itaipu dam. This was something that no scholar had previously done and I was able to spend two months going through their holdings. Because Itaipu was so deeply embedded in the dictatorship’s development and security structures, its archive was a window into the logic of authoritarian rule. From here, I was able to place the question of land at the center of my narrative: how a wide range of actors viewed and acted upon their understanding of what the lands around Itaipu meant and what role the region should play in the future of Brazil.

Before the FloodInstead of centering the book around the technological and ecological effects of the Itaipu Binational hydroelectric dam, you set out to ask what the flooded lands meant to different Brazialian rural groups. What do you find missing in these other accounts? How does the history of the flood change when told from those on the land itself?

It is completely understandable that scholars have devoted time to studying the largest hydroelectric dam in the world: it was a tremendous feat of engineering, and compounded by the conflicts that unfolded between Brazil and Paraguay to harness the energy of the seventh-longest river on the planet, the Itaipu dam was, and continues to be, a remarkable technological achievement. The construction of Itaipu forms part of my book, but it is more as an explanatory backdrop for how, and why, the military government saw this border region as a central part of its worldview. By shifting attention away from the construction of the dam per se, and by focusing instead on the livelihoods that converged in the flood zone, I want to help us see that a history of water management (a giant hyrdoelectric dam) contains an equally important history of land. The narrative shift from water to land opens new questions on the social and material meanings of land. And given that the book is guided by my framework of rural visibility, this shift also lets us explore what it means for a region to be rendered invisible. This process of invisibility was both literal (Itaipu’s flood inundating 1,500 square kilometers of land) and discursive, with rural livelihoods delegitimized in national imaginations.

You work with a framework of visibility, drawing on works from Rob Nixon and others to think about how the nation-state, in its constitution, relies upon the exclusion of communities and places that are rendered invisible through “active unimagining.” How much do certain historical methodological practices contribute to this unimagining? In what way is your alternative periodization– exploring non-chronological modes of writing history– an intervention into historical invisibilities?

This also links really well to the above question, where a potential limitation of a techno-ecological history of a megadam like Itaipu is that it takes its starting point at the moment of the dam’s conception. That is, it operates chronologically on the terms of the nation-state and the governments and corporations that build these massive development projects. Here, the theme of unimagining is important both historically and methodologically.

In terms of method, it can often be very hard to reverse this process of unimagining. In part, this relates to the challenge of ‘doing’ subaltern history and the limits we have as historians—especially those of us working from positions of personal and professional privilege. But histories of development and forced relocation present further problems still: a proper history of Itaipu requires finding communities that had been uprooted from their homes and who then dispersed throughout the region and the country as a whole. So, I could have stayed just in the areas around the present-day dam and put together a pretty good history of rural mobilization that would still have ticked a lot of the boxes of subaltern and grassroots history. Even just including those voices would have been an important intervention in scholarship on dictatorship that has tended to focus on urban spaces and the more traditional vectors of political protest such as student movements, unions, and political parties.

But to more fully present the histories on display at Itaipu, this required me to build networks of solidarity and trust in order to get introduced to people who could put me in touch with several lines of connections that eventually allowed me to meet with peasant and indigenous communities whose perspectives were vital to round out the story I was able to tell. The logistics of this were often exhausting and uncertain; in one case I took a ten-hour bus ride solely on the suggestion that somebody I was hoping to interview lived in a small faraway town. I did not have their phone number or address, but sure enough, when I arrived I was able to ask around for the farmer and eventually found him, where I was invited to not only hear his memories from the time of Itaipu but to also stay the night with him and his family. So methodologically, our goal of trying to reverse this state of unimagining depends also on a certain amount of commitment and trust in our own process. That is not always feasible, and there are of course very real challenges (many of which are gendered, classed, and racialized) to conducting this form of fieldwork, but it can be a powerful approach to actively re-imagine histories that might otherwise continue to be overlooked.

And in terms of non-chronological modes of history-writing, this was something I went back and forth on a lot during my research and then while preparing the book. There is profound weight in the decisions we make as historians, not just in choosing to tell certain histories over others, but even in how we present the stories we do choose to tell. Structurally in my book, I opted for a bit of both worlds, where the first half progresses chronologically in three chapters from the pre-history of the dam through the Itaipu flood in 1982, and then in the second half I have four chapters that give the histories that predated, ran parallel, and ultimately outlasted the more standard history of what took place at Itaipu. By framing this explicitly as such, my hope is to de-emphasize the more linear narratives that tend to get deployed for paradigmatic events like a development project and even Brazil’s dictatorship more broadly. This again comes back to trying to intervene in historical invisibilities, and I sought to not only present histories such as indigenous mobilization, peasant displacement, and landless consciousness, but to also frame them as more than just ancillary themes to the larger story. Instead, they exist as standalone stories with their own chronologies.

You use the phrase “double reality” to describe the simultaneous events of the Itaipu flood, an expression of military power, and the 1982 election, a symbolic return to democratic rule in Brazil. What is the significance of naming the effects of both events as realities? What does it mean to recognize a multiplicity of realities?

‘Reality’ conveys a sense of both what is happening and also what is perceived to be happened. For the case of Itaipu, this is particularly powerful for the official timing of Brazil’s transition from dictatorship to democracy, the process known as abertura. Through my history of rural political struggles and their alternative visions for democracy, I introduce the idea of a double reality of abertura, with competing perceptions of how military rule was experienced. So what does that mean for the multiplicity of realities? It means that there is an imagined idea of a country that has a particular chronology attached to it; in this case, that of a transition from a military to a civilian regime. And yet people experience the big idea at the heart of that transition, the abertura, as a double reality, whose chronology and evolving meanings play out in drastically different ways.

By looking at these histories as both events and realities, we are able to draw out the attachments that different groups project onto what they see transpiring around them. This is important because in arguing for a double reality of abertura, I am not saying that rural Brazilians (or any marginalized group for that matter) is unable to extract real benefits and beliefs from official or mainstream events like the abertura. Instead, I use the idea of doubling to show two main threads. First, how the more official forms of politics like abertura are unable and uninterested in accommodating the ideas and livelihoods like those of the displaced groups at Itaipu. And second, despite these limitations, marginalized groups nonetheless invoke and redeploy official events and narratives to advance their own goals. The concept of double reality helps us explore the lived and discursive experiences of being both marginalized and empowered.

In the aftermath of the flood, mass displacement and resettlement allowed landless workers to lead a new charge to reform agrarian policies in Brazil. How much did these landless movements address issues that predated the flood and even a dictator-ruled Brazil?

The landless campaign in Brazil (known as the MST) has become one of the largest social movements in the world over the past several decades. Founded in 1984, one year before the official end of dictatorship, the MST has championed ideas and demands that long predated the start of military rule in 1964. As is the case all over the world, the question of land has been a constant in Brazilian history, and especially in the twentieth-century there is a long tradition of organized campaigns to win access to land through direct-action occupations. My history of Itaipu helps link the emergence of the post-dictatorship MST through some the earlier iterations of landless campaigns, both before and during the military regime. Although few scholars have yet to fully acknowledge this genealogy, the movement that took place just after Itaipu played a pivotal role in the formation of the MST. And placed within the larger context of landless mobilizations across twentieth-century Brazil, we also see why these groups were met with such sustained waves of repression: because the demand for agrarian reform and the structural redistribution of land was seen as a threat by elites under both military and civilian rule, landless movements have confronted serious challenges regardless of whether the country has been ruled by a dictatorship or a democracy.

Although you name your book Before the Flood, you conclude by challenging neat concepts of “before” and “after” and suggest developing a “plurality of timelines” around a historical event. Do you find there to be further room to challenge the logics of temporality in history? Is it possible to imagine a history that undoes the timeline itself?

This was another tricky, though quite fun, aspect of my project. How to challenge the logics of temporality while at the same time using those logics to advance my arguments. Periodization is at the heart of what we do as historians: we frame a problem and we try to figure out periods of time that in some way are a good match for the problem. And especially as we navigate the process of writing a book, there are logistical and professional demands for telling a story in a way that is legible and efficient. What I tried to achieve was a balance between linear and non-linear storytelling, with enough step-backs and links to show how the multiple sets of temporalities did not exist separate from each other. Instead, the various narratives I cover in my book are in a constant state of engagement and mutual reinforcement. The official chronology of the Itaipu dam and of Brazil’s dictatorship provided a central referent for the other stories I needed to tell. So rather than thinking about writing history in a way that undoes the timeline, we might be better suited to thinking about how to present a wide range of voices that in some form interact with a common temporal thread. This can help us rethink the parameters of how we understand, and how we define, periods of history.

Do you think your work can serve as a blueprint for future methodological experimentation that works outside traditional periodization frameworks?

I hope my book can help spur new approaches to rethinking periodization. Because while my particular case study concerns the Brazilian countryside and the livelihoods of rural Brazilians, the same holds true for any group or community whose reality does not align with mainstream periods of time. My case study was the countryside, but it could have been anywhere that contains competing social realities. And this stands equally across Latin America and globally as well. When we begin to take seriously that officially canonized dates and events do not hold the same social weight for all members of a community or of a nation, we can start to re-imagine on what terms we set historical boundaries.

Read the introduction to Before the Flood free online and save 30% on the paperback edition using coupon code E19BLANC.

Memory, Amnesia, Commemoration

In the newest issue of English Language Notes, “Memory, Amnesia, Commemoration,” edited by Ramesh Mallipeddi and Cristobal Silva, contributors explore the interrelationship between history (the study of past events) and memory (the ways in which the past is remembered and accessed). Specifically, they investigate how catastrophes—colonization, slavery, war, genocide, and disease pandemics—impact memory; how traumatic events are remembered by victims, survivors, and descendants; and the collective forgetting of traumatic pasts.

Topics include traces of trauma and resilience in Native and Colonial North America, the contemporary new diaspora of African Americans fleeing the Gulf after Hurricane Katrina, the memorialization of black southern experience, dementia in Holocaust literature, and a major blind spot in comparative memory studies.

Browse the issue’s contents and read the introduction, freely available. Be sure to sign up to receive email alerts about new issues of English Language Notes!

A Possible Anthropology: A Guest Post by Anand Pandian

Anand Pandian teaches anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. His books include Reel World: An Anthropology of Creation and the coedited volume Crumpled Paper Boat: Experiments in Ethnographic Writing, both also published by Duke University Press. In this guest post, he writes about his new book, A Possible Anthropology: Methods for Uneasy Times, which conceptualizes anthropology as a mode of practical and transformative inquiry, staging an ethnographic encounter with the field in an effort to grasp its impact on the world and its potential for addressing and offering solutions to the profound crises of the present. Join him at his online book launch on Friday, November 15. See more at the end of this post.

In a time of intense uncertainty, social strife, and ecological upheaval, what does it take to envision the world as it yet may be? In A Possible Anthropology: Methods for Uneasy Times, I argue that the field of anthropology has resources essential for this critical task. It is true that anthropology is no stranger to unjustice and exploitation. The colonial and racial violence that gave rise to the field remains with us still. All the same, with this field as with any domain of social life, dominant tendencies are always crosscut by emergent elements on the threshold of possibility. This book pursues the vision of a possible anthropology, one to meet the challenge of uneasy times, one willing to set sail with its most imaginative kin.

I explore these ideas with the studied eyes of an apprentice rather than through an authoritative voice of judgment: as an ethnographer, that is, of a scholarly practice at work. Ethnography is a endeavor in critical observation and imagination, an effort to trace the outlines of a possible world within the seams of this one. A Possible Anthropology is written in the spirit of a fieldwork journey in the company of working anthropologists: canonical figures like Bronislaw Malinowski and Claude Lévi-Strauss, ethnographic storytellers like Zora Neale Hurston and Ursula K. Le Guin, contemporary scholars like Jane Guyer and Michael Jackson. Paying heed to their methods, we encounter an empiricism pitched beyond the givenness of the here and now, drawing from the expressive powers of magic, myth, and metaphor, the revelation of realities otherwise unseen. Their work helps to reveal the method of experience that anthropology relies upon, one that carries the transformative force of encounter through diverse forms of practical activity: fieldwork, writing, teaching, reading, and beyond.

“This book pursues the vision of a possible anthropology, one to meet the challenge of uneasy times, one willing to set sail with its most imaginative kin.”

The early 20th century work of the “Boas circle” rested on “a theory of human society, but it was also a user’s manual for life … meant to enliven our moral sensibility,” Charles King observes in his gripping and insightful account of the birth of American anthropology, Gods of the Upper Air (Knopf Doubleday). With this book too, I try to show how anthropology remains a venture in cultural transformation as much as representation, a creative engagement with human nature at the threshold of the natural and cultural. I convey this idea by tracing how anthropological insight and imagination circulate in diverse arenas of contemporary public life, such as indigenous ecopolitics, futurist artwork, and speculative fiction. Humanity surfaces in such arenas as a medium of expression and aspiration, rather than as an object of analysis or a species to distinguish. With this insight in mind, I argue, we can think of anthropology itself as an affirmative mode of critique, less concerned with denunciation than with the opening of new horizons, a way to nurture the potential of things to become other than what they are.

Anthropology is a discipline manifestly devoted to social justice, but one that still manages to reproduce inequality in many of its fundamental modes of operation. Demands to democratize the discipline and to work against its enduring hierarchies of race, class, gender, and privilege have come into focus most sharply in online venues like #AnthroTwitter. With some of the lessons of these debates in mind, this book is launching as an online public event, an occasion to tune in wherever in the world one may be. Here’s a link to the Zoom webinar that will host the book launch on Friday, November 15th from 12:00–2:00 pm EST (5:00–7:00 pm UTC):

I’ll talk a little bit about the book and read a couple of excerpts from the chapters, with plenty of time for Q&A. You can also follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #AnthroPossibility.

You can read the introduction of A Possible Anthropology, free online now, and purchase a paperback copy of for 30% off using the coupon code E19PANDN.

Black Sacred Music Archive Now Available

We are excited to announce the digitization of Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology, published semiannually from 1987 to 1995 and now available online for the first time.

Subscribe now for access, or ask your library to purchase the archive.

Black Sacred Music, under the editorship of Yahya Jontingaba (formerly known as Jon Michael Spencer), sought to establish theomusicology—a theologically informed musicology—as a distinct discipline, incorporating methods from anthropology, sociology, psychology, and philosophy to examine the full range of black sacred music. Topics included the theology of American pop, the early days of rap, the African church, spirituals, gospel music, civil rights songs, and much more.

The journal consisted of scholarly articles, essays, hymns and folk songs, sermons, historical reprints, and reviews of books, hymn books, and recordings. It also published volumes of archival writings by R. Nathaniel Dett, William Grant Still, and Willis Laurence James.

Notable contributors include Philip V. Bohlman, Michael Eric Dyson, Andrew Greeley, Mark Sumner Harvey, Willie James Jennings, D. Soyini Madison, Sonja Peterson-Lewis, Harold Dean Trulear, William C. Turner Jr., Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, Cornel West, and Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.