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Ordinary Ethics in China book cover 

Ordinary Ethics in China
Charles Stafford (Bloomsbury, 2013)


Being Malay in IndonesiaBeing Malay in Indonesia XL

The people of Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago had long resented “colonial” control by Mainland Sumatra. In 1999, when the post-authoritarian state committed to democracy and local autonomy, they saw their chance to lobby for the region to be returned to its “native” Malays. In 2004, the islands officially became Riau Islands Province. This book explores what happened next. Living in a new province created “for Malays” forced Riau Islanders to engage with thorny questions over what it meant to be Malay and how to achieve the official goal of becoming globally competitive “human resources”, explaining how feelings of unsettledness and doubt came to permeate the province as a result of its very creation. Offering fresh perspectives on commerce, spirit beliefs, education and culture, Being Malay in Indonesia challenges much of the received wisdom in the anthropology of Southeast Asia and makes a powerful case for the importance of feelings, sentiments and affect in studies of local development and political change.

                                        Elusive Promises

Cover of Elusive PromisesPlanning is a form of conceptualizing space and time, and the possibilities that time offers space. However, it does not always achieve its desired outcome. The future laid out in plans seems always slightly out of reach, and the plan can be retrospectively flawed. This volume puts planning into a broader comparative context, and is the first to systematically attend to the elusiveness of planning practices that have become ubiquitous across an ever-widening range of state and corporate sites. Featuring contributions by Richard Baxstrom, Laura Bear, Åsa Boholm, John Gledhill, Deborah James, Sarah Lund, Halvard Vike, and an introduction by Simone Abram and Gisa Weszkalnys, this volume and links planning to a set of anthropological concerns regarding the state, development, entitlement, agency and the imagination. It brings together ethnographic accounts of, for example, land restitution in South Africa, urban invasions in Peru, the Norwegian welfare state, and river and port management in India to reveal the specific, and occasionally contradictory, temporalities and materialities articulated through planning. Ethnography, as this volume shows, offers the tools to chart how people deal with the failures, mismatches, messiness, and contingencies, which shape the work of planning in the contemporary world.

The Social Life of Achievement

Cover of The Social Life of AchievementWhat happens when people 'achieve'? Why do reactions to 'achievement' vary so profoundly? And how might an anthropological study of achievement and its consequences allow us to develop a more nuanced model of the motivated agency that operates in the social world? These questions lie at the heart of this volume. Drawing on research from Southeast Asia, Europe, the United States, and Latin America, this collection develops an innovative framework for explaining achievement¹s multiple effects : one which brings together cutting-edge theoretical insights into politics, psychology, ethics, materiality, aurality, embodiment, affect and narrative. In doing so, the volume advances a new agenda for the study of achievement within anthropology, emphasizing the significance of achievement as a moment of cultural invention, and the complexity of 'the achiever as a subject position.

Featuring contributions by Kathleen Stewart, Rebecca Cassidy, Laura Mentore, Nicholas Long, Joanna Cook, Olga Solomon, Sarah Green, Peter Demerath, Susan Bayly, and Signithia Fordham, as well as an extended introduction by Nicholas Long and Henrietta L. Moore, this theoretically eclectic volume promises to be of interest to anyone with interests in the anthropology of education, the anthropology of neoliberalism, theories of agency and motivation, or the study of ethical life.

Vital Relations: Modernity and the Persistent Life of Kinship 

Cover of Vital RelationsFor more than 150 years, theories of social evolution, development, and modernity have been unanimous in their assumption that kinship organizes simpler, “traditional,” pre-state societies but not complex, “modern,” state societies. And these theories have been unanimous in their presupposition that within modern state-based societies kinship has been relegated to the domestic domain, has lost its economic and political functions, has retained no organizing force in modern political and economic structures and processes, and has become secularized and rationalized. Fenella Cannell's book Vital Relations challenges these notions. It will be of interest to anyone who wishes to gain a different perspective on the concept of modernity itself, and on the place of kinship and “family” in modern life. 

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Under a Watchful Eye: Self, Power and Intimacy in Amazonia

Under a watchful eye book coverWhat does it mean to be accompanied? How can autonomy and a sense of self emerge through one’s involvement with others? Harry Walker's book examines the formation of self among the Urarina, an Amazonian people of lowland Peru. Based on detailed ethnography, the analysis highlights the role of intimate but asymmetrical attachments and dependencies which begin in the womb, but can extend beyond human society to include a variety of animals, plants, spirits and material objects. It thereby raises fundamental questions about what it means to be alive, to be an experiencing subject, and to be human.

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Potent Landscapes: Place and Mobility in Eastern Indonesia

Potent Landscapes book coverBased on two years of fieldwork in rural Flores, Catherine Allerton's book situates Manggarai place-making and mobility within the larger contexts of human-environment interactions. Potent Landscapes is an ethnographic investigation of the power of the landscape and the implications of that power for human needs, behavior, and emotions. Although it focuses on social life in one region of eastern Indonesia, the work engages with broader theoretical discussions of landscape, travel, materiality, cultural politics, kinship, and animism.

It will be of particular appeal to students and specialists of Southeast Asia and to those interested in the comparative anthropological study of place and environment.

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In and Out of Each Other's Bodies

BLOCH_In_and_out150Maurice Bloch’s book offers an accessible introduction to fundamental human questions such as: What is human sociality? How are universals such as truth and doubt variously demonstrated and negotiated in different cultures? He shows that the social consists of two very different things. One is a matter of continual adjustments between individuals who read each others’ minds and thus, as in sex and birth, 'go in and out of each other’s minds and bodies'. The other is a time-defying system of roles and groups. Interaction at this level is created by ritual and is unique to humans. A second major theme is the way truth is established in different cultures.

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Communities of Complicity: Everyday Ethics in Rural China

Communities of Complicity Book CoverEveryday life in contemporary rural China is characterized by an increased sense of moral challenge and uncertainty. Ordinary people often find themselves caught between the moral frameworks of capitalism, Maoism and the Chinese tradition. Hans Steinmuller's ethnographic study of the village of Zhongba (in Hubei Province, central China) is an attempt to grasp the ethical reflexivity of everyday life in rural China. Drawing on descriptions of village life, interspersed with targeted theoretical analyses, he examines how ordinary people construct their own senses of their lives and their futures in everyday activities. The villagers confront moral uncertainty; they creatively harmonize public discourse and local practice; and sometimes they resolve incoherence and unease through the use of irony. In so doing, they perform everyday ethics and re-create transient moral communities at a time of massive social dislocation.

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Ethnographies of Doubt: Faith and Uncertainty in Contemporary Societies

Ethnographies of Doubt book coverReligious and secular convictions have powerful effects, but their foundations are often surprisingly fragile. New converts often come across as stringent believers precisely because they need to dispel their own lingering doubts, while revolutionary movements survive only through the denial of ambiguity. This book shows that a focus on uncertainty and doubt is indispensable for grasping the role of ideas in social action. Drawing on a wide range of cases from contributors, Mathijs Pelkmans analyses the ways in which doubt is overcome and, conversely, how belief-systems collapse providing important insights into the cycles of faith, hope, conviction and disillusion that are intrinsic to the human condition.

The volume contains several chapters by members and friends of the LSE Anthropology department: Alpa Shah on doubting revolutionaries; Maurice Bloch on types of shared doubt among Zafimaniry forest-dwellers; Giulia Liberatore on the doubtful belief of newly practicing Muslim women; and Mette High on doubting the cosmos in Mongolia.

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Sociality: New Directions

Eds: Nicholas J. Long and Henrietta L. Moore

Sociality New Directions book coverThe notion of 'sociality' is now widely used within the social sciences and humanities. However, what is meant by the term varies radically, and the contributors here, through compelling and wide ranging essays, identify the strengths and weaknesses of current definitions and their deployment in the social sciences. By developing their own rigorous and innovative theory of human sociality, they re-set the framework of the debate and open up new possibilities for conceptualising other forms of sociality, such as that of animals or materials.

Cases from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe explore the new directions of human sociality, illuminating how and why it is transformed when human beings engage with such major issues as economic downturn, climate change, new regimes of occupational and psychological therapy, technological innovations in robotics and the creation of new online, 'virtual' environments. This book is an invaluable resource, not only for research and teaching, but for anyone interested in the question of what makes us social.

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Anthropology and the Cognitive Challenge

Maurice Bloch

Anthropology and the Cognitive Challenge book coverIn this provocative new study Maurice Bloch proposes that an understanding of cognitive science enriches, rather than threatens, the work of social scientists. He argues for a naturalist approach to social and cultural anthropology, introducing developments in cognitive sciences such as psychology and neurology and exploring the relevance of these developments for central anthropological concerns: the person or the self, cosmology, kinship, memory and globalisation.

Opening with an exploration of the history of anthropology, Bloch shows why and how naturalist approaches were abandoned and argues that these once valid reasons are no longer relevant. Bloch then shows how such subjects as the self, memory and the conceptualisation of time benefit from being simultaneously approached with the tools of social and cognitive science. The arguments in Anthropology and the Cognitive Challenge will stimulate fresh debate among scholars and students across a wide range of disciplines.

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After the EventAftertheevent

The Transmission of Grievous Loss in Germany, China and Taiwan

Stephan Feuchtwang

Two of the most destructive moments of state violence in the twentieth century occurred in Europe between 1933 and 1945 and in China between 1959 and 1961 (the Great Leap famine). This is the first book to bring the two histories together in order to examine their differences and to understand if there are any similar processes of transmission at work. Stephan Feuchtwang expertly ties in the Taiwanese civil war between Nationalists and Communists, which included the White Terror from 1947 to 1987, a less well-known but equally revealing part of twentieth-century history. Personal and family stories are told, often in the individual's own words, and then compared with the public accounts of the same events as found in official histories, commemorations, school textbooks and other forms of public memory. The author presents innovative and constructive criticisms of social memory theories in order to make sense both of what happened and how what happened is transmitted.

"This is a remarkably creative work of scholarship. The stories told in it are at once personal and analytical, local and transnational, empirical and imaginative; the horizon of comparison these stories cover is both unusual and original. The result is a creative combination of intimate historical knowledge and comparative historical narratives, acute observations of historical forces and moving accounts of victims of historical injustice – there is simply nothing like this in the existing literature." Heonik Kwon, Trinity College, Cambridge.

"This work is eloquently and unpretentiously written. It is based on solid scholarship and interesting, intelligent, and sometimes very moving interpretation." Michael Lambek, University of Toronto.

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Culture Wars: Context, Models and Anthropologists' Accounts

Eds: Deborah James, Evelyn Plaice and Christina Toren

 Culture Wars

The relationship between anthropologists’ ethnographic investigations and the lived social worlds in which these originate is a fundamental issue for anthropology. Where some claim that only native voices may offer authentic accounts of culture and hence that ethnographers are only ever interpreters of it, others point out that anthropologists are, themselves, implanted within specific cultural contexts which generate particular kinds of theoretical discussions. The contributors to this volume reject the premise that ethnographer and informant occupy different and incommensurable “cultural worlds.” Instead they investigate the relationship between culture, context, and anthropologists’ models and accounts in new ways. In doing so, they offer fresh insights into this key area of anthropological research.

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Conversion after Socialism: Disruptions, Modernisms and Technologies of Faith in the Former Soviet Union  

Mathijs Pelkmans

The large and sudden influx of missionaries into the former Soviet Union after seventy years of militant secularism has been controversial, and the widespread Conversion After Socialismoccurrence of conversion has led to anxiety about social and national disintegration. Although these concerns have been vigorously discussed in national arenas, social scientists have remained remarkably silent about the subject. Edited by Mathijs Pelkmans, this volume's focus on conversion offers a novel approach to the dislocations of the postsocialist experience. In eight well-researched ethnographic accounts the authors analyse a range of missionary encounters as well as aspects of conversion and 'anti-conversion' in different parts of the region, thus challenging the problematic idea that religious life after socialism involved a simple 'revival' of repressed religious traditions. Instead, they unravel the unexpected twists and turns of religious dynamics, and the processes that have challenged popular ideas about religion and culture. The contributions show how conversion is rooted in the disruptive qualities of the new 'capitalist experience' and document its unsettling effects on the individual and social level.

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Iron in the Soul: Displacement, Livelihood and Health in Cyprus (Berghahn, 2008)

Peter Loïzos

 In his vivid, lively account of how Greek Cypriot villagers coped with a thirty-year displacement, the late Peter Loïzos follows a group of people whom he encountered as prosperous farmers in 1968, yet found as disoriented refugees when revisiting in 1975. By providing a forty year in-depth perspective unusual in the social sciences, this study yields unconventional insights into the deeper meanings of displacement. It focuses on reconstruction of livelihoods, conservation of family, community, social capital, health (both physical and mental), religious and political perceptions. The author argues for a closer collaboration between anthropology and the life sciences, particularly medicine and social epidemiology, but suggests that qualitative life-history data have an important role to play in the understanding of how people cope with collective stress.

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The Rights and Wrongs of Land Restitution: 'Restoring What Was Ours' (Routledge, July 2008) Eds. Derick Fay and Deborah James




The Rights and Wrongs of Land Restitution: 'Restoring What Was Ours', edited by Derick Fay and Deborah James, offers a critical, comparative ethnographic, examination of land restitution programs. Drawing on memories and histories of past dispossession, governments, NGOs, informal movements and individual claimants worldwide have attempted to restore and reclaim rights in land. Land restitution programs link the past and the present, and may allow former landholders to reclaim lands which provided the basis of earlier identities and livelihoods. Restitution also has a moral weight that holds broad appeal; it is represented as righting injustice and healing the injuries of colonialism. Restitution may have unofficial purposes, like establishing the legitimacy of a new regime, quelling popular discontent, or attracting donor funds. It may produce unintended consequences, transforming notions of property and ownership, entrenching local bureaucracies, or replicating segregated patterns of land use. It may also constitute new relations between states and their subjects. Land-claiming communities may make new claims on the state, but they may also find the state making unexpected claims on their land and livelihoods. Restitution may be a route to citizenship, but it may engender new or neo-traditional forms of subjection. This volume explores these possibilities and pitfalls by examining cases from the Americas, Eastern Europe, Australia and South Africa. Addressing the practical and theoretical questions that arise, The Rights and Wrongs of Land Restitution thereby offers a critical rethinking of the links between land restitution and property, social transition, injustice, citizenship, the state and the market.

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Questions of Anthropology (Berg, July 2007)

Eds. Rita Astuti, Jonathan Parry, Charles Stafford

questions_of_anthropologyAnthropology today seems to shy away from the big, comparative questions that ordinary people in many societies find compelling. Questions of Anthropology brings these issues back to the centre of anthropological concerns. Individual essays explore birth, death and sexuality, puzzles about the relationship between science and religion, questions about the nature of ritual, work, political leadership and genocide, and our personal fears and desires, from the quest to control the future and to find one's 'true' identity to the fear of being alone.

Each essay starts with a question posed by individual ethnographic experience and then goes on to frame this question in a broader, comparative context. Written in an engaging and accessible style, Questions of Anthropology presents an exciting introduction to the purpose and value of Anthropology today.

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Lines of the Nation: Indian Railway Workers, Bureaucracy, and the Intimate Historical Self (Columbia University Press, June 2007)

Laura Bear

In Lines of the Nation, Laura Bear radically recasts the history of the Indian railways, which have long been regarded as vectors of modernity and economic prosperity. From the design of carriages to the architecture of stations, employment hierarchies, and the construction of employee housing, Laura Bear explores the new public spaces and social relationships created by the railway bureaucracy. bear_linesnationShe then traces their influence on the formation of contemporary Indian nationalism, personal sentiments, and popular memory. Her probing study challenges entrenched beliefs concerning the institutions of modernity and capitalism by showing that these rework older idioms of social distinction and are legitimized by forms of intimate, affective politics.Drawing on historical and ethnographic research in the company town at Kharagpur and at the Eastern Railway headquarters in Kolkata (Calcutta), Bear focuses on how political and domestic practices among workers became entangled with the moralities and archival technologies of the railway bureaucracy and illuminates the impact of this history today.The bureaucracy has played a pivotal role in the creation of idioms of family history, kinship, and ethics, and its special categorization of Anglo-Indian workers still resonates. Anglo-Indians were formed as a separate railway caste by Raj-era racial employment and housing policies, and other railway workers continue to see them as remnants of the colonial past and as a polluting influence. The experiences of Anglo-Indians, who are at the core of the ethnography, reveal the consequences of attempts to make political communities legitimate in family lines and sentiments. Their situation also compels us to rethink the importance of documentary practices and nationalism to all family histories and senses of relatedness. This interdisciplinary anthropological history throws new light not only on the imperial and national past of South Asia but also on the moral life of present technologies and economic institutions.

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The Severed Snake: Matrilineages, Making Place, and a Melanesian Christianity in Southeast Solomon Islands (Carolina Academic Press, March 2007)

Michael W. Scott

Examining the secretive dynamics of competing land claims among the Arosi of the island of Makira (Solomon Islands), Michael W. Scott demonstrates the explanatory power of ethnographic attention to the nexus between practice and indigenous theories of being. His focus on the ways in which Arosi understand their matrilineages to be the bearers of discrete categorical essences exclusively emplaced in ancestral territories forms the basis for a timely and accessible rethink of current anthropological representations of Melanesian sociality and opens up new lines of inquiry into the transformative relationships among gendered metaphors of descent, processes of place making, and the indigenization of Christianity. Informed by original historical research and newly documented variants of regionally important mythic traditions, The Severed Snake is a work of multidisciplinary scope that proposes critical and methodological shifts relevant to historians, development professionals, folklorists, and scholars of religion as well as anthropologists.

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