University of Pennsylvania Press

Contemporary Ethnography

Kirin Narayan, Series Editor

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

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Contemporary Ethnography

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Along an African Border

Angolan Refugees and Their Divination Baskets

By Sonia Silva

The divination baskets of south Central Africa are woven for a specific purpose. The baskets, known as lipele, contain sixty or so small articles, from seeds, claws, and minuscule horns to wooden carvings. Each article has its own name and symbolic meaning, and collectively they are known as jipelo. For the Luvale and related peoples, the lipele is more than a container of souvenirs; it is a tool, a source of crucial information from the ancestral past and advice for the future.

In Along an African Border, anthropologist Sónia Silva examines how Angolan refugees living in Zambia use these divination baskets to cope with daily life in a new land. Silva documents the special processes involved in weaving the baskets and transforming them into oracles. She speaks with diviners who make their living interpreting lipele messages and with their knowledge-seeking clients. To the Luvale, these baskets are capable of thinking, hearing, judging, and responding. They communicate by means of jipelo articles drawn in configurations, interact with persons and other objects, punish wrongdoers, assist people in need, and, much like humans, go through a life course that is marked with an initiation ceremony and a special burial. The lipele functions in a state between object and person. Notably absent from lipele divination is any discussion or representation in the form of symbolic objects of the violence in Angola or the Luvale's relocation struggles—instead, the consultation focuses on age-old personal issues of illness, reproduction, and death. As Silva demonstrates in this sophisticated and richly illustrated ethnography, lipele help people maintain their links to kin and tradition in a world of transience and uncertainty.

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Along the Bolivian Highway

Social Mobility and Political Culture in a New Middle Class

By Miriam Shakow

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Body and Emotion

The Aesthetics of Illness and Healing in the Nepal Himalayas

By Robert R. Desjarlais

Body and Emotion is a study of the relationship between culture and emotional distress, an examination of the cultural forces that influence, make sense of, and heal severe pain and malaise. In order to investigate this relationship, Robert R. Desjarlais served as an apprentice healer among the Yolmo Sherpa, a Tibetan Buddhist people who reside in the Helambu region of north-central Nepal.

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Body, Movement, and Culture

Kinesthetic and Visual Symbolism in a Philippine Community

By Sally Ann Ness

In Body, Movement, and Culture, Sally Ann Ness provides an original interpretive account of three forms of sinulog dancing practiced in Cebu City in the Philippines: a healing ritual, a dance drama, and a "cultural" exhibition dance. Ness's examination of these dance forms yields rich insights into the cultural predicament of this Philippine city and the way in which kinesthetic and visual symbols interact to create meaning.

Ness scrutinizes the patterns of movement, the use of the body and of objects, and the shaping of space common to all three versions of the sinulog. She then relates these elements to the fundamental ways the culture bearers of Cebu City experience their world. For example, she shows how each of the dance forms functions to reinforce class distinctions and to establish a code of authenticated "cultural" action. At the same time, Ness demonstrates, the dances manifest and actualize widely applied notions about the nature of "devotion," "sincerity," "naturalness," and "beauty."

Throughout the text, Ness provides a close analysis of movement that is all too often missing from anthropological studies of dance. Most significantly, she works to relate the movements used in dance to everyday movement and to interpret the attitudes and values that are embodied in both choreographed and quotidian movement.

Important and illuminating, Body, Movement, and Culture is of particular interest to students and scholars of anthropology, folklore, dance, and Asian studies.

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Confronting Suburban School Resegregation in California

By Clayton A. Hurd

The school-aged population of the United States has become more racially and ethnically diverse in recent decades, but its public schools have become significantly less integrated. In California, nearly half of the state's Latino youth attend intensely-segregated minority schools. Apart from shifts in law and educational policy at the federal level, this gradual resegregation is propelled in part by grassroots efforts led predominantly by white, middle-class residential communities that campaign to reorganize districts and establish ethnically separate neighborhood schools. Despite protests that such campaigns are not racially, culturally, or socioeconomically motivated, the outcomes of these efforts are often the increased isolation of Latino students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources, less experienced teachers, and fewer social networks that cross lines of racial, class, and ethnic difference.

Confronting Suburban School Resegregation in California investigates the struggles in a central California school district, where a predominantly white residential community recently undertook a decade-long campaign to "secede" from an increasingly Latino-attended school district. Drawing on years of ethnographic research, Clayton A. Hurd explores the core issues at stake in resegregation campaigns as well as the resistance against them mobilized by the working-class Latino community. From the emotionally charged narratives of local students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and community activists emerges a compelling portrait of competing visions for equitable and quality education, shared control, and social and racial justice.

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Creating Africa in America

Translocal Identity in an Emerging World City

By Jacqueline Copeland-Carson

With a booming economy that afforded numerous opportunities for immigrants throughout the 1990s, the Twin Cities area has attracted people of African descent from throughout the United States and the world and is fast becoming a transnational metropolis. Minnesota's largest urban area, the region now also has the country's most diverse black population. A closely drawn ethnography, Creating Africa in America: Translocal Identity in an Emerging World City seeks to understand and evaluate the process of identity formation in the context of globalization in a way that is also site specific.

Bringing to this study a rich and interesting professional history and expertise, Jacqueline Copeland-Carson focuses on a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, the Cultural Wellness Center, which combines different ethnic approaches to bodily health and community well-being as the basis for a shared, translocal "African" culture. The book explores how the body can become a surrogate locus for identity, thus displacing territory as the key referent for organizing and experiencing African diasporan diversity. Showing how alternatives are created to mainstream majority and Afrocentric approaches to identity, she addresses the way that bridges can be built in the African diaspora among different African immigrant, African American, and other groups.

As this thoughtful and compassionate ethnographic study shows, the fact that there is no simple and concrete way to define how one can be African in contemporary America reflects the tangled nature of cultural processes and social relations at large. Copeland-Carson demonstrates the cultural creativity and social dexterity of people living in an urban setting, and suggests that anthropologists give more attention to the role of the nonprofit sector as a forum for creating community and identity throughout African diasporan history in the United States.

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Daughters of Parvati

Women and Madness in Contemporary India

By Sarah Pinto

In her role as devoted wife, the Hindu goddess Parvati is the divine embodiment of viraha, the agony of separation from one's beloved, a form of love that is also intense suffering. These contradictory emotions reflect the overlapping dissolutions of love, family, and mental health explored by Sarah Pinto in this visceral ethnography.

Daughters of Parvati centers on the lives of women in different settings of psychiatric care in northern India, particularly the contrasting environments of a private mental health clinic and a wing of a government hospital. Through an anthropological consideration of modern medicine in a nonwestern setting, Pinto challenges the dominant framework for addressing crises such as long-term involuntary commitment, poor treatment in homes, scarcity of licensed practitioners, heavy use of pharmaceuticals, and the ways psychiatry may reproduce constraining social conditions. Inflected by the author's own experience of separation and single motherhood during her fieldwork, Daughters of Parvati urges us to think about the ways women bear the consequences of the vulnerabilities of love and family in their minds, bodies, and social worlds.

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Death, Beauty, Struggle

Untouchable Women Create the World

By Margaret Trawick. Foreword by Ann Grodzins Gold

Death, Beauty, Struggle represents a long labor of love and the summation of forty years of Margaret Trawick's groundbreaking research. Centering her gaze on the lowest castes of India, now called Dalits, she describes the experience of women at this precarious level who are still treated as sub-human, sometimes by family members, sometimes by higher-caste men. Their private worlds, however, are full of art; rural Dalit women sing beautiful songs of their own making and tell remarkable narratives of their own lives.

Much that Tamil women shared with Trawick is rooted in the passionate attachments and acute wounds generated within families, but these women's voices resonate well beyond individually circumscribed lives. In their songs and life stories they critique social, political, economic, and domestic oppressions. They also incorporate visions of natural beauty and immanent divinity. Trawick presents Tamil women's words as relevant to universal human themes.

Trawick's frames of analysis, developed throughout her long career of fieldwork in India, inform her ethnography of expressive culture. The songs and stories of Dalit women were recorded and transcribed, to be translated into lyrical passages in her own work. Death, Beauty, Struggle demonstrates a conviction that persons without privilege—from the rape victim to the landless laborer—possess both power and agency. Through verbal arts, Dalit women produce not only acute cultural critiques but also astonishing beauty.

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Exile and Return Among the East Timorese

By Amanda Wise

East Timor, the world's newest nation, finally gained its independence in 2002, following half a millennium of Portuguese rule and 24 years of Indonesian occupation. That occupation produced a refugee diaspora spread between Portugal and Australia that has been integral in advancing East Timor's cause abroad. Because East Timorese in the diaspora identified strongly as exiles and invested so much in pursuing East Timor's independence, the homeland's liberation has complicated the very basis on which many have "imagined" themselves since fleeing to Australia.

Wise interrogates the space after exile for members of the East Timorese diaspora in Australia, in dialogue with key debates on diasporic identities within cultural studies, contemporary anthropology, and cultural geography. Drawing on innovative ethnographic research, Exile and Return Among the East Timorese explores questions of shifting identity and home, trauma and embodiment, belonging and return among the East Timorese abroad at this critical juncture in their lives. The book asks what forms of cultural identity emerge among politically active refugee diasporas, what happens to such groups when the dream of homeland is fulfilled, and how they renegotiate a sense of home after exile.

The lived experience of Timorese in Australia and former refugees who have returned to East Timor is brought to life through their eloquent and often moving firsthand narratives, which the author has used liberally throughout the book, vividly presenting them alongside images and analysis of their role in the political struggle.

Providing unique insights into cultural identities in the transition from exile to diaspora in a post-refugee group, Exile and Return Among the East Timorese is essential reading for anyone interested in questions of home and identity among diasporic, transnational, and refugee communities.

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Experiencing Ritual

A New Interpretation of African Healing

By Edith Turner. With William Blodgett, Singleton Kahona, and Fideli Benwa

Experiencing Ritual is Edith Turner's account of how she sighted a spirit form while participating in the Ihamba ritual of the Ndembu. Through her analysis, she presents a view not common in anthropological writings—the view of millions of Africans—that ritual is the harnessing of spiritual power.

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