Ethnographic Studies in Subjectivity

Published by: University of California Press

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Ethnographic Studies in Subjectivity

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Culture and the Senses

Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community

Prof. Kathryn Geurts

Adding her stimulating and finely framed ethnography to recent work in the anthropology of the senses, Kathryn Geurts investigates the cultural meaning system and resulting sensorium of Anlo-Ewe-speaking people in southeastern Ghana. Geurts discovered that the five-senses model has little relevance in Anlo culture, where balance is a sense, and balancing (in a physical and psychological sense as well as in literal and metaphorical ways) is an essential component of what it means to be human.

Much of perception falls into an Anlo category of seselelame (literally feel-feel-at-flesh-inside), in which what might be considered sensory input, including the Western sixth-sense notion of "intuition," comes from bodily feeling and the interior milieu. The kind of mind-body dichotomy that pervades Western European-Anglo American cultural traditions and philosophical thought is absent. Geurts relates how Anlo society privileges and elaborates what we would call kinesthesia, which most Americans would not even identify as a sense. After this nuanced exploration of an Anlo-Ewe theory of inner states and their way of delineating external experience, readers will never again take for granted the "naturalness" of sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell.

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Our Most Troubling Madness

Case Studies in Schizophrenia across Cultures

Prof. T.M. Luhrmann

Schizophrenia has long puzzled researchers in the fields of psychiatric medicine and anthropology.  Why is it that the rates of developing schizophrenia—long the poster child for the biomedical model of psychiatric illness—are low in some countries and not in others? And why do migrants to Western countries find that they are at higher risk for this disease when they arrive?  T.M. Luhrmann and Jocelyn Marrow argue it is because the root causes for schizophrenia are not only biological, but also sociocultural.
 
This book gives an intimate, personal account of those living with serious psychotic disorder in the U.S., India, Africa, and Southeast Asia. It introduces the notion that social defeat—the physical or symbolic defeat of one person by another—is a core mechanism in the increased risk for psychotic illness. Furthermore, “care as usual” as it occurs in the U.S. actually increases the likelihood of social defeat, whereas “care as usual” in a country like India diminishes it.

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Postcolonial Disorders

Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good

The essays in this volume reflect on the nature of subjectivity in the diverse places where anthropologists work at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Contributors explore everyday modes of social and psychological experience, the constitution of the subject, and forms of subjection that shape the lives of Basque youth, Indonesian artists, members of nongovernmental HIV/AIDS programs in China and the Republic of Congo, psychiatrists and the mentally ill in Morocco and Ireland, and persons who have suffered trauma or been displaced by violence in the Middle East and in South and Southeast Asia.

Painting on book jacket by Entang Wiharso

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Sensory Biographies

Lives and Deaths among Nepal’s Yolmo Buddhists

Prof. Robert R. Desjarlais

Robert Desjarlais's graceful ethnography explores the life histories of two Yolmo elders, focusing on how particular sensory orientations and modalities have contributed to the making and the telling of their lives. These two are a woman in her late eighties known as Kisang Omu and a Buddhist priest in his mid-eighties known as Ghang Lama, members of an ethnically Tibetan Buddhist people whose ancestors have lived for three centuries or so along the upper ridges of the Yolmo Valley in north central Nepal.

It was clear through their many conversations that both individuals perceived themselves as nearing death, and both were quite willing to share their thoughts about death and dying. The difference between the two was remarkable, however, in that Ghang Lama's life had been dominated by motifs of vision, whereas Kisang Omu's accounts of her life largely involved a "theatre of voices." Desjarlais offers a fresh and readable inquiry into how people's ways of sensing the world contribute to how they live and how they recollect their lives.

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Subjectivity

Ethnographic Investigations

João Biehl

This innovative volume is an extended intellectual conversation about the ways personal lives are being undone and remade today. Examining the ethnography of the modern subject, this preeminent group of scholars probes the continuity and diversity of modes of personhood across a range of Western and non-Western societies. Contributors consider what happens to individual subjectivity when stable or imagined environments such as nations and communities are transformed or displaced by free trade economics, terrorism, and war; how new information and medical technologies reshape the relation one has to oneself; and which forms of subjectivity and life possibilities are produced against a world in pieces. The transdisciplinary conversation includes anthropologists, historians of science, psychologists, a literary critic, a philosopher, physicians, and an economist. The authors touch on how we think and write about contingency, human agency, and ethics today.

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The Too-Good Wife

Alcohol, Codependency, and the Politics of Nurturance in Postwar Japan

Amy Borovoy

Social drinking is an accepted aspect of working life in Japan, and women are left to manage their drunken husbands when the men return home, restoring them to sobriety for the next day of work. In attempting to cope with their husbands' alcoholism, the women face a profound cultural dilemma: when does the nurturing behavior expected of a good wife and mother become part of a pattern of behavior that is actually destructive? How does the celebration of nurturance and dependency mask the exploitative aspects not just of family life but also of public life in Japan? The Too-Good Wife follows the experiences of a group of middle-class women in Tokyo who participated in a weekly support meeting for families of substance abusers at a public mental-health clinic. Amy Borovoy deftly analyzes the dilemmas of being female in modern Japan and the grace with which women struggle within a system that supports wives and mothers but thwarts their attempts to find fulfillment outside the family. The central concerns of the book reach beyond the problem of alcoholism to examine the women's own processes of self-reflection and criticism and the deeper fissures and asymmetries that undergird Japanese productivity and social order.

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Under a Watchful Eye

Self, Power, and Intimacy in Amazonia

Harry Walker

What does it mean to be accompanied? How can autonomy and a sense of self emerge through one’s involvement with others? This 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. From the highly personalized relationships that develop between babies and their hammocks, to the demonstrations of love and respect between spouses and the power asymmetries that structure encounters between shamans and spirits, hunters and game animals, or owners and pets, what emerges is a strong sense that the lived experience of togetherness lies at the heart of the human condition. Recognizing this relational quality of existence enables us to see how acting effectively in the world may be less a matter of individual self-assertion than learning how to elicit empathetic acts of care and attentiveness by endearing oneself to others.

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Unsettled

Denial and Belonging Among White Kenyans

Janet McIntosh

In 1963, Kenya gained independence from Britain, ending nearly seventy years of white colonial rule. Many whites relocated outside Kenya, but some stayed. Over the past decade, however, protests, scandals, and upheavals have unsettled families with colonial origins, reminding them of the tenuousness of their full acceptance in Kenya. From clinging to a lost colonial identity to embracing a new Kenyan nationality, white settler descendants living in post-Independence Kenya have undergone changes fraught with ambiguity. Drawing on fieldwork and interviews, Janet McIntosh asks: What stories do settler descendants tell about their claims to belong in Kenya? How do they situate themselves vis-à-vis the colonial past and anticolonial sentiment, phrasing and rephrasing memories and judgments as they seek a position they feel is ethically acceptable? Straining to defend their entitlements in the face of mounting Kenyan rhetoric of ancestry and autochthony, settler descendants offer contradictory and diverse responses: moral double consciousness, aspirations to uplift the nation, ideological blind spots, denial, and self-doubt. In discussions ranging from land rights to language and from romantic intimacy to the African occult, Unsettled presents a unique perspective on whiteness in a postcolonial context and a groundbreaking theory of elite subjectivity.

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