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  • Afro-Atlantic Dialogues: anthropology in the diaspora
  • Giulia Bonacci
Kevin A. Yelvington (ed.), Afro-Atlantic Dialogues: anthropology in the diaspora. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press (pb &dollar:34.95 – 978 19306 1846 6). Oxford: James Currey (pb £18.95 – 978 08525 5978 9). 2006, 502 pp.

Afro-Atlantic Dialogues will remain a landmark in the fields of research related to the African diaspora. This book emerges from a seminar convened by Kevin A. Yelvington, 'From Africa to the Americas: new directions in Afro-American anthropology' (1999). The finished volume presents twelve articles which dialogue with one another, giving an overall sense of great coherence. In the introduction, Yelvington sets the stage for the challenges met by the contributors. Beyond the characteristic trends of the study of the African diaspora in the New World, identified as 'diachronic orientation' and 'dialectical relationship', Yelvington proposes a new encompassing approach called 'dialogic'. In a nutshell, dialogic entails 'a critical concern with the historical fashioning of anthropology's categories' and simultaneously an insistence on the 'processes of multiparty interaction in the creation and transformation through history of determined material social relationships' (p. 4). This double process allows a critical dialogue between discourse and consciousness: that is, an approach informed by the historical and social context of production of the discipline, the power inequities it generated, and the politics of its reception. The adoption of this critical perspective forces a reconsideration of the whole question of cultural origins, to which each author offers a significant contribution.

Part 1, 'Critical histories of Afro-Americanist anthropologies', opens with Yelvington's chapter. Here the author questions the sources of Melville Herskovits's thought and unveils his multiple connections with other scholars who were crucial in shaping the paradigms, objects and social milieu of anthropology. In Chapter 3 Sally Price reviews the contextual changes in the reception and valuation of the arts of the African diaspora across the world. Hers is a plea for a conscientious scholarship, backed by traceable references and sources as minimal requirements for honest interpretations. This chapter is illustrated by nine colour photographs of various artworks. Richard Price, in Chapter 4, offers a remarkable reflection on the 'creolization model' he first presented with Sidney W. Mintz in 1976. The politics of reception and the changing contexts of interpretation are thoroughly scrutinized.

Part 2, 'Dialogues in practice', begins with J. Lorand Matory's chapter. He reviews a series of analytic metaphors used by anthropologists and Afro Americanists, while the 'dialogue metaphor' is given one of its best illustrations. Matory's insistence on the constant interaction and the mutual shaping between Africa and Afro-America aims to resituate Africa as a major actor [End Page 316] in Afro-Atlantic cultures: African characters, cultures and local dynamics thus emerge distinctively within the Afro-Atlantic space. In Chapter 6, John W. Pulis focuses on the trajectories of a few African American preachers who left the United States of America after the American Revolution and arrived, as loyalists, in Jamaica. Their contribution to the formation of an Afro-Jamaican Christianity is underlined. The next two chapters offer intradisciplinary insights that add layers to the dialogues in question. In Chapter 7 Joko Sengova shares his experimental research in the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, where he worked with a research team from Sierra Leone. Himself part of the subject he studies, Sengova investigates linguistic connections around the Atlantic. In Chapter 8 Theresa A. Singleton introduces us to the fascinating debates shaping the sub-field of archaeology of the African diaspora. Offering conceptual alternatives to essentialist interpretations of the origins of New World material cultures, she gives the example of a plantation in Cuba. She demonstrates how archaeology is a much-needed component of anthropological and historical research in the diaspora.

Part 3, 'The place of blackness', opens with Sabiyha Robin Prince's chapter on the little-known subject of Blacks and slavery in Manhattan's early history. She takes the example of the African Burial Ground to introduce discussion of the meanings and limits of diasporic belonging. She suggests that the history of Blacks in colonial and contemporary New York should be made more accessible to...


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pp. 316-317
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