Faculty Books

Crumpled Paper Boat cover

Crumpled Paper Boat is a book of experimental ventures in ethnographic writing, an exploration of the possibilities of a literary anthropology. These original essays from notable writers in the field blur the boundaries between ethnography and genres such as poetry, fiction, memoir, and cinema. They address topics as diverse as ritual expression in Cuba and madness in a Moroccan city, the HIV epidemic in South Africa and roadkill in suburban America. Essays alternate with methodological reflections on fundamental problems of writerly heritage, craft, and responsibility in anthropology. Crumpled Paper Boat engages writing as a creative process of encounter, a way of making and unmaking worlds, and a material practice no less participatory and dynamic than fieldwork itself. These talented writers show how inventive, appealing, and intellectually adventurous prose can allow us to enter more profoundly into the lives and worlds of others, breaking with conventional notions of representation and subjectivity. They argue that such experimentation is essential to anthropology’s role in the contemporary world, and one of our most powerful means of engaging it.


Civil wars, corporate exploitation, AIDS, and Ebola—but also democracy, burgeoning cities, and unprecedented communication and mobility: the future of Africa has never been more uncertain. Indeed, that future is one of the most complex issues in contemporary anthropology, as evidenced by the incredible wealth of ideas offered in this landmark volume. A consortium comprised of some of the most important scholars of Africa today, this book surveys an intellectual landscape of opposed perspectives in order to think within the contradictions that characterize this central question: Where is Africa headed?

The experts in this book address Africa’s future as it is embedded within various social and cultural forms emerging on the continent today: the reconfiguration of the urban, the efflorescence of signs and wonders and gospels of prosperity, the assorted techniques of legality and illegality, lotteries and Ponzi schemes, apocalyptic visions, a yearning for exile, and many other phenomena. Bringing together social, political, religious, and economic viewpoints, the book reveals not one but multiple prospects for the future of Africa. In doing so, it offers a path breaking model of pluralistic and open-ended thinking and a powerful tool for addressing the vexing uncertainties that underlie so many futures around the world.


Reel World explores what happens to life when everything begins to look and feel like cinema. Drawing on years of fieldwork with Tamil filmmakers, artists, musicians, and craftsmen in the south Indian movie studios of “Kollywood,” Anand Pandian examines how ordinary moments become elements of a cinematic world. With inventive, experimental, and sometimes comical zeal, Pandian pursues the sensory richness of cinematic experience and the adventure of a writing true to these sensations. Thinking with the visceral power of sound and image, his stories also broach deeply philosophical themes such as desire, time, wonder, and imagination. In a spirit devoted to the turbulence and uncertainty of genesis, Reel World brings into focus an ecology of creative process: the many forces, feelings, beings, and things that infuse human endeavors with transformative potential.


Taking a novel approach to the contradictory impulses of violence and care, illness and healing, this book radically shifts the way we think of the interrelations of institutions and experiences in a globalizing world. Living and Dying in the Contemporary World is not just another reader in medical anthropology but a true tour de force—a deep exploration of all that makes life unbearable and yet livable through the labor of ordinary people.

This book comprises forty-four chapters by scholars whose ethnographic and historical work is conducted around the globe, including South Asia, East Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. Bringing together the work of established scholars with the vibrant voices of younger scholars, Living and Dying in the Contemporary World will appeal to anthropologists, sociologists, health scientists, scholars of religion, and all who are curious about how to relate to the rapidly changing institutions and experiences in an ever more connected world.


Affliction inaugurates a novel way of understanding the trajectories of health and disease in the context of poverty. Focusing on low-income neighborhoods in Delhi, it stitches together three different sets of issues.

First, it examines the different trajectories of illness: What are the circumstances under which illness is absorbed within the normal and when does it exceed the normal putting resources, relationships, and even one’s world into jeopardy?

A second set of issues involves how different healers understand their own practices. The astonishing range of practitioners found in the local markets in the poor neighborhoods of Delhi shows how the magical and the technical are knotted together in the therapeutic experience of healers and patients. The book asks: What is expert knowledge? What is it that the practitioner knows and what does the patient know? How are these different forms of knowledge brought together in the clinical encounter, broadly defined? How does this event of everyday life bear the traces of larger policies at the national and global levels?

Finally, the book interrogates the models of disease prevalence and global programming that emphasize surveillance over care and deflect attention away from the specificities of local worlds. Yet the analysis offered retains an openness to different ways of conceptualizing “what is happening” and stimulates a conversation between different disciplinary orientations to health, disease, and poverty.


Mozambique has been hailed as a success story by the international community, which has watched it evolve through a series of violent political upheavals: from colonialism, through socialism, to its current democracy. As Juan Obarrio shows, however, this view neglects a crucial element in Mozambique’s transition to the rule of law: the reestablishment of traditional chieftainship and customs entangled within a history of colonial violence and civil war. Drawing on extensive historical records and ethnographic fieldwork, he examines the role of customary law in Mozambique to ask a larger question: what is the place of law in the neoliberal era, in which the juridical and the economic are deeply intertwined in an ongoing state of structural adjustment?

Having made the transition from a people’s republic to democratic rule in the 1990s, Mozambique offers a fascinating case of postwar reconstruction, economic opening, and transitional justice, one in which the customary has played a central role. Obarrio shows how its sovereignty has met countless ambiguities within the entanglements of local community, nation-state, and international structures. The postcolonial nation-state emerges as a maze of entangled jurisdictions. Ultimately, he looks toward local rituals and relations as producing an emergent kind of citizenship in Africa, which he dubs “customary citizenship,” forming not a vestige of the past but a yet ill-defined political future.


The guiding inspiration of this book is the attraction and distance that mark the relation between anthropology and philosophy. This theme is explored through encounters between individual anthropologists and particular regions of philosophy. Several of the most basic concepts of the discipline—including notions of ethics, politics, temporality, self and other, and the nature of human life—are products of a dialogue, both implicit and explicit, between anthropology and philosophy. These philosophical undercurrents in anthropology also speak to the question of what it is to experience our being in a world marked by radical difference and otherness. In The Ground Between, twelve leading anthropologists offer intimate reflections on the influence of particular philosophers on their way of seeing the world, and on what ethnography has taught them about philosophy. Ethnographies of the mundane and the everyday raise fundamental issues that the contributors grapple with in both their lives and their thinking. With directness and honesty, they relate particular philosophers to matters such as how to respond to the suffering of the other, how concepts arise in the give and take of everyday life, and how to be attuned to the world through the senses. Their essays challenge the idea that philosophy is solely the province of professional philosophers, and suggest that certain modalities of being in the world might be construed as ways of doing philosophy.


Ayya’s Accounts explores the life of an ordinary man―orphan, refugee, shopkeeper, and grandfather―during a century of tremendous hope and upheaval. Born in colonial India into a despised caste of former tree climbers, Ayya lost his mother as a child and came of age in a small town in lowland Burma. Forced to flee at the outbreak of World War II, he made a treacherous 1,700-mile journey by foot, boat, bullock cart, and rail back to southern India. Becoming a successful fruit merchant, Ayya educated and eventually settled many of his descendants in the United States. Luck, nerve, subterfuge, and sorrow all have their place along the precarious route of his advancement. Emerging out of tales told to his American grandson, Ayya’s Accounts embodies a simple faith―that the story of a place as large and complex as modern India can be told through the life of a single individual.


When Subramaniyapuram was released in 2008, it cut through the ostentatious glitz of mainstream Indian cinema like a machete. A tale of friendship, betrayal, love and revenge set in Madurai in the early 1980s, the film pioneered a new, gritty aesthetic in Tamil movies that caught the attention of film lovers around the world. Made on a tiny budget by a first-time director and a cast of newcomers, Subramaniyapuram was a smash hit with audiences all over South India—from the big cities to the villages—and has been cited as a major influence by some of India’s most respected filmmakers.

This edition includes:

  • A gripping English translation of the screenplay
  • Galleries of full-colour film stills and poster
  • Never-before-seen photos from the shooting of the film
  • Essays by Preminda Jacob, Constantine Nakassis, Anand Pandian, and Baradwaj Rangan on the film’s cinematic context and social impact
  • A wide-ranging interview with the director M. Sasikumar on the process of making the film and its historical and cultural significance

Includes a selection of contemporary photographic work by Luna Maran and Ana Santos which formed part of the photographic exposition De frente al perfil, held at the Centro Fotografico Alvarez Bravo, Dec. 2008–Feb. 2009.


Chile is widely known as the first experiment in neoliberalism in Latin America, carried out and made possible through state violence. Since the beginning of the transition in 1990, the state has pursued a national project of reconciliation construed as debts owed to the population. The state owed a “social debt” to the poor accrued through inequalities generated by economic liberalization, while society owed a “moral debt” to the victims of human rights violations. Life in Debt invites us into lives and world of a poor urban neighborhood in Santiago. Tracing relations and lives between 1999 and 2010, Clara Han explores how the moral and political subjects imagined and asserted by poverty and mental health policies and reparations for human rights violations are refracted through relational modes and their boundaries. Attending to intimate scenes and neighborhood life, Han reveals the force of relations in the making of selves in a world in which unstable work patterns, illness, and pervasive economic indebtedness are aspects of everyday life. Lucidly written, Life in Debt provides a unique meditation on both the past inhabiting actual life conditions but also on the difficulties of obligation and achievements of responsiveness.


In Muslim Becoming, Naveeda Khan challenges the claim that Pakistan’s relation to Islam is fragmented and problematic. Offering a radically different interpretation, Khan contends that Pakistan inherited an aspirational, always-becoming Islam, one with an open future and a tendency toward experimentation. For the individual, this aspirational tendency manifests in a continual striving to be a better Muslim. It is grounded in the thought of Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938), the poet, philosopher, and politician considered the spiritual founder of Pakistan. Khan finds that Iqbal provided the philosophical basis for recasting Islam as an open religion with possible futures as yet unrealized, which he did in part through his engagement with the French philosopher Henri Bergson. Drawing on ethnographic research in the neighborhoods and mosques of Lahore and on readings of theological polemics, legal history, and Urdu literature, Khan points to striving throughout Pakistani society: in prayers and theological debates and in the building of mosques, readings of the Qur’an, and the undertaking of religious pilgrimages. At the same time, she emphasizes the streak of skepticism toward the practices of others that accompanies aspiration. She asks us to consider what is involved in affirming aspiration while acknowledging its capacity for violence.


sacred language translation into arabic
  • Translation into Arabic of Sacred Language, Ordinary People, with Arabic preface

  • 2011, National Center for Translation, Ministry of Culture, Egypt
  • Niloofar Haeri, author

Translation into Arabic of Sacred Language, Ordinary People, with Arabic preface. National Center for Translation, Ministry of Culture, Egypt. Elham Eidarous, translator.


Breaking from prevailing conceptions of ethics and morality as matters of moral rule or principle, this volume calls attention to ethical life in South Asia―the moral dispositions at work in lived experience, and the embodied practices of ethical engagement through which such dispositions may be cultivated and shared. Taking up themes such as the transmission of tradition, ethical engagements with modernity, ethical practices of the self, and moral relations between self and others, this volume puts South Asian traditions of ethical life into conversation with the Aristotelian, Christian, and liberal traditions that have been so consequential for ethical life in the West.


Through the essays in this volume, we see how the failure of the state becomes a moment to ruminate on the artificiality of this most modern construct, the failure of nationalism, an opportunity to dream of alternative modes of association, and the failure of sovereignty to consider the threats and possibilities of the realm of foreignness within the nation-state as within the self.

The ambition of this volume is not only to complicate standing representations of Pakistan. It is take Pakistan out of the status of exceptionalism that its multiple crises have endowed upon it. By now, many scholars have written of how exile, migrancy, refugeedom, and other modes of displacement constitute modern subjectivities. The arguments made in the book say that Pakistan is no stranger to this condition of human immigrancy and therefore, can be pressed into service in helping us to understand our present condition.


How do people come to live as they ought to live? Crooked Stalks seeks an answer to this enduring question in diverse practices of cultivation: in the moral horizons of development intervention, in the forms of virtue through which people may work upon their own desires, deeds, and habits, and in the material labors that turn inhabited worlds into environments for both moral and natural growth. Focusing on the colonial subjection and contemporary condition of the Piramalai Kallar caste—classified, condemned, and policed for decades as a “criminal tribe”—Anand Pandian argues that the work of cultivation in all of these senses has been essential to the pursuit of modernity in south India. Colonial engagements with the Kallars in the early twentieth century relied heavily upon agrarian strategies of moral reform, an approach that echoed longstanding imaginations of the rural cultivator as a morally cultivated being in Tamil literary, moral, and religious tradition. These intertwined histories profoundly shape how people of the community struggle with themselves as ethical subjects today.

In vivid, inventive, and engaging prose, Pandian weaves together ethnographic encounters, archival investigations, and elements drawn from Tamil poetry, prose, and popular cinema. Tacking deftly between ploughed soils and plundered orchards, schoolroom lessons and stationhouse registers, household hearths and riverine dams, he reveals moral life in the postcolonial present as a palimpsest of traces inherited from multiple pasts. Pursuing these legacies through the fragmentary play of desire, dream, slander, and counsel, Pandian calls attention not only to the moral potential of ordinary existence, but also to the inescapable force of accident, chance, and failure in the making of ethical lives. Rarely are the moral coordinates of modern power sketched with such intimacy and delicacy.


Comprised of 24 newly commissioned chapters, this defining reference volume on Latin America introduces English-language readers to the debates, traditions, and sensibilities that have shaped the study of this diverse region.


In this powerful, compassionate work, one of anthropology’s most distinguished ethnographers weaves together rich fieldwork with a compelling critical analysis in a book that will surely make a signal contribution to contemporary thinking about violence and how it affects everyday life. Veena Das examines case studies including the extreme violence of the Partition of India in 1947 and the massacre of Sikhs in 1984 after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In a major departure from much anthropological inquiry, Das asks how this violence has entered “the recesses of the ordinary” instead of viewing it as an interruption of life to which we simply bear witness. Das engages with anthropological work on collective violence, rumor, sectarian conflict, new kinship, and state and bureaucracy as she embarks on a wide-ranging exploration of the relations among violence, gender, and subjectivity. Weaving anthropological and philosophical reflections on the ordinary into her analysis, Das points toward a new way of interpreting violence in societies and cultures around the globe. The book will be indispensable reading across disciplinary boundaries as we strive to better understand violence, especially as it is perpetrated against women.


The very form and reach of the modern state are changing radically under the pressure of globalization. Featuring nine of the leading scholars in the field, this innovative exploration of these transformations develops an ethnographic methodology and theoretical apparatus to assess perceptions of power in three regions where state reform and violence have been particularly dramatic: Africa, Latin America, and South Asia. Rather than a geographic border, the term “margin” describes areas far from the centers of state sovereignty in which states are unable to ensure implementation of their programs and policies. Understanding how people perceive and experience the agency of the state; who is of, and not of, the state; and how practices at the margins shape the state itself are central themes.

Drawing on fieldwork in Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Peru, Guatemala, India, Chad, Colombia, and South Africa, the contributors examine official documentary practices and their forms and falsifications; the problems that highly mobile mercenaries, currency, goods, arms, and diamonds pose to the state; emerging non-state regulatory authorities; and the role language plays as cultures struggle to articulate their situation. These case studies provide wide-ranging analyses of the relationship between states and peoples on the edges of state power’s effective reign.


How do race and nature work as terrains of power? From eighteenth-century claims that climate determined character to twentieth-century medical debates about the racial dimensions of genetic disease, concepts of race and nature are integrally connected, woven into notions of body, landscape, and nation. Yet rarely are these complex entanglements explored in relation to the contemporary cultural politics of difference. This volume takes up that challenge. Distinguished contributors chart the traffic between race and nature across sites including rainforests, colonies, and courtrooms.

Synthesizing a number of fields—anthropology, cultural studies, and critical race, feminist, and postcolonial theory—this collection analyzes diverse historical, cultural, and spatial locations. Contributors draw on thinkers such as Fanon, Foucault, and Gramsci to investigate themes ranging from exclusionary notions of whiteness and wilderness in North America to linguistic purity in Germany. Some essayists focus on the racialized violence of imperial rule and evolutionary science and the biopolitics of race and class in the Guatemalan civil war. Others examine how race and nature are fused in biogenetic discourse—in the emergence of “racial diseases” such as sickle cell anemia, in a case of mistaken in vitro fertilization in which a white couple gave birth to a black child, and even in the world of North American dog breeding. Several essays tackle the politics of representation surrounding environmental justice movements, transnational sex tourism, and indigenous struggles for land and resource rights in Indonesia and Brazil.


The cultures and politics of nations around the world may be understood (or misunderstood) in any number of ways. For the Arab world, language is the crucial link for a better understanding of both. Classical Arabic is the official language of all Arab states although it is not spoken as a mother tongue by any group of Arabs. As the language of the Qur’an, it is also considered to be sacred. For more than a century and a half, writers and institutions have been engaged in struggles to modernize Classical Arabic in order to render it into a language of contemporary life. What have been the achievements and failures of such attempts? Can Classical Arabic be sacred and contemporary at one and the same time? This book attempts to answer such questions through an interpretation of the role that language plays in shaping the relations between culture, politics, and religion in Egypt.


The essays in Violence and Subjectivity, written by a distinguished international roster of contributors, consider the ways in which violence shapes subjectivity and acts upon people’s capacity to engage everyday life. Like its predecessor volume, Social Suffering, which explored the different ways social force inflicts harm on individuals and groups, this collection ventures into many areas of ongoing violence, asking how people live with themselves and others when perpetrators, victims, and witnesses all come from the same social space.

From civil wars and ethnic riots to governmental and medical interventions at a more bureaucratic level, the authors address not only those extreme situations guaranteed to occupy precious media minutes but also the more subtle violences of science and state. However particular and circumscribed the site of any fieldwork may be, today’s ethnographer finds local identities and circumstances molded by state and transnational forces, including the media themselves. These authors contest a new political geography that divides the world into “violence-prone areas” and “peaceful areas” and suggest that such descriptions might themselves contribute to violence in the present global context.


Containing Charles Ferguson’s papers on Arabic linguistics, this volume addresses issues of continuing concern in phonology, syntax, historical linguistics, and sociolinguistics. The introduction provides a biographical sketch, including excerpts from interviews with Ferguson in which he discusses his career and dealings with Arabic. A critical overview precedes each of the four sections (Diachronica, Phonology, Register and Genre, and General). This work fills an important gap in the history of linguistics in documenting much of the career and contributions of a formative figure in American linguistics. In addition to updating Ferguson’s articles, the volume preserves Ferguson’s reflections on the events, personalities, relationships, and issues at the time he wrote the articles, as well as on subsequent developments. A unique and fascinating picture of a pioneer linguist.


Through an intensive examination of photographs and engravings from European, Peruvian, and U.S. archives, Deborah Poole explores the role visual images and technologies have played in shaping modern understandings of race. Vision, Race, and Modernity traces the subtle shifts that occurred in European and South American depictions of Andean Indians from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries, and explains how these shifts led to the modern concept of “racial difference.” While Andean peoples were always thought of as different by their European describers, it was not until the early nineteenth century that European artists and scientists became interested in developing a unique visual and typological language for describing their physical features. Poole suggests that this “scientific” or “biological” discourse of race cannot be understood outside a modern visual economy. Although the book specifically documents the depictions of Andean peoples, Poole’s findings apply to the entire colonized world of the nineteenth century.

Poole presents a wide range of images from operas, scientific expeditions, nationalist projects, and picturesque artists that both effectively elucidate her argument and contribute to an impressive history of photography. Vision, Race, and Modernity is a fascinating attempt to study the changing terrain of racial theory as part of a broader reorganization of vision in European society and culture.


Elaborating on the relations between classical and non-classical Arabic, this book is a contribution to Arabic linguistics, sociolinguistics and to studies of the role of gender in variation and change. Classical languages have played crucial roles in the cultural and intellectual life of many societies. While they have virtually disappeared from the linguistic repertoire of some, in others they continued to be a revered norm. In all Arabic-speaking speech communities, classical Arabic is the medium of education and writing, while non-classical varieties dominate the exchanges of daily life. The complex co-existence of these two languages raises many questions. From which Arabic do speakers draw linguistic form for purposes of style shifting? If speakers draw on the resources of both, what sociological and attitudinal factors influence their selections? Detailed analysis of a linguistic innovation of Cairo women of the upper classes confirms the central role played by gender and illustrates that the impasse of sociolinguistic theory with regard to the “linguistic behaviour” of women lies in its treatment of the social meanings of linguistic forms.


An examination of the cultural and historical dimensions of violence in Peru, of how daily forms of violence differ from political violence, and what it means for violence to be an integral part of personal and cultural identity rather than aberrant behaviour.


Since 1980, Peru has been the scene of an escalating civil war. On one side are the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) Maoists determined to destroy existing society. On the other, the Peruvian military, acknowledged as South America’s worst human rights violators. Caught in the middle, and dying in their thousands each year, are the poor peasants and slum-dwellers of Peru. Victims also of a collapsing economy and radical austerity program, the great majority of Peruvians are living a time of fear. This work looks at the astonishing success of Sendero Luminoso, examines the party’s bizarre ideology and describes how its violence reaches every corner of Peruvian society.