Ethnography At Its Edges

Book review essay series

Privilege by Shamus Khan
Privilege by Shamus Khan

Privilege by Shamus Khan Eric Gable, February 2014, Ethnography at its edges: Introduction to new AE book review essay series, American Ethnologist vol. 41 (issue 2).

ABSTRACT “Ethnography at Its Edges,” a new feature in American Ethnologist, presents review essays that explore the relationship between the use of ethnographic techniques in disciplines other than anthropology and contemporary trends within the discipline. The first two essays look at how anthropology overlaps with and differs from journalism and fiction. •••

Erica Bornstein, February 2014, Stories of poverty in India: An ethnographer reviews Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, American Ethnologist vol. 41 (issue 2).

ABSTRACT Katherine Boo’s work of literary nonfiction, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, is an insightful and tragic account of poverty in India. In this essay, I compare Boo’s book with two books published in the same year, Akhil Gupta’s ethnography Red Tape and Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis, a fictional account, to analyze representations of the poor and marginalized in an economically liberalized and rapidly growing India. While ethnography possesses the explanatory power of social theory, fiction and literary nonfiction relish the tragic consequences of social life that make for good stories. •••

Robert Hayden, February 2014, Self–Othering: Stories about Serbia from externalized Belgrade insiders, American Ethnologist vol. 41 (issue 2).

ABSTRACT If ethnography is a literary form, can fiction also serve its purposes equally well? Comparison of the analyses of Serbian culture in the 1990s in the two scholarly studies and the novel reviewed here brings this question to the fore. The authors are Belgrade natives who left for North America in the 1980s and write in English for an American audience. They are, thus, externalized insiders. All exoticize their native land, reproducing Orientalist images of Serbia common in writings about the Balkans. Despite the literary turn in anthropology, the novelist still conveys the complexities of life in 1990s Serbia better than the more theoretically oriented and self-reflexive scholarly authors. To this reviewer, an American who joined a Belgrade family in the 1980s and is thus an internalized outsider, there is at least as much verisimilitude in the novel’s magical realism as there is in the scholarly analyses of imaginaries. •••

Donna M. Goldstein, August 2014, Toxic uncertainties of a nuclear era: Anthropology, history, memoir, American Ethnologist vol. 41 (issue 3)

ABSTRACT New narratives of toxic contamination are expanding and challenging our ethnographic sensibilities. In confronting the contamination left behind from the Cold War period, a range of disciplinary approaches, methods, and writing styles is necessary. Ethnography plays a crucial role here, but it cannot fly solo in these sorts of projects. In this review essay, I compare three books from authors belonging to distinct scholarly traditions, each one dealing with complicated cases of radioactive contamination that began in the Cold War era and that demand rethinking in the contemporary one. Anthropologists have much to learn from approaches pursued in other disciplines, particularly if the end goal is a more holistic portrait of contamination and toxicity. •••

Richard Handler, August 2014, , American Ethnologist vol. 41 (issue 3).

ABSTRACT Shamus Khan’s Privilege and Christine Walley’s Exit Zero are autobiographically grounded analyses of social class in the United States. Drawing on memory, personal documents, the telling ethnographic incident, and relevant social theory, each brings to light some of the ways that current neoliberal socioeconomic policies constrict people’s life chances.