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Essential sociocultural reading?


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Greetings friends, I'm planning on starting a PhD this upcoming fall and was putting together a reading list, and thought I'd solicit some recommendations. My background isn't actually in anthropology (did my undergrad in political science), though I did a fair amount of coursework in anthro and used a lot in my honors thesis. However, I never underwent the "Anthro101" or equivalent experience, and it's been almost four years since I've done anything remotely academic. I get the sense I'm missing out on a good portion of "The Canon." So what do you guys recommend I bone up on before potentially embarrassing myself in front of my cohort?

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lots of classics in this:

http://www.amazon.co...=dp_ob_title_bk

solid for "boning up on theory":

http://www.amazon.co...29525585&sr=1-1

the link won't work for this last one, but its called Anthropological Theory: An Introductory History (McGee and Warms)...

Edited by anxiousanthro
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http://www.amazon.co...29525585&sr=1-1

the link won't work for this last one, but its called Anthropological Theory: An Introductory History (McGee and Warms)...

Here is another link to this one

http://www.amazon.com/Anthropological-Theory-Introductory-Jon-McGee/dp/0072840463

It's a great and concise book on anthro theory (especially the classics, although has a Bourgois article and Nancy Schepper-Hughes)

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In my undergrad program, Ishmael (Daniel Quinn) and Yanomamo (Napolean Chagnon) were two heavily repeated books/topics. I was assigned to read Ishmael 3 times by different professors, and Yanomamo and its controversies was discussed or referenced in nearly every cultural anthro class.

I doubt this emphasis is the same with all programs, but they might be books worth skimming over before your program starts.

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A sort of 101 list of primary materials would be:

Franz Boas - Language and Culture

Emile Durkheim - Elementary Forms of Religious Life + Rules of Sociological Method + Division of Labor in Society

Weber - The Protestant Ethic + Political Writings + Economy and Society (vol. I if you have time)

Marcel Mauss - The Gift

Malinowski - Argonauts of the Western Pacific

A.R. Radcliffe-Brown - Structure and Function in Primitive Society

EE. Evans Pritchard - African Political Systems + Witchcraft, Oracles, Magic

Edmund Leach - Political Systems of Burma

Raymond Firth - Elements of Social Organization

Ruth Benedict - various

Claude Lévi-Strauss - Structural Anthropology

Maurice Godelier - Perspectives in Marxist Anthropology

Max Gluckman - Order and Rebellion in Tribal Africa

Clifford Geertz- The Interpretation of Cultures

Marshall Sahlins - Culture in Practice

James Clifford and George Marcus - Writing Culture

Besides that, a lot of smaller works should be suggested. What's more, Anthropology's reliance on continental philosophy and social theory make these latter literatures essential reading--i.e. Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, Bourdieu. I've left out Queer and Feminist critiques, the contributions of semiotic perspectives, the contemporary basically, but it all depends on the sub-area you're working in and what faculties you're working with.

Good Luck!

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In my undergrad program, Ishmael (Daniel Quinn) and Yanomamo (Napolean Chagnon) were two heavily repeated books/topics. I was assigned to read Ishmael 3 times by different professors, and Yanomamo and its controversies was discussed or referenced in nearly every cultural anthro class.

I doubt this emphasis is the same with all programs, but they might be books worth skimming over before your program starts.

That's really interesting that you were assigned those books. I've never heard of Ishmael and only read the Yanomami in community college once.

This list gets a lot of the heavy-hitting work done in the last 100 years:

http://www.architectonictokyo.com/architokyo/100_of_the_Most_Influential_Ethnographies_and_Anthropology_Texts.html

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A sort of 101 list of primary materials would be: Franz Boas - Language and Culture Emile Durkheim - Elementary Forms of Religious Life + Rules of Sociological Method + Division of Labor in Society Weber - The Protestant Ethic + Political Writings + Economy and Society (vol. I if you have time) Marcel Mauss - The Gift Malinowski - Argonauts of the Western Pacific A.R. Radcliffe-Brown - Structure and Function in Primitive Society EE. Evans Pritchard - African Political Systems + Witchcraft, Oracles, Magic Edmund Leach - Political Systems of Burma Raymond Firth - Elements of Social Organization Ruth Benedict - various Claude Lévi-Strauss - Structural Anthropology Maurice Godelier - Perspectives in Marxist Anthropology Max Gluckman - Order and Rebellion in Tribal Africa Clifford Geertz- The Interpretation of Cultures Marshall Sahlins - Culture in Practice James Clifford and George Marcus - Writing Culture Besides that, a lot of smaller works should be suggested. What's more, Anthropology's reliance on continental philosophy and social theory make these latter literatures essential reading--i.e. Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, Bourdieu. I've left out Queer and Feminist critiques, the contributions of semiotic perspectives, the contemporary basically, but it all depends on the sub-area you're working in and what faculties you're working with. Good Luck!

wow I just stumbled on this list - curious where to start as I feel I should read it all! Just out of interest - The Pritchard book - how is that?

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I'm not in anthropology anymore but, here are things I think of when I think of anthropology.

The classics:

Orientalism by Edward Said

The Interpretation of Cultures by Clifford Geertz (also Kinship in Bali)

Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande by E. E. Evans-Pritchard

The Location of Culture by Homi K. Bhabha

Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson

Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon

Anything by the Comaroffs

Modern ethnographies (maybe not essential, but good, with a bit of a Latin American focus because that's where my interest is, sorry):

Conservation Is Our Government Now by Paige West

Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street by Karen Ho

This Land is Ours Now by Wendy Wolford

Black and Green by Kiran Asher

Territories of Difference by Arturo Escobar

Understories by Jake Kosek

Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection by Anna Tsing

Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subways of New York by Susan Tanenbaum

Global Shadows by James Ferguson

I might be able to recommend more, depending on your area of interest.

Edited by msafiri
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Not quite what you're asking for, but my standard advice to people who are looking for reading recs as they prepare to start school is to read at least a few books/articles written by your future profs. You will start to get a feel for how they write, how they think, and what they think are the important topics and debates in anthropology. Best of luck to you!

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I'm not in anthropology anymore but, here are things I think of when I think of anthropology.

The classics:

Orientalism by Edward Said

The Interpretation of Cultures by Clifford Geertz (also Kinship in Bali)

Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande by E. E. Evans-Pritchard

The Location of Culture by Homi K. Bhabha

Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson

Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon

Anything by the Comaroffs

Modern ethnographies (maybe not essential, but good, with a bit of a Latin American focus because that's where my interest is, sorry):

Conservation Is Our Government Now by Paige West

Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street by Karen Ho

This Land is Ours Now by Wendy Wolford

Black and Green by Kiran Asher

Territories of Difference by Arturo Escobar

Understories by Jake Kosek

Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection by Anna Tsing

Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subways of New York by Susan Tanenbaum

Global Shadows by James Ferguson

I might be able to recommend more, depending on your area of interest.

Just to throw in a different perspective, Said, Bhaba, Fanon, and Anderson are not anthropologists, and did not write books to contribute to the discipline of anthropology. Said and Anderson find their way into anthropology in very important ways however, and to a lesser extent the discipline is in conversation with Bhaba and Fanon, but I wouldn't start with these authors as signposts for anthropology.

As someone who has completed an MA in anthro, in the list of ethnographies, I can only recognize those by Tsing, Ho, and Ferguson, not to say the others aren't good, but they don't have the same cachet.

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Right so there are a lot of approaches to the literature, any one of which would have its emphases and exclusions. I find it perennially useful and intellectually satisfying to see the discipline from the longue durée, particularly since the problems of theory and method that now absorb it are nested in its curious history. My list went no further than the 80s because things after that, from our perspective, haven't yet cemented too neatly--stuff becomes confused, and a series of new critiques (post-modern, feminist, queer, post-colonial, to name the bigger ones) splinter the discipline. Certain theoretical markers crop up with great frequency, and a taste for Parisian theorists takes hold in a big way. Contemporary ethnographies are a special literature, and there's a lot of dispute about what makes a good ethnography. Meanwhile, the journal literature is strange and hermetic, and has entirely different standards to follow and agendas to advance. Personally, then, I would shy from reading too many contemporary ethnographies and articles, save for in your chosen sub-field, in which case the recommendation would have to be rather personal.

What do you plan to work on, "wheninhell"?

"Frozenroses," the latter Pritchard book on magic is perhaps most interesting. If you do read it, do consult secondary sources about it to put the work in the colonial context from which it emerged.

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Marvin Harris' History of Anthropological Theory is a good "classic" to give you an overview of all the major theoretical movements from the "very beginning" - then you can look up other names..

Also for a shorter reading Sherry Ortner's Anthropological Theory since the Sixties (or something like that) is a good read to bring you from the 60s to the 80s..

It's on PDF in Jstor and its only 42 pages.

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+1 on Geertz! I've used him a million times!

Also, something by Margaret Mead.

Stigma by Irving Goffman -- it's a quick read but very accessable and incrediably useful! :)

I'd also look at "The Spirit Catches you and You Fall Down" and "Nissa, the story of a !Kung woman" (or those approcximate titles) as a couple of good (but different) ethnographies.

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Just to throw in a different perspective, Said, Bhaba, Fanon, and Anderson are not anthropologists, and did not write books to contribute to the discipline of anthropology. Said and Anderson find their way into anthropology in very important ways however, and to a lesser extent the discipline is in conversation with Bhaba and Fanon, but I wouldn't start with these authors as signposts for anthropology.

While they aren't anthropologists, they have had a great deal of influence on the work of anthropologists for the past 30-40 years. Reading them helps put many contemporary ethnographies into an appropriate context and helps one understand the changes in how anthropology has been practiced and ethnographies have been written over the past 75 years.

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Oh - This was super helpful for me - it's not comprehensive but it does provide good background info ie. when you forget what an agnate is and just need to know so you can move on in the reading: The Dictionary of Anthropology - Thomas Barfield

Here is the description on Amazon: Edited by Barfield (chair, anthropology, Boston Univ.), who called on some 125 anthropologists to provide both historical and contemporary definitions of anthropological terms, this dictionary is yet another in a recent spate of anthropology reference tools. Coverage is broad, touching on key concepts, theories, methodologies, and ethnographic and thematic research, though definitions for any religious traditions are lacking. While entries vary in length and depth, many short entries are enhanced with cross references, and there is a cumulative bibliography. With more than 500 entries, including 42 biographies, this dictionary invites comparison with the Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology (LJ 2/1/97), which has 231 subject entries, 238 short and five long biographies, and a 600-term glossary. The encyclopedia, whose entries are expansive, provides meatier discussions and, with the inclusion of the glossary, serves as a dictionary as well. It emphasizes and treats some concepts somewhat differently, covering major religious traditions, geographical areas, and regional anthropological traditions, while entries for such subjects as poverty and social Darwinism are found only in the dictionary. The encyclopedia has far more biographies, but the treatments in the dictionary are fairly substantial. Both provide minimal coverage of archaeology and biological and linguistic anthropology.

Edited by anthroDork
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Beyond the Body Proper- is a personal favorite as a reader about embodiment, but it isn't really a "classic". It would familiarize you with anthropological thought, but ground you in theory... um, no.

Some Foucault perhaps- though he is not an anthro everyone cites his work. (along with Marx, Weber, and Freud)

Bear in mind that, most likely, you will not be the only person in your program who does not have an anthro background. You will gain a solid foundation in the first two years. I think it is a better idea to just read stuff that interests you and then take a look at what sources they have used and read some of those works. Anthropology is a holistic discipline, which is why you can read a lot fo material outside the confines of the discipline and it will still be entirely relevent.

Good luck in your studies!

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I hear you, but my advice is...Don't read anything. Relax. You'll knock back the usual suspects soon enough with your professors and cohort. (I never took an anthropology class before I started my PhD.)

Actually, reading ahead might help. I mentioned to one of my POI at the interview that I was planning on reading a lot over the summer before the Fall semester and he agreed and thought this was a great idea. Then he offered to help me make my reading list. Reading ahead could really help with the qualifying exams once they roll around...

Edited by anthroDork
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I hear you, but my advice is...Don't read anything. Relax. You'll knock back the usual suspects soon enough with your professors and cohort. (I never took an anthropology class before I started my PhD.)

Actually, reading ahead might help. I mentioned to one of my POI at the interview that I was planning on reading a lot over the summer before the Fall semester and he agreed and thought this was a great idea. Then he offered to help me make my reading list. Reading ahead could really help with the qualifying exams once they roll around...

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Right so there are a lot of approaches to the literature, any one of which would have its emphases and exclusions. I find it perennially useful and intellectually satisfying to see the discipline from the longue durée, particularly since the problems of theory and method that now absorb it are nested in its curious history. My list went no further than the 80s because things after that, from our perspective, haven't yet cemented too neatly--stuff becomes confused, and a series of new critiques (post-modern, feminist, queer, post-colonial, to name the bigger ones) splinter the discipline. Certain theoretical markers crop up with great frequency, and a taste for Parisian theorists takes hold in a big way. Contemporary ethnographies are a special literature, and there's a lot of dispute about what makes a good ethnography. Meanwhile, the journal literature is strange and hermetic, and has entirely different standards to follow and agendas to advance. Personally, then, I would shy from reading too many contemporary ethnographies and articles, save for in your chosen sub-field, in which case the recommendation would have to be rather personal.

What do you plan to work on, "wheninhell"?

"Frozenroses," the latter Pritchard book on magic is perhaps most interesting. If you do read it, do consult secondary sources about it to put the work in the colonial context from which it emerged.

Thanks for your recommendations, everyone!

latamedant, I'm planning on focusing on legal anthropology (specifically, comparative notions of justice in China and the US). I have the Blackwell Legal Anthropology reader, which I've been paging my way through. But I have a whole summers-worth of unemployment to look forward to (FREEEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOOM!!!), and need to get my head back in the academic game.

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wheninhell, since you mentioned legal anthro: I'm in a legal anthro seminar this semester, and here's our reading list:

- Sally Engle Merry. 1990. Getting Justice and Getting Even: Legal consciousness among working-class Americans.

- Lawrence Rosen. 2008. Law as Culture: An Invitation.

- Susan Hirsch. 1998. Pronouncing and Persevering: Gender and the discourses of disputing in an African Islamic court.

- Michelle Alexander. 2010. The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness.

- Mark West. 2005. Law in Everyday Japan: Sex, Sumo, Suicide, and Statutes.

- Sally Engle Merry. 2006. Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating international law into local justice.

- Nicholas Dirks. 2001. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the making of modern India.

- Michael Brown. 2004. Who Owns Native Culture?

- Michael Herzfeld. 1993. The Social Production of Indifference: Exploring the symbolic roots of Western bureaucracy.

- Annelise Riles. 2011. Collateral Knowledge: Legal reasoning in the global financial markets.

- Kamari Clarke. 2009. Fictions of Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Challenge of Legal Pluralism in Sub-Saharan Africa.

- Ugo Mattei and Laura Nader. 2008. Plunder: When the rule of law is illegal.

I listed them in the order that we're reading them. Hope you find something interesting/helpful for you! Best of luck.

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  • 1 month later...

So glad I found this thread.

I am preparing myself for a second take this year. Not having much anthropology background with me (only three graduate courses so far), I need to read a lot.

My interest is in semiotics, religion, feminism, psychology in particular.

Could anybody kindly suggest any important books in these fields?

Thank you a bunch! :)

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  • 2 months later...

More for legal anthro:

-- Anything by Carol Greenhouse!

-- Larry Rosen: Lawrence Rosen is both an anthropologist and a lawyer. His main interests are in the relation between cultural concepts and their implementation in social and legal relationships. His main fieldwork has been in North Africa; he has also worked as an attorney on a number of American Indian legal cases. His publications include Law as Culture: An Invitation, The American Indian and the Law (editor), Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society (co-author), Bargaining for Reality: The Construction of Social Relations in a Muslim Community, The Anthropology of Justice: Law as Culture in Muslim Society, and Other Intentions: Cultural Contexts and the Attribution of Inner States (editor).

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Beyond the Body Proper- is a personal favorite as a reader about embodiment, but it isn't really a "classic". It would familiarize you with anthropological thought, but ground you in theory... um, no.

Some Foucault perhaps- though he is not an anthro everyone cites his work. (along with Marx, Weber, and Freud)

Bear in mind that, most likely, you will not be the only person in your program who does not have an anthro background. You will gain a solid foundation in the first two years. I think it is a better idea to just read stuff that interests you and then take a look at what sources they have used and read some of those works. Anthropology is a holistic discipline, which is why you can read a lot fo material outside the confines of the discipline and it will still be entirely relevent.

Good luck in your studies!

Hi! I have not any anthro at all I like the idea of reading what interests me rather than start course work. But I how do I prepare a research proposal/statement of purpose without reading up on the subject. will it be OK for me to say something on the lines of.....this is how I got interested in anthro and this is the broadly the area that I want to work on though I have no prior experience in this field...?

Thanks,

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I hear you, but my advice is...Don't read anything. Relax. You'll knock back the usual suspects soon enough with your professors and cohort. (I never took an anthropology class before I started my PhD.)

I am so glad I came across this post!

I have never done an anthro class but I must prepare a statement of purpose and how do I do that without reading some important work.

Is it enough to say that I have the ability to learn as shown in my GRE scores and the enthusiasm for the topic I choose?

Thanks

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