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Anthropology and Literary Engagments: Crossing Borders of Academica and Creative Writing

Will you be attending this session? Check it out:

Sponsored By:AAA Executive Program Committee

Friday, November 16, 2012: 1:45 PM-5:30 PM
Continental 8 (Hilton San Francisco)
On an upsurge since the 1980s “Writing Culture” debate, the anthropology of literature and writing has a long history of border crossings. It involves the role of literature and literary texts in anthropology, and it is concerned with writing as process and form. There is a sense that the writing of fiction, poetry, and drama can offer elements and passages of an ethnographic nature, which in turn speaks to the idea of the writer as ethnographer. The same may be said of literary translations of works by indigenous authors. Literary works of all kinds are frequently included as a particular kind of data in anthropological research, also by anthropologists who do not otherwise take a special interest in literature. Many anthropologists seek out works set in their fieldsite areas by local writers or performers of oral literature, in order to gain further insights into cultural values and social circumstances that are the topics of their research. Such works are also used in teaching and appear on reading lists in general anthropology courses, even in graduate-level seminars. At the same time, inspired by the richness of their ethnography, anthropologists write novels, short stories, creative nonfiction (a genre that is now a staple of most MFA programs in creative writing), poems, memoirs, and detective stories–genres that offer opportunities to tell previously untold stories from the field. To hone and teach skills in these various genres, courses on experimental writing, ethnographic writing, anthropological writing genres, literary translation, even creative writing are now taught by anthropologists. No doubt the “experimental turn” in anthropological writing is influenced by the style and structure of fiction, as well as by poetry, plays, performance and installation art–and, the technology of new media (including the ubiquitous blogging and online “social media”), as well as by indigenous productions. A number of prominent contemporary writers had some anthropological training, but left the academy for careers in fiction (e.g., Amitav Ghosh, Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut), science fiction (Ursula K. LeGuin), poetry (e.g., Gary Snyder, Octavio Paz, Nathaniel Tarn), screenwriting (George Lucas, Joan Campion), or songwriting (e.g. Mick Jagger, Tracy Chapman). Increasingly, literary and reading communities are the objects of study by anthropologists. This panel brings together papers discussing the engagement of anthropology with a variety of literary texts and authors. How can such encounters contribute theoretically to anthropology? What does the crossing of conventional borders between anthropology and literature entail for anthropology’s relationship with other academic disciplines, and for its reach to a wider audience?

This session would be of particular interest to:Those involved in mentoring activities, Students, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Practicing and Applied Anthropologists

Organizers: Helena Wulff (Stockholm University and Stockholm University) and Alma Gottlieb (Universtiy of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Chairs: Helena Wulff (Stockholm University and Stockholm University)
Discussants: Michael Herzfeld (Harvard University) and James W Fernandez PhD (University of Chicago)
1:45 PM The Story of Yaya’s Story Paul Stoller (West Chester University)
2:15 PM The Face of Ethnography In Literary Mirrors: Learning From Anton Chekhov Kirin Narayan (Universtiy of Wisconsin Madison)
2:30 PM On Timely Appearances: Anthropology In Dialogue with Literature and Art Mattias Viktorin (Stockholm University)
2:45 PM Gonzo Ethnography Barbara Tedlock (State University of New York at Buffalo and State University of New York at Buffalo)
3:00 PM Discussant James W Fernandez PhD (University of Chicago)
3:15 PM Discussion
3:30 PM Break
4:00 PM Crossing (Writing) Borders: Collaborating with a Guy Who Lives and Breathes Narrative Alma Gottlieb (Universtiy of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
4:15 PM Crossing Borders: The Ethnography of the Inner Life Philip Graham (Universtiy of Illinois)
4:30 PM Who Do We Write for Now? Ruth Behar (University of Michigan and Department of Anthropology)
4:45 PM Literary Senses: Negotiating the Border Between Contemporary Irish Fiction and Academic Writing Helena Wulff (Stockholm University and Stockholm University)
5:00 PM Discussant Michael Herzfeld (Harvard University)
5:15 PM Discussion

Care for Light Tea in Pennsylvania?

AAA Member, Paul Stoller, regularly writes editorials for the Huffington Post. In Stoller’s recent post, he draws attention to the quiet yet concerning issues that plague the Pennsylvania state-owned university system. Below is a excerpt of the published piece; click here for the complete article.

Governors like the ghoulish Rick Scott of Florida, or the sleepy-eyed Scott Walker of Wisconsin, have gotten a great deal of media attention for short-sighted, ideologically-driven policies that have undermined the quality of life for the citizens of those states. Education budgets have been cut, teachers, police and fire fighters have been laid off, and local services have been pared down. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker’s union busting agenda has sparked a grassroots movement to recall him as well as his lieutenant governor.

The high profiles and radical “Heavy Tea” policies of Scott and Walker have, indeed, provoked a large measure of “buyer’s remorse” and political resistance. Pennsylvania’s recently elected governor, Tom Corbett, seems to maintain a much lower profile than his counterparts in Florida and Wisconsin. His agenda, though, is pretty much the same as his publicity-seeking colleagues in the South and Midwest — cut spending to reduce budget deficits, avoid raising taxes, and grant businesses incentives — including tax incentives — to trigger job growth, none which has seemed to induce past or present economic prosperity in Florida, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania. Indeed, Governor Corbett’s proposed budget is a particular noxious pot of Light Tea that will be difficult, if not impossible for most Pennsylvanians to swallow.

The dangers of such Light Tea is that at first it seems rather bland and doesn’t call much attention to itself, which means that people may little or no attention to its ultimate noxiousness. If you pay a bit attention to Governor Corbett’s proposed budget brew, you quickly see that he thinks that education, especially higher education, is expendable. In his 2011-12 budget and his budget freeze, Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities lost more than $112 million in Harrisburg funding. Put together, Governor Corbett’s proposed budget, if passed without revision, would mean that the state university system will have lost $175 million in funds since his 2010 inauguration.

Read the complete article here.

AAA Member in the News

Paul Stoller, AAA member, is an anthropology professor at West Chester University. He regularly brings anthropology to the forefront by blogging for the Huffington Post. Dr. Stoller’s most recent post is about how his anthropological experiences have challenged him to manage his cancer diagnosis. Below are snippets from his post. Visit the blog for the complete story. Thank you Paul!

Photo courtesy of West Chester University

It was 10 years ago today that I was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells…I was informed that although follicular lymphoma — the most common sub-type of non-Hodgkins lymphoma — responds well to treatment, it remains incurable.

In one day my world was turned upside down. Until my diagnosis, I thought little about illness, and less still about my mortality. For years I had followed a healthful regimen. I ate lots of fresh vegetables, consumed only small amounts of red meat, drank moderate amounts of alcohol, exercised regularly and enjoyed a satisfying personal and professional life. I was not a prime candidate for cancer. And yet there I was, in a cold and sterile examination room — a relatively young man with an incurable disease. My life would never be the same.

After nine months of treatment, CT spans indicated that I was in remission — a strange place to be. In remission, you are — for the most part — free of symptoms, but you are not “cured.” Somewhere between sickness and health, you are told to come back every six months for CT scans to determine if you have remained cancer-free — or not…In remission, you get to be like a defendant in court, waiting for what seems like a life or death verdict — not an easy place to be.

There is, of course, no perfect way for cancer patients to deal with such existential upheaval. Some people in remission become more religious. Others may change their occupations, learn a new language, take up a new hobby or decide to travel more frequently. Because I’m an anthropologist, I attempted to cope with remission’s uncertainties by revisiting my experiences as a young researcher in West Africa, where I spent many years as an apprentice to a traditional healer. That process eventually resulted in a book about my confrontation with cancer, “Stranger in the Village of the Sick: A Memoir of Cancer, Sorcery and Healing,” in which I wrote about how West African ideas about illness and health helped me to confront cancer and cope with living in the sometimes confusing and always nebulous state between sickness and health — between what I like to call the village of the healthy and the village of the sick.

Read more…

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