Archive for August, 2011

Chicano Studies, 1970-1984
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 14: 405-427 (Volume publication date October 1985)
R Rosaldo
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

Renato Rosaldo summarizes Paredes’ critique of some early Chicano studies stating that ethnographic errors included “mistranslations, failing to see double meanings in speech, taking literally what people meant figuratively and taking seriously what people meant as a joke.” These types of mistakes aren’t surprising given how little time some anthropologists spend in the field with the people they are studying. I have been repeatedly taken aback by the authority and weight given to some anthropological studies that result from seemingly little time spent with the culture and with the language.

I also wonder at the lack of interest in native critiques and self-evaluations. Sometimes it seems as though anthropologists and other social scientists do not believe that the locals participate in any valuable self-examinations or examinations of the particulars of their cultures. In the previous review having to do with ritual, native critiques of a particular ritual were not readily shared with outsiders and there was an assumption that such critiques didn’t exist. It’s nice to see more participation in studies by in-group members who have advanced degrees in anthropology and an increase in attention being paid to the critiques of “regular” people — Rosaldo wrote of this happening more with studies of Chicanos.

In a section titled “The Coming Generation,” Rosaldo wrote that “writings on Chicanos will be significantly shaped by four scholars in their late 30s and early 40s.” Here are some quick links for these scholars mentioned in this review from 1985:

Jose Cuellar

San Francisco State Faculty Page
Bio at
City College of San Francisco Rate My Professor
San Francisco State University Rate My Professor

Carlos Velez-Ibanez
Faculty Page at UC Riverside
Faculty Page at Arizona State University
University of Arizona Rate My Professor
UC Riverside Rate My Professor

Miriam Wells
UC Davis Faculty Page
UC Davis Rate My Professor

Jose Limon
University of Notre Dame Faculty Page

It has been a busy day and it’s now late, so I will leave you with that.

Until next time,


Ritual As Communication: Order, Meaning, and Secrecy in Melanesian Initiation Rites
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 13: 143-155 (Volume publication date October 1984)
Roy Wagner
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dear, sweet Simone,

This article wasn’t what I expected from the title — it was more and better. In a few pages Wagner touches upon a wide ranges of issues, concerns and questions — various theoretical perspectives, problems with definitions, concerns about information from informants, sufficiency of fieldwork, science in anthropology, and on and on. He introduces a lot of players and their critiques of one another and those who came before. I will have to return to this article and take written notes. I found it difficult to keep the players and ideas straight with just a read.

One of the more exciting things that came out of reading this article was discovering a series of interviews, many of them of anthropologists, on YouTube by user Ayabaya.

I’ve listened to the first part of an interview with Roy Wagner.
Here the link to the second part of that interview.
I also noticed that there is an interview with Fredrik Barth, whom Wagner mentions prominently in his discussion of ritual as communication.

I enjoy hearing stories of how people made their way to the study of anthropology, and I’m excited to view more of these interviews and get a feel for how anthropologists talk and use words and the the types of things they talk about. Wagner asserts that anthropologists love to hear themselves talk. Look at him, he says.

The thing that stuck out to me most in the first half of the interview was Wagner saying that the fact that his high school English teacher required students to stand up and explain what was being communicated in various Shakespearean passages really helped his development in the “art of explanation in anthropology.” He says that explanation is much more important than theory.

I enjoy theory and have some understanding of the usefulness and necessity of it, but I don’t see the necessity for a belief that theory represents some definite and real underlying truth such that it is the be all, end all… particularly in a field such as anthropology.

Warm thoughts,



Mayan Linguistics: Where Are We Now?
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 14: 187-198 (Volume publication date October 1985)
L Campbell, and T Kaufman
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

Over the weekend I met someone whose response to his encounters with linguistics was to start work on creating his own language. On the other hand, my encounters generally leave me unendingly hopeless as to being able to say anything to anybody about anything. I once met someone of like mind with whom I had vocal interactions that consisted of primal, emotion-filled sound utterances back and forth and overlapping; this seemed as genuinely communicative as any formal language. I wonder sometimes about primal interactions using a very unfamiliar language with sounds not normally encountered in the native language in which the interlocutors choose words based on sound, shape and feel — and then looking at the translations as an exercise in making real and imagined connections.

All that was to say that I had language thoughts on my mind when choosing a review this week. Reading articles published before the internet explosion makes me wonder whether the availability of information on the internet has impacted the way scholarly articles are written. Knowing that I can turn to the internet certainly widens the spectrum of articles that I choose to read. My eyes glazed over during parts of this article. Some of the vocabulary wasn’t familiar and being a relatively short article the in-text explanations were mostly bare. When the authors wrote that Proto-Mayan was an ergative language, there was enough of an explanation to get the gist, but it’s nice to be able to turn to the internet to fill in the holes.

I was happy to be reminded of how linguistics can help create a fuller picture of prehistory. The authors write of how reconstructed vocabulary can show speakers of a language to have been highly skilled in an area like agriculture. We talk about what we know and we create finely tuned and specialized vocabulary for the things we know well. Neat.

Yours always,

The Pattern of Human Evolution: Studies on Bipedalism, Mastication, and Encephalization
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 11: 151-173 (Volume publication date October 1982)
H M McHenry
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

I can see why students love Henry McHenry. He strikes a good balance with the subject matter in that his writing is not too dense, and yet it’s not dumbed down either (well, at least as far as I can tell); and the summary was quite helpful.

During his discussion of bipedalism, McHenry writes that critical evaluation is necessary concerning the most influential ideas in evolution of hominid bipedalism because they are the ones that get into textbooks and influence general theories on human evolution. Seeing that this review was published in 1982, I was curious as to how discussions of this topic in the article compared with discussion in some of my more recent textbooks. McHerny spends a relatively large amount of ink (almost a whole page of just a 14-page review) putting forth the view that Owen Lovejoy’s theory that bipedalism arose as a result of monogamous males provisioning for their home-bound mates and dependent infants would be rejected by most anthropologists, ecologist, or primatologists familiar with mammalian and human mating systems. In a couple textbooks published more than 20 years later, there is a similar coverage and attitude about Lovejoy’s theory in this area… there is the notion that it has to be discussed especially and despite being mostly rejected according to the writers. What keeps such theories alive such that they require special treatment despite being mostly rejected and not seemingly useful? (Are there other parts of Lovejoy’s writing on the subject that are considered more helpful? Is it only anthropologists, ecologists and primatologists who reject Lovejoy, but other disciplines embrace him?)

Wikipedia page on Bipedalism
Henry McHenry’s Wikipedia page
A page at UC Davis with links to published works by McHenry

Yours truly,

Anthropology and Alcohol Studies: Current Issues
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 16: 99-120 (Volume publication date October 1987)
Dwight B. Heath
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

Dwight Heath writes that unlike many fields that only study alcohol use in the context of alcoholism, anthropologists tend to “deal with alcohol as it is used in the normal course of workaday affairs integral communities.” He also writes that “… alcohol use – like kinship, religion, or sexual division of labor – can provide a useful window on the linkages among many kinds of belief and behavior.”

I often feel left out of conversations as well as some sense of shared cultural experience because I’ve never been much of a drinker and I’ve never been drunk. Since leaving my little Mississippi hamlet, I haven’t found myself in the company of as many non-drinkers (who never drank). The fact that I’ve never built up much of a tolerance for alcohol and that I don’t have even one funny, drunken story to share has left me feeling on the outs many times. When I was studying law in England it seemed many of the larger firms had a pub on the premises and there was an expectation that employees would spend time there. Although Heath writes with high praise regarding Alcoholics Anonymous, the organization was not considered so positively in England. The idea that the answer to excessively drinking was to stop drinking altogether seemed heretical in that culture which meant that in a work situation, feigning alcoholism as an explanation of not joining in on a round of drinks was not going to work. I’ve never used that tactic, but sometimes in the States it seems that people would find it much easier swallow alcoholism as a reason for not drinking than they do that I just never took to it.

Growing up in the Mississippi Delta, there seemed to be an expectation that white teenagers would go through a period of drinking to excess with their friends (male and female). Heath writes that some field studies reveal that kin and others treat short-term excessive drinking as an integral part of the developmental cycle in the lives of young men. There wasn’t that same sense that excessive drinking was a rite of passage in the black community although some black teens did drink. Also, it may have been that excessive drinking as a rite of passage occurred at a later age in the black community in there. I encountered a lot more young, black drinkers in college than in high school.

I wonder whether I should just manufacture one wild, drinking story. I was designated driver enough times to be able to flesh out some realistic scenarios. Would people be able to tell there was something off about my story or my tone in telling it? I’ll have to pay closer attention when people talk about drinking.

With sweet affection,