Ethnography in Unstable Places

Everyday Lives in Contexts of Dramatic Political Change

Ethnography in Unstable Places

Book Pages: 448 Illustrations: Published: March 2002

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies

Ethnography in Unstable Places is a collection of ethnographic accounts of everyday situations in places undergoing dramatic political transformation. Offering vivid case studies that range from the Middle East and Africa to Europe, Russia, and Southeast Asia, the contributing anthropologists narrate particular circumstances of social and political transformation—in contexts of colonialism, war and its aftermath, social movements, and post–Cold War climates—from the standpoints of ordinary people caught up in and having to cope with the collapse or reconfiguration of the states in which they live.
Using grounded ethnographic detail to explore the challenges to the anthropological imagination that are posed by modern uncertainties, the contributors confront the ambiguities and paradoxes that exist across the spectrum of human cultures and geographies. The collection is framed by introductory and concluding chapters that highlight different dimensions of the book’s interrelated themes—agency and ethnographic reflexivity, identity and ethics, and the inseparability of political economy and interpretivism.
Ethnography in Unstable Places will interest students and specialists in social anthropology, sociology, political science, international relations, and cultural studies.

Contributors. Eve Darian-Smith, Howard J. De Nike, Elizabeth Faier, James M. Freeman, Robert T. Gordon, Carol J. Greenhouse, Nguyen Dinh Huu, Carroll McC. Lewin, Elizabeth Mertz, Philip C. Parnell, Nancy Ries, Judy Rosenthal, Kay B. Warren, Stacia E. Zabusky


“While the essays present widely different interpretations of and encounters with instability and crisis, together they form a thought-provoking and richly detailed group of essays that address some of the most pressing issues in anthropology today.” — Jennifer Shannon, Political and Legal Anthropology Review

"[A] fine volume. . . . [T]his books is well worth reading. . . ." — David Eaton , Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

"[A] pathbreaking collection of essays. . . . One of this volume's greatest strengths is its articulation of a challenge to contemporary ethnography....[T]his is a highly cohesive volume that successfully demonstrates the themes and approaches it explores and promotes. . . . [E]xcellent introductory and concluding pieces by the volume's editors. . . . This volume offers valuable material for teaching legal anthropology, culture, and political economy, and any course dealing with societies in transition. It is surely destined to become an important reference for future work on the ethnography of transnationalism, globalization, and the role of the state in social life." — Susan Cook , American Ethnologist

Ethnography in Unstable Places is a profound exercise in ethnographic reflexivity. It seeks to consider new possibilities, new challenges, new horizons—at once conceptual, political, ethical—for an old anthropological method by taking it precisely where it was not designed to go: into everyday worlds radically transformed by hitherto unimagined
social conditions, unimaginable political circumstances, altered states, economies, subjectivities. Expansive in their scope, provocative in their theoretical implications, even poetic in their treatment of human lives, the essays in this volume show ‘where past has gone, where the future will come from’;the past and future, that is, of both anthropology and the worlds with which it concerns itself.” — John Comaroff, University of Chicago

“Beyond being topical, this groundbreaking collection represents precisely the kind of inquiry that contemporary anthropology should be dedicating itself to—one brave enough to abide, ethnographically and theoretically, in the interstices of knowledge-based and experiential models, in the gaps between individual and collective agency, in realms of historical and cultural contingency.” — Debbora Battaglia, Mount Holyoke College


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Carol J. Greenhouse is Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University.

Elizabeth Mertz is Associate Professor of Law and affiliated faculty in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also Senior Research Fellow for the American Bar Foundation.

Kay B. Warren is Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction: Altered States, Altered Lives / Carol J. Greenhouse

Part One: Law against Culture

Ghettos in the Holocaust: The Improvisation of Social Order in a Culture of Terror / Carroll McC. Lewin

Unsettled Settlers: Internal Pacification and Vagrancy in Namibia / Robert J. Gordon

Judges without Courts: The Legal Culture of German Reunification / Howard J. De Nike

Part Two: Ethnographies of Agency in the Fissures of the State

Ethnography in/of Transnational Processes: Following Gyres in the Worlds of Big Science and European Integration / Stacia E. Zabusky

The Composite State: The Poor and the Nation in Manila / Phillip C. Parnell

Domestic Matters: Feminism and Activism Among Palestinian Women in Israel / Elizabeth Faier

“Best Interests” and the Repatriation of Vietnamese Unaccompanied Minors / James M. Freeman and Nguyen Dinh Huu

Part Three: Resistance and Remembrance

Beating the Bounds: Law, Identity, and Territory in the New Europe / Eve Darian-Smith

“Honest Bandits” and “Warped People”: Russian Narratives about Money, Corruption, and Moral Decay / Nancy Ries

Trance Against the State / Judy Rosenthal

Part Four: Conclusion

The Perfidy of Gaze and the Pain of Uncertainty: Anthropological Theory and the Search for Culture / Elizabeth Mertz

Toward in Anthropology of Fragments, Instabilities, and Incomplete Transitions / Kay B. Warren


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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2848-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2833-9
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