Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: Published: October 2007

Author: Michael Jackson

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, General Interest > Travel, Religious Studies

A village in Sierra Leone. A refugee trail over the Pyrenees in French Catalonia. A historic copper mine in Sweden. The Shuf mountains in Lebanon. The Swiss Alps. The heart of the West African diaspora in southeast London. The anthropologist Michael Jackson makes his sojourns to each of these far-flung locations, and to his native New Zealand, occasions for exploring the contradictions and predicaments of social existence. He calls his explorations “excursions” not only because each involved breaking with settled routines and certainties, but because the image of an excursion suggests that thought is always on the way, the thinker a journeyman whose views are perpetually tested by encounters with others. Throughout Excursions, Jackson emphasizes the need for preconceptions and conventional mindsets to be replaced by the kind of open-minded critical engagement with the world that is the hallmark of cultural anthropology.

Focusing on the struggles and quandaries of everyday life, Jackson touches on matters at the core of anthropology—the state, violence, exile and belonging, labor, indigenous rights, narrative, power, home, and history. He is particularly interested in the gaps that characterize human existence, such as those between insularity and openness, between the things over which we have some control and the things over which we have none, and between ourselves and others as we talk past each other, missing each others’ meanings. Urging a recognition of the limits to which human existence can be explained in terms of cause and effect, he suggests that knowing why things happen may ultimately be less important than trying to understand how people endure in the face of hardship.


Excursions may cross genres, venturing into the poetic and the literary, but, in my view this makes it all the more powerful as a work of anthropology—beautifully and compellingly written, absorbing reading, it fulfills its promise of opening up anthropology to the rich possibilities of ‘epiphany’ and ‘event’, and suggesting new ways of thinking about phenomena. . .” — Julie Scott, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“Jackson . . . demonstrates, supremely, the deep understanding that can emerge from a long career of anthropological engagement and the artistry with which insight into the human condition can be delivered.” — Nigel Rapport, Social Anthropology

“Jackson strives to do what few anthropologists have done, certainly not as determinedly: to allow the potential wisdom that lies ever more deeply buried in anthropology’s routine formulations to come to the fore.” — Vincent Crapanzano, Current Anthropology

“There is an egalitarian spirit running through the essays, mixing the thought of Adorno, Arendt, and Benjamin with that of Kuranko storytellers or Maori mythology, and these with Jackson’s first person narrative, such that each is brought to illuminate the other. Travel writing, yes, but travel writing reaching for universality. Anthropology, yes, but anthropology reaching for universality. . . . Jackson’s arguments, although borne lightly by a filigree of close observation of singular experiences, are as weighty as those of many illustrious forebears.” — Michael Carrithers, American Ethnologist

“Excursions is another beautifully meandering meditation from a grand wanderer in the landscape of contemporary anthropology. Michael Jackson knows about deep ethnography, having done his fair share of it with admirable verve. But he is more unique among anthropologists in his courage to engage fleeting everyday fragments of the here and there, and to mine the ephemera of momentary experience for their deep resonances with core existential questions.” — Steven Feld, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Music, The University of New Mexico

“Michael Jackson has long been recognized as one of our liveliest and most powerful thinkers, a scholar who engages with the phenomena—human, cultural, historical, interactive—at the core of cultural anthropology. With this remarkable book, he makes a significant contribution to current and future discussions about the hallmarks, trajectory, and promise of our field.” — Don Brenneis, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz

“Novelist, poet, and extraordinary ethnographer, Michael Jackson has built a life around excursions and conversations in Africa, the South Pacific, Europe, and North America. The upshot is a book rich in existential insights, Continental philosophy grounded in local worlds, and painterly perceptions of the multiple ways that nature expresses human feelings and values. The chapter on Walter Benjamin is brilliantly executed as are those on Sierra Leonian and Maori friends. Walk with Jackson down these very different roads and he will bewitch you into seeing and feeling life come alive as it really is lived—lives of others and magically your own as well. A beautiful work.” — Arthur Kleinman, Professor of Anthropology and Psychiatry, Harvard University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michael Jackson is Distinguished Visiting Professor in World Religions at Harvard Divinity School. His many books of anthropology include Existential Anthropology: Events, Exigencies, and Effects; In Sierra Leone; and At Home in the World. The latter two are both also published by Duke University Press. He is the author of The Accidental Anthropologist: A Memoir; six books of poetry including, most recently, Dead Reckoning; and two novels.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Preface: theme and variations ix

1. In the Footsteps of Walter Benjamin 1

2. Of Time and the River: the interface of history and human lives 22

3. Imagining the Powers That Be: society versus the state 40

4. On the Work of Human Hands 61

5. Storytelling Events, Violence, and the Appearance of the Past 80

6. Migrant Imaginaries: with Sewa Koroma in southeast London 102

7. A Walk on the Wild Side: the idea of human nature revisited 135

8. From Anxiety to Method: a reappraisal 154

9. Despite Babel: an essay on human misunderstanding 174

10. On Birth, Death, and Rebirth 192

11. Quandaries of Belonging: home thoughts from abroad 216

12. A Critique of Colonial Reason 233

Notes 257

References 271

Index 289
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4075-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4054-6
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