The Genealogical Imagination

Two Studies of Life over Time

The Genealogical Imagination

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 4 illustrations Published: May 2021

Author: Michael Jackson

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Literature and Literary Studies > Creative Nonfiction

In The Genealogical Imagination Michael Jackson juxtaposes ethnographic and imaginative writing to explore intergenerational trauma and temporality. Drawing on over fifty years of fieldwork, Jackson recounts the 150-year history of a Sierra Leone family through its periods of prosperity and powerlessness, war and peace, jihad and migration. Jackson also offers a fictionalized narrative loosely based on his family history and fieldwork in northeastern Australia that traces how the trauma of wartime in one generation can reverberate into the next. In both stories Jackson reflects on different modes of being-in-time, demonstrating how genealogical time flows in stops and starts—linear at times, discontinuous at others—as current generations reckon with their relationships to their ancestors. Genealogy, Jackson demonstrates, becomes a powerful model for understanding our experience of being-in-the-world, as nobody can escape kinship and the pull of the past. Unconventional and evocative, The Genealogical Imagination offers a nuanced account of how lives are lived, while it pushes the bounds of the forms that scholarship can take.


“Michael Jackson has long been a source of inspiration for those of us interested in pushing the boundaries of anthropological writing, providing us with regular and often much-needed reminders of the high ethical stakes of such writerly experimentation. The Genealogical Imagination will be of immense interest to anthropologists, literary scholars, students and teachers of creative writing, and anyone interested in the expressive possibilities of writing as a means of exploring the ways in which humans exist in time.” — Stuart McLean, author of Fictionalizing Anthropology: Encounters and Fabulations at the Edges of the Human

“I already have the sense that The Genealogical Imagination will not leave me alone in the years to come—that I will be haunted by it and worked upon by it in the way I am worked over by the stories of my own forebears. The Genealogical Imagination is an anthropological tour de force. It will inhabit the imagination of generations of anthropologists to come.” — Lisa Stevenson, author of Life beside Itself: Imagining Care in the Canadian Arctic


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michael Jackson is Distinguished Visiting Professor of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University, and the author of numerous books, including Critique of Identity Thinking and The Varieties of Temporal Experience: Travels in Philosophical, Historical, and Ethnographic Time.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preamble  1
Chronicles of the Barawa Marah
Being-in-Time  7
Being of Two Minds  13
Koinadugu  23
Jihad and Colonization  33
Albitaiya  36
Primus inter Pares  41
Lifelines and Lineages  45
Prospero and Caliban  51
Tina Komé  56
Abdul's Reminiscences  63
Limitrophes  71
Noah's Story  78
Taking Stock  89
Ferensola  95
S. B.'s Story  99
After the War  107
Within These Four Walls  111
Passages  119
Relationship and Relativity  122
Endings  135
Only Connect  152
Transition  156
Fathers and Sons
Part 1
Black Mountain  167
Clearing Out the Garage  174
A Hidden History  188
New Lives for Old  191
Billy  206
The Wet  208
Part II
Aground on the Great Barrier  219
University  223
Maya  232
Families  237
Breaking Point  241
Part III
The Unanimous Night  253
Weary Bay  259
Bulbul  267
Toby  270
The Reef  281
The Return  285
Postscript  288
Notes  293
Index to Chronicles of the Barawa Marah
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1407-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1193-4