The Uncaring, Intricate World

A Field Diary, Zambezi Valley, 1984-1985

The Uncaring, Intricate World

Critical Global Health: Evidence, Efficacy, Ethnography

More about this series

Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: 13 illustrations Published: August 2019

Author: Reynolds, Pamela

Editor: Todd Meyers

Contributor(s): Jane Guyer, Julie Livingston

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs

In the 1950s the colonial British government in Northern and Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe) began construction on a large hydroelectric dam that created Lake Kariba and dislocated nearly 60,000 indigenous residents. Three decades later, Pamela Reynolds began fieldwork with the Tonga people to study the lasting effects of the dispossession of their land on their lives. In The Uncaring, Intricate World Reynolds shares her field diary, in which she records her efforts to study children and their labor and, by doing so, exposes the character of everyday life. More than a memoir, her diary captures the range of pleasures, difficulties, frustrations, contradictions, and grappling with ethical questions that all anthropologists experience in the field. The Uncaring, Intricate World concludes with afterwords by Jane I. Guyer and Julie Livingston, who critically reflect on its context, its meaning for today, and relevance to conducting anthropological work.


“Pamela Reynolds's ethnography-diary The Uncaring, Intricate World elegantly captures the vicissitudes of life in a setting of breathtaking sunsets, stunning moon rises, brutal gusts of night wind, and the ceaselessly annoying high pitch of the mosquito's whine. In the pages of this wonderful book she presents a complex cast of memorable characters whose life challenges underscore both the fragility and resilience of the human condition as well as the small pleasures of sipping brandy after a long day of being-in-the-world.” — Paul Stoller, author of Adventures in Blogging: Public Anthropology and Popular Media

“The dated entries in The Uncaring, Intricate World bring into view not what is hidden and occult but what is before our eyes. Pamela Reynolds's writings are renowned for showing us that children haunt anthropological texts even as they go unacknowledged—yet this book adds an entirely new dimension to Reynolds's work by revealing the child who hides in the anthropologist.” — Veena Das, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University

"Reynolds engages with familiar fieldwork dilemmas – ethical, practical, methodological, social – with thoughtful candour." — Hayley Macgregor, Times Literary Supplement

"In this diary, Reynolds reveals the emotional, personal-political and moral complexity of being a white female researcher in a Southern African rural community. . . . These personal reflections powerfully contextualise the data and are far from self-absorbed navel gazing. In this alone, the book is one of the best examples I have ever encountered of the depth and richness of field data while simultaneously documenting the field experience." — Lisa C. Cliggett, Anthropology Southern Africa

"Pamela Reynolds’ field diary is a great marvel to read, evoking smiles, fears and suspense. What I really loved and appreciated in these 178 pages filled with various field activities were the first-hand, personal experiences and encounters and the undiluted data representing both oral history and oral traditions. . . . The field diary recorded much more than just children’s labour. It is littered with illness, death, animals, conflict, marriage, divination, court cases, divorce, weeding fields, chasing animals out of fields, and many other occurrences. It is a wealth of information indeed, a treasure that certainly deserved to be published for posterity and for reference by future researchers." — Ivan Marowa, Anthropology Southern Africa

"The Uncaring, Intricate World gives a very clear sense of what it is that anthropologists actually do: and how uncertain we are most of the time we are doing it. And how, despite the continual uncertainties of fieldwork, at the end of the day an academic account can emerge that tells a very real story: this despite the fact that approaching the stage of 'writing up' can lead to nightmares (which Reynolds vividly describes). . . . For all these reasons, this is an excellent book for established social scientists to read; and an excellent book to set for students who are setting off to do their first bout of serious fieldwork. It presents us with a different ethnographic form to the monograph, a deeply immersive, descriptive and everyday sense of what anthropologists do, as well as what anthropology is and can be." — Shannon Morreira, Anthropology Southern Africa

"[Pamela Reynolds’] well-documented diary is so comprehensive that the reader can pick up minute details on the life of the Tonga community, even details many others would overlook as insignificant. Reading the diary is like seeing this community in action. It is a good example of an experienced researcher who considers everything around her as data. And it is this very attention to detail that makes the diary deeply exciting to read." — Lilian C. Siwila, Anthropology Southern Africa


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Pamela Reynolds is Professor Emerita of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University, Honorary Professor at the University of Cape Town, and author of War in Worcester: Youth and the Apartheid State.

Todd Meyers is Associate Professor of Anthropology at New York University, Shanghai.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Foreword. The Unsubstantial Territory / Todd Meyers  xi
Introduction  1
A Field Diary  31
Afterword. Noticing Life, Matters Arising / Jane I. Guyer  173
Afterword. Sitting Quietly, Traveling in Time / Julie Livingston  175
Glossary  179
Bibliography  185
Index  189
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0467-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0406-6