The Culinary Sphere as a Political Arena

by Nir Avieli, author of Food and Power: A Culinary Ethnography of Israel

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd.

In a recent talk on my book Food and Power: A Culinary Ethnography of Israel during a visit to the US, I was asked whether my findings were not in contradiction with Jewish morality, and whether my text would not make for ammunition in the hands of anti-Semitic critics of Israel. For example, wasn’t my definition of the Israeli cuisine characterized by large, cheap portions of low quality resonating with the classic anti-Semitic perceptions of “the Jew” as stingy and greedy? And wasn’t my argument that the accusations by Israelis of Thai migrant workers for systematically hunting and eating Israeli pet dogs implying that Israelis were racists?

Food and Power is indeed a political project. It deals with the misuse and abuse of power in modern-day Israel, and exposes antidemocratic, xenophobic, and racist tendencies that taint the political and public arenas. In this sense, it is a stern critique of contemporary Israeli society. It is not, however, a post-Zionist or anti-Israeli project. Rather, it is a critical analysis of an extremely important cultural realm: The Israeli culinary sphere, which has not been approached thus far as a political sphere, enmeshed in power relations.

Do my findings contradict Jewish morality? While I could have argued that academics were not an authority when it comes to moral standards, I responded that there is no monolithic or agreed upon Jewish morality but, rather, multiple interpretations of what Jewish morality was, some of which can only be described as contradictory. And oddly enough, this is exactly what my findings indicate; that different people in different contexts understand and enact Jewish morality in very different ways: Eating as much as you can no matter the quality may be understood as a manifestation of greed, but also as an expression of vulnerability and fear. Accusing the Thais of eating Israeli dogs may be pure racism, but my findings suggest that this myth has emerged as a partial solution for the shame many Israelis feel regarding the employment of foreign workers in a country that cherished “Jewish labor”.

So while Food and Power approaches some of the negative features of Israeli society, including gluttony, greed, ethnocentrism, racism, patriarchal machismo, and other forms of power abuse, I have dedicated this book to my children,  hoping that the prevailing ethno-messianic and neo-liberal ideologies which have been increasingly dominant since the mid 1990’s will eventually collapse due to their essential immorality, internal contradictions, and lack of practical solutions for the problems and difficulties Israel faces.


Nir Avieli is a Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben Gurion University, Israel.


Making The “Meat and Two Veg” for Sunday Dinner and Why it Matters

by Amy B. Trubek, author of Making Modern Meals: How Americans Cook Today

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd.

Making Modern Meals cooking book coverThe discipline of anthropology has always paid close attention to everyday life, relying on ethnography as the method par excellence. Observations of how we live work like a microscope of the social. Anthropologists take notes on the small and telling details because each one means something, revealing our values, our perceptions, our social selves. Everyday life certainly matters. In this telling, food, for anthropologists, should be a matter par excellence: everybody eats. And to a certain extent this is true. Anthropology, of all the social science disciplines, probably contains the broadest and deepest set of fine grained studies of the complex and contradictory relationship humans have with food. Over the past ten years, a number of ethnographies have looked at the significance of special ritual meals, the meanings of an artisan product, food ways as means for social distinction and social power, the global journeys of ingredients, and more, all resulting in fascinating analyses.

But we have yet to give food its due, especially given the commitment of anthropologists to everyday life and everyday experience. What about all the processes involved in answering that mundane and necessary question addressed fifty years ago by Mary Douglas: What should we have for dinner? As David Sutton, a committed ethnographer of cooking points out, even in Douglas’s famous consideration of the British meal, in this brilliant analysis of the structure of her meal why was “no concern expressed about how the ingredients might be assembled, processed and cooked to create these dishes (“Cooking in Theory” in Anthropological Theory, 2017)?” It is tempting to focus on the finished product, the object of consumption as what matters most. But there is more to put under the microscope. There is eating Sunday dinner but there is also making it. What items must she purchase in order to create the two veg on the side? Where did she get her ingredients? How did she learn how to make that roast? Over the course of my research on everyday cooking in the United States, I realized that so much tacit knowledge stays just below the surface, buried, rarely the focus of attention. What is known but not understood is the next journey anthropologists of food should take. The tiny, the trivial, the barely conscious are in fact grand, powerful and significant. As I witnessed, while dinner gets made – and planned, and eaten, and cleaned up – so to do our social lives and social selves.


Amy Trubek author cooking Making Modern MealsAmy B. Trubek is Associate Professor of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Vermont. She is the author of Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession and The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir.


Heretics and Ethnographic Investigation in Late Antiquity

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. This post originally appeared on the blog in August 2016 and is reposted in advance of the author’s review panel Saturday, Nov. 18. Program details below. #AARSBL17


By Todd S. Berzon, author of Classifying Christians: Ethnography, Heresiology, and the Limits of Knowledge in Late Antiquity

We are always organizing knowledge. We are always aggregating data in order to arrive at a clearer, more coherent, and more systematic understanding of the world around us. But what happens when there is simply too much information to be collected? What happens when efforts to organize vast amounts of material fall short or fail completely? What happens when the knowledge we meticulously collect simply overwhelms the system or model designed to make sense of it? What are the epistemological implications and challenges that emerge in the production of ethnography—the process of writing about the customs and habits of peoples and communities? Classifying Christians: Ethnography, Heresiology, and the Limits of Knowledge in Late Antiquity investigates these questions within the context of late antique Christianity (ca. 150–500 C.E.). It provides an analysis of the ways in which early Christian authors not only produced ethnography (literally “wrote people”) but they also how they openly negotiated the very possibility and desire of undertaking such a task. Focusing on late antique heresiological literature (orthodox catalogues about heretics), I outline the techniques Christian writers used to collect, organize, and polemicize ethnographic knowledge about their Christian world. I show how the rituals, doctrinal beliefs, customs, and historical origins of the heretics functioned to map and delimit not only the composition of the Christian world but also the world at large. It is the epistemological challenges produced by such classificatory efforts that I explore throughout the book.

9780520284265_Berzon

In the late antique world defined by remarkable religious and political change, heresiology illustrates the simultaneous attraction and repulsion of discovery and exploration. But just as Christians wrote their movement into the history of the world as the organizing principle of human difference through models of heretical growth and diffusion, they also codified a deep ambivalence about the literary or representative capacity of heresiological ethnography. I argue that heretics were highly unstable theoretical scaffolding through which Christian authors sought to make sense of the diverse and diversifying world around them. Knowledge about the heretics was necessary to assert orthodox theological dominance, but it was also highly dangerous. Heretical knowledge not only contaminated the ethnographer, but it also confused and in some sense overpowered the compiler because such knowledge was seemingly without limit. There was simply no end to the process of collecting knowledge about the heretics.

Indeed, Christian ethnography reveals not totalizing aspirations of authority—a projected ideology of total epistemological mastery—but a far less secure knowledge about the heretics specifically and the world generally: writing and knowing were endeavors fraught with conceptual fears and uncertainties. In fact, Christian authors explicitly contemplated the danger of investigating the natural and supernatural worlds. It is not simply that they struggle to classify the world around them, but that they openly discuss their failures to do just that. The heresiologists explicitly pondered the epistemological limits of ethnographic investigation, the representative capacity of language, and the unmanageability of ethnographic knowledge in texts. They know that there are limitations to what they can know about the heretics and that their efforts to produce a literary model to contain them is and always will be incomplete.

Discovery, travel, and expansion were not singularly triumphant endeavors, but rather highly perilous and disruptive efforts. The discoveries of new peoples (heretics, nations, islands, etc.) cemented intellectual unease and ethnographic fear. Precisely because the heresiologists gave ethnography into a distinctly theological texture, Classifying Christians points toward the enduring and potent legacy of Christianity in shaping the discourse of centuries of ethnographic investigation. By investigating the role ethnography played in mapping the theological landscape of the late antique world, my aim has been to refine discussions of emergent Christian discourses about heresy and human difference more broadly.


Todd S. Berzon is Assistant Professor of Religion at Bowdoin College.

Join author Todd Berzon at SBL for a review panel of Classifying Christians
SBL Religious World of Late Antiquity Section
Saturday, Nov. 18
9:00 AM–11:30 AM
Hilton Boston Back Bay – Maverick A


Introducing the 2017 Atelier Finalists

Atelier is a new launched book series in anthropology designed to take a ground-up approach to the acquisition and publication of new ethnographic works. The aim is to set the conditions for collaboration at each stage of a book’s development, from the earliest draft through publication, providing not just meaningful feedback but also constructive engagement from peers and publishers. Rather than considering only those manuscripts in their finished state, this series sets out to curate a cohort of scholars committed to the idea that ethnographic writing is itself a form of intellectual work.

Submissions for 2017 closed at the beginning of June, and we are now proud to announce our finalists! Read on to learn more about their forthcoming projects:

 

Sarah Besky (Brown University)

Market Qualities: Indian Tea and the Composition of Value

Sarah Besky published her first book The Darjeeling Distinction with UC Press in 2013. Her new book project traces how a range of aesthetic and technical experts in India have mobilized notions of quality in attempts to refit a colonially rooted product and industry for a 21st century global democracy.  It analyzes efforts to make “quality tea” at a time when India is trying to secure a place as a global economic leader, showing how, together, the materiality of plants and aesthetic and technoscientific practices mediate—and perhaps impede—economic and political reform.  Working across political economy, science and technology studies, and sensory ethnography, the book argues for an approach to quality that sees it not as a final destination for economic, imperial, or post-imperial projects, but as a generative opening for those projects.

 

Nomi Stone (Princeton University)

Human Technologies and the Making of American War

“Human Technologies and the Making of American War” is a political phenomenology of American Empire, offering micro-histories of aspects of war’s present life across the Middle East and North America. This transnational ethnography is staged between Iraqi refugee neighborhoods of Amman and mock Middle Eastern villages constructed by the US military across the woods and deserts of America to train soldiers deploying to the Middle East. Among mock mosques and markets, Middle Eastern role-players train US soldiers by repetitively pretending to mourn, bargain, and die like the wartime adversary and ally. Seeking to dereify war itself in a post 9-11 world, this project examines previously unexplored sites of encounter between the American military and the “native informants” they employ. Amidst increasing American military focus on omniscience and surveillance in the 21st century, Stone examines the ramifications of militarizing human beings as wartime cultural technologies to decipher the other.

 

Christien Tompkins (UCLA)

Reconstructing Race: New Orleans Education Reform as Experimental Labor

In Post-Katrina New Orleans, the unprecedented conversion of ninety percent of district schools into privately managed charter schools has served as a fertile site for debates over systemic interventions to alleviate racial and economic inequality. “Reconstructing Race: New Orleans Education Reform as Experimental Labor” shows how, despite initial sociopolitical naiveté, reform-minded educators, non-profits, and entrepreneurs have developed sophisticated techniques of recognition, selective inclusion, and racial expertise. “Reconstructing Race” finds that New Orleans’ citywide experimentation with private management as well as the work roles and laboring subjectivities of educators has led to the proliferation of new terrains of racialized neoliberal governance, where educators, policymakers, and entrepreneurs reconfigure and mobilize race under emergent entrepreneurial and expert cultures.


To learn more about the series, visit the series page on our website or reach out to the series editor, Kevin O’Neill.


Tools of the Trade: Anthropologists

As part of our “Tools of the Trade” blog series, we’re highlighting resources for social science scholars and educators to aid in your research, writing, and prep work this summer. Look no further for a refresher of methods that you can use in your own work or share with your students.

Enrich Your Ethnographic Research

Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco, Thirtieth Anniversary Edition by Paul Rabinow

In this landmark study, Paul Rabinow takes as his focus the fieldwork that anthropologists do. How valid is the process? To what extent do the cultural data become artifacts of the interaction between anthropologist and informants? Having first published a more standard ethnographic study about Morocco, Rabinow here describes a series of encounters with his informants in that study, from a French innkeeper clinging to the vestiges of a colonial past, to the rural descendants of a seventeenth-century saint.

 

How Forests Think: Toward and Anthropology of Being Human by Eduardo Kohn

Can forests think? Do dogs dream? In this astonishing book, Eduardo Kohn challenges the very foundations of anthropology, calling into question our central assumptions about what it means to be human—and thus distinct from all other life forms. Avoiding reductionistic solutions, and without losing sight of how our lives and those of others are caught up in the moral webs we humans spin, this book skillfully fashions new kinds of conceptual tools from the strange and unexpected properties of the living world itself.

 

The Extended Case Method: Four Countries, Four Centuries, Four Great Transformations, and One Theoretical Tradition by Michael Burawoy

In this remarkable collection of essays, Michael Burawoy develops the extended case method by connecting his own experiences among workers of the world to the great transformations of the twentieth century—the rise and fall of the Soviet Union and its satellites, the reconstruction of U.S. capitalism, and the African transition to post-colonialism in Zambia. These essays, presented with a perspective that has benefited from time and rich experience, offer ethnographers a theory and a method for developing novel understandings of epochal change.

 

Being There: The Fieldwork Encounter and the Making of the Truth edited by John Borneman and Abdellah Hammoudi

Challenges to ethnographic authority and to the ethics of representation have led many contemporary anthropologists to abandon fieldwork in favor of strategies of theoretical puppeteering, textual analysis, and surrogate ethnography. In Being ThereJohn Borneman and Abdellah Hammoudi argue that ethnographies based on these strategies elide important insights.

 

Reproducing Race: An Ethnography of Pregnancy as a Site of Racialization by Khiara Bridges

Reproducing Race, an ethnography of pregnancy and birth at a large New York City public hospital, explores the role of race in the medical setting. Khiara M. Bridges investigates how race—commonly seen as biological in the medical world—is socially constructed among women dependent on the public healthcare system for prenatal care and childbirth.

 

 

Driving after Class: Anxious Times in the American Suburb by Rachel Heiman

“Rugged entitlement” is Heiman’s name for the middle class’s sense of entitlement to a way of life that is increasingly untenable and that is accompanied by an anxious feeling that they must vigilantly pursue their own interests to maintain and further their class position. Driving after Class is a model of fine-grained ethnography that shows how families try to make sense of who they are and where they are going in a highly competitive and uncertain time.

 

They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields: Illness, Injury, and Illegality among U.S. Farmworkers by Sarah Bronwen Horton

They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields takes the reader on an ethnographic tour of the melon and corn harvesting fields of California’s Central Valley to understand why farmworkers suffer heatstroke and chronic illness at rates higher than workers in any other industry. Through captivating accounts of the daily lives of a core group of farmworkers over nearly a decade, Sarah Bronwen Horton documents in startling detail how a tightly interwoven web of public policies and private interests creates exceptional and needless suffering.

 

Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South by Angela Steusse

Based on the author’s six years of collaboration with a local workers’ center, this book explores how Black, white, and new Latino Mississippians have lived and understood these transformations. Activist anthropologist Angela Stuesse argues that people’s racial identifications and relationships to the poultry industry prove vital to their interpretations of the changes they are experiencing


Heretics and Ethnographic Investigation in Late Antiquity

by Todd S. Berzon, author of Classifying Christians: Ethnography, Heresiology, and the Limits of Knowledge in Late Antiquity

We are always organizing knowledge. We are always aggregating data in order to arrive at a clearer, more coherent, and more systematic understanding of the world around us. But what happens when there is simply too much information to be collected? What happens when efforts to organize vast amounts of material fall short or fail completely? What happens when the knowledge we meticulously collect simply overwhelms the system or model designed to make sense of it? What are the epistemological implications and challenges that emerge in the production of ethnography—the process of writing about the customs and habits of peoples and communities? Classifying Christians: Ethnography, Heresiology, and the Limits of Knowledge in Late Antiquity investigates these questions within the context of late antique Christianity (ca. 150–500 C.E.). It provides an analysis of the ways in which early Christian authors not only produced ethnography (literally “wrote people”) but they also how they openly negotiated the very possibility and desire of undertaking such a task. Focusing on late antique heresiological literature (orthodox catalogues about heretics), I outline the techniques Christian writers used to collect, organize, and polemicize ethnographic knowledge about their Christian world. I show how the rituals, doctrinal beliefs, customs, and historical origins of the heretics functioned to map and delimit not only the composition of the Christian world but also the world at large. It is the epistemological challenges produced by such classificatory efforts that I explore throughout the book.

9780520284265_Berzon

In the late antique world defined by remarkable religious and political change, heresiology illustrates the simultaneous attraction and repulsion of discovery and exploration. But just as Christians wrote their movement into the history of the world as the organizing principle of human difference through models of heretical growth and diffusion, they also codified a deep ambivalence about the literary or representative capacity of heresiological ethnography. I argue that heretics were highly unstable theoretical scaffolding through which Christian authors sought to make sense of the diverse and diversifying world around them. Knowledge about the heretics was necessary to assert orthodox theological dominance, but it was also highly dangerous. Heretical knowledge not only contaminated the ethnographer, but it also confused and in some sense overpowered the compiler because such knowledge was seemingly without limit. There was simply no end to the process of collecting knowledge about the heretics.

Indeed, Christian ethnography reveals not totalizing aspirations of authority—a projected ideology of total epistemological mastery—but a far less secure knowledge about the heretics specifically and the world generally: writing and knowing were endeavors fraught with conceptual fears and uncertainties. In fact, Christian authors explicitly contemplated the danger of investigating the natural and supernatural worlds. It is not simply that they struggle to classify the world around them, but that they openly discuss their failures to do just that. The heresiologists explicitly pondered the epistemological limits of ethnographic investigation, the representative capacity of language, and the unmanageability of ethnographic knowledge in texts. They know that there are limitations to what they can know about the heretics and that their efforts to produce a literary model to contain them is and always will be incomplete.

Discovery, travel, and expansion were not singularly triumphant endeavors, but rather highly perilous and disruptive efforts. The discoveries of new peoples (heretics, nations, islands, etc.) cemented intellectual unease and ethnographic fear. Precisely because the heresiologists gave ethnography into a distinctly theological texture, Classifying Christians points toward the enduring and potent legacy of Christianity in shaping the discourse of centuries of ethnographic investigation. By investigating the role ethnography played in mapping the theological landscape of the late antique world, my aim has been to refine discussions of emergent Christian discourses about heresy and human difference more broadly.


Todd S. Berzon is Assistant Professor of Religion at Bowdoin College.


Producing Anthropology

by Tanya Marie Luhrmann

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington DC. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme “Producing Anthropology.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and December 5th.

aaaI began to study psychiatric illness when the dominant mode of psychiatry anthropology was critical. Psychiatry itself had gone biomedical and anthropologists often found themselves on the sidelines, maybe speaking truth to power but often feeling powerless themselves as the great bulldozer of a universalizing science flattened out any apparent cultural differences as so much noise.

That’s changed. Psychiatric science has learned—epidemiologically, empirically, and quantitatively—that our social world makes a difference to our bodies. In recent years psychiatric disorders have become less culture-free, less biological, if by “biological” we mean that they are understood to arise only from our genes and to unfold independently from our social world. Increasingly we know that our genes interact with our environment and that it is the epigenetic interaction that results which so deeply shapes our lives. This is true even of our most terrible madness. In the case of schizophrenia, we now have direct evidence that people are more likely to fall ill with schizophrenia in some social settings than in others, and more likely to recover in some social settings than in others. We know from the empirical research carried out by the new social epidemiology that something about the social world gets under the skin. The puzzle is to figure out what it is.

There is a new role for anthropology in the science of psychiatric illness. The highly structured, specific-variable analytic methods of standard psychiatric science cannot tell us what it is about culture that has impact.  Anthropology can. At least, the careful observation enabled by rich ethnography allows us to ask in more detail what kinds of social and cultural features may make a difference to a life. That gives careful, subtle, precise ethnography a place at the scientific table it has not had for years. It’s a great opportunity.

Tanya Marie Luhrmann is the Watkins University Professor in the Stanford Anthropology Department. Her most recent book, When God Talks Back, was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year. At the University of California Press, she edits the Ethnographic Studies in Subjectivity series.

 

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Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Seth Holmes Interviewed in Gastronomica

In the latest issue of Gastronomica, Julie Guthman, author of Agrarian Dreams and Weighing In, interviews fellow UC Press author Seth Holmes about the lives of Mexican migrant workers and the research that went into his book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. Holmes, a medical anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, spent five years in the field alongside migrant workers berry-picking, traveling back and forth from Oaxaca up the West Coast, and even landing in jail after an illegal attempt to cross the border.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Holmes talks about comparisons to Paul Farmer, how he sees his role as a public intellectual, and what he hopes the public will understand about the lives of undocumented immigrants after reading Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies. Here’s an excerpt:

Your book tells a vivid story of the physical (and mental) suffering that farmworkers in the U.S. systematically face. Can you elaborate on some of the causes/explanations for this?

In the U.S., our food system is structured with a more or less visible hierarchy of ethnicity and citizenship. Within this system, indigenous or native Mexicans who are undocumented in the U.S. are often working and living within very difficult conditions. These housing and working conditions have significantly harmful effects on their bodies and well-being.

Why do you call this “structural violence”? What is the significance of thinking about health inequalities in this way?

This ethnicity and citizenship hierarchy, then, is produced by larger structural forces, such as transnational immigration and economic policies, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). As I explain in the book, policies such as NAFTA have played into the widespread phenomenon of dispossession of indigenous Mexicans from their own family farms and ancestral lands in exchange for a dangerous border crossing and physically and mentally harmful wage labor on U.S. farms.

Read the full interview at Gastronomica.