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Because it’s Friday…

14 March, 2008

… I can’t concentrate on books and I’m looking at book jackets instead. I’ve suddenly become perplexed by the logic of disciplinary categories on the backs of books. Rex at Savage Minds was pointing out how popular the philosophy section is in major bookstore chains, while it’s rare to actually find a section marked “Anthropology.” Surely this is part of what’s behind the dual-labeling on book jackets, but I’m still struggling to see the logic behind what gets picked for the second discipline, besides anthropology.

A quick review of my shelves:

There’s lots of Taussig, for some reason — I must have been particularly obsessed with him during one of my grad school book-buying frenzies — and only 2 of them are labeled the same. Consider:

Mimesis and Alterity: Anthropology / Cultural Studies
My Cocaine Museum: Anthropology
Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: Anthropology / Latin American Studies
The Nervous System: Anthropology
The Magic of the State: Anthropology / Cultural Studies / Literature
The Devil and COmmodity Fetishism: nothing

Can anyone see a logic here? Is Nervous System somehow more anthropological or less cultural studies than Magic of the State?

On to medical anthropology and anthropology of science on another shelf:

Lock, Twice Dead: Anthropology / Asian Studies / Philosophy
Joseph Masco, Nuclear Borderlands: Anthropology / Science Studies / American Studies
Cohen, No Aging in India: Anthropology / Asian Studies
Dumit, Picturing Personhood: Anthropology / Biological Sciences

Somehow these make more sense to me, with anthropology followed by area studies or something that says “science” — BUT:

Rabinow, Making PCR: Science

No mention of anthropology at all! Mysterious. Is it because Rabinow figures that every anthropologist will know who he is, but it’s the science people who need cues to be able to find the book?

On to the classics.

Lewis Henry Morgan, Ancient Society: Anthropology
Malinowski, Sexual Life of Savages: Anthropology
Malinowski, Argonauts: nothing!
Benedict, Patterns of Culture: Anthropology
Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic: nothing!
Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa: nothing!
Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques: Anthropology
Levi-Strauss, Savage Minds: Anthropology

OK, I see the logic here: the classics are pure, unadulterated anthropology – unsullied by tags like “Pacific studies” or “Asian studies” or “Latin American studies” (or even “anthropology”).

On to the 80s disciplinary crisis classics:

Fox, Recapturing Anthropology: nothing
Marcus and Fischer, Anthropology as Cultural Critique: Anthropology / Social Sciences
Clifford and Marcus, Writing Culture: Anthropology / Literary Theory
Clifford, Predicament of Culture: nothing

I discern no pattern here.

Hey, it just occurred to me to check the jacket of my own book and I was surprised:

Wynn, Pyramids and Nightclubs: “Middle Eastern Studies: Anthropology; Geography”

Wow, where did that come from? My publisher must have picked it randomly. I don’t read any geographers — I know I should, I do apologize, but I just haven’t gotten around to it (except for Mitch Rose, who was doing some related research on the Giza Plateau at the same time I did) — so how do I get classified as Geography?

If anyone has any insights, please weigh in here.

P.S., Pyramids and Nightclubs is hot, hot, hot! Check it out, I even managed to work the phrase “sex orgies” into the subtitle.

–L.L. Wynn

One Comment leave one →
  1. 15 March, 2008 3:52 am

    I’m sure Evans-Pritchard should have been classified as anthropology.

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