Anthropology Report
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Anthropology Books June 2012

First, a big thank you to Joslyn O. for highlight on the American Anthropological Association blog. I would encourage other AAA members to send their blog links–it’s a great initiative from the AAA. I try to keep an updated list of active anthropology blogs but please let me know if I’m missing something or if you have any edits.

Today’s update highlights some anthropology books that have come to my attention. Please contact me about other anthropology books for later posts.

Borofsky Public AnthropologyWhy a Public Anthropology? (free chapter), Robert Borofsky
To help start your summer reading as well as keep you in touch with the California Public Anthropology Competition, the Center for a Public Anthropology is offering free of charge a chapter from Borofsky’s Why a Public Anthropology? Paul Farmer calls the book “a gem of a resource for anyone interested in anthropology.” Noam Chomsky praises it as “provocative.” The former science editor of the Washington Post writes “Borofsky helps us see anthropologists, and by implication most social scientists, in a new light.” The chapter addresses: How does one define a discipline so ambiguous and diverse as anthropology? What founding myths do anthropologists affirm to maintain their discipline? Why are social scientists today more hesitant about addressing major social problems than a century ago? Should social scientists focus on “doing no harm” or also try to “do some good”?

Rice and Beans: A Unique Dish in a Hundred Places, Richard Wilk and Livia Barbosa, editors.
Rice and Beans is a book about the paradox of local and global. On the one hand, this is a globe-spanning dish, a simple source of complete nutrition for billions of people in hundreds of countries. On the other hand, in every place people insist that rice and beans is a local invention, deeply rooted in a particular history and culture. How can something so universal also be so particular? The authors of this book explore the specific history of the versions of rice and beans beloved and indigenous in cultures from Brazil to West Africa. But they also plumb the shared African, Native American and European trans-Atlantic encounters and exchanges, and the contemporary forces of globalization and nation-building, which combine to make rice and beans a powerful substance and symbol of the relationship between food and culture.

Slavery, Smallholding and Tourism, Michael E. O’Neal
Newly available as a Kindle e-book, Slavery, Smallholding and Tourism explores the political economy of development in the British Virgin Islands–from plantations, through the evolution of a smallholding economy, to the rise of tourism. The study argues that the demise of plantation economy in the BVI ushered in a century of imperial disinterest persisting until recently, when a new “monocrop”–tourism–became ascendant. Using an historical and anthropological approach, O’Neal reveals how the trend toward reliance on tourism and other dependent industries affects many BVIslanders–called the “Belongers”–in ways that echo their historical and economic heritage.

Retirement on the Line: Age, Work, and Value in an American Factory, Caitrin Lynch
In an era when people live longer and want (or need) to work past the traditional retirement age, the Vita Needle Company of Needham, Massachusetts, provides inspiration and important lessons about the value of older workers. Vita Needle is a family-owned factory that was founded in 1932 and makes needles, stainless steel tubing and pipes, and custom fabricated parts. As part of its unusual business model, the company seeks out older workers; the median age of the employees is seventy-four. In Retirement on the Line, Caitrin Lynch explores what this unusual company’s commitment to an elderly workforce means for the employer, the workers, the community, and society more generally. Benefiting from nearly five years of fieldwork at Vita Needle, Lynch offers an intimate portrait of the people who work there, a nuanced explanation of the company’s hiring practices, and a cogent analysis of how the workers’ experiences can inform our understanding of aging and work in the twenty-first century. As an in-depth study of a singular workplace, rooted in the unique insights of an anthropologist who specializes in the world of work, this book provides a sustained focus on values and meanings—with profound consequences for the broader assumptions our society has about aging and employment.

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