Recommend some engaging ethnography
August 13, 2010 3:18 PM   Subscribe

This recent link on the blue reminded me how fascinating ethnography can be. Now I have a hankering for some well-written works of anthropology or sociology that offer insight on different people and different ways of life. Please recommend some good books for me! This is for "pleasure reading," so really dense jargon is a turn-off, but they don't need to be written for a popular audience.
posted by bookish to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Read Tristes Tropiques by Claude Levi-Strauss and Patterns of Culture by Ruth Benedict. Both are decades old but remain enlightening, especially for the non-anthropologist.
posted by Jenna Brown at 3:24 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll be watching this for updates, but you may want to check this thread that I asked last March. Tons of great stuff that I've read as a result and many more that I haven't had the chance to crack yet.
posted by Ufez Jones at 3:26 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wisdom Sits in Places is a beautiful book about story telling, language, and how it affects our landscape.
posted by Think_Long at 3:37 PM on August 13, 2010

Out of the Pits

Caitlin Zaloom rocks.
(sorry for the non -hyperlink... On a iPhone here...)
posted by Bwithh at 3:48 PM on August 13, 2010

ooo cool! Many of the anthropology textbook readers are really cheap and have lots of ethnographic classics and modern portrayals in them.
Conformity and Conflict, Annual Editions: Anthropology, and Classic Readings in Cultural Anthropology (Gary Ferraro) are 2 examples.
From these, some of my favourites include:
Body ritual among the Nacirema
Eating Christmas in the Kalahari
Baseball Magic
Shakespeare in the Bush
Too Many bananas, not enough pineapples and no watermelons at all

Try googling these (or others from the tables of contents from the readers) as I suspect many will be available in full text format online.

Oh, and there's Nisa, which is an ethnographic novel.

Distant Mirrors is a cool volume because it does ethnography within the US from different perspectives.

Oh, and I just found out that many of Robbie Davis-Floyd's brilliant articles can be downloaded from her website. Her book, Birth as an American Rite of Passage is fantastic. Her articles will give you a taste if you want to check them out first.

If you're into the birth theme, then Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth has a range of birth stories ranging from her 1970 days to the present. She's a leading midwife in terms of establishing safe and positive outcomes in baby catching.

Within sociology, a good reader with lots of these is Seeing Ourselves.

My favourite ones are the edited volumes more of the gender/feminist flavour. Many of the articles are ethnographic in style. Again, you can preview the table of contents on this and then pick some which interest you to google.
Examples of good readers from my shelf:
Sexualities by Kimmel and Plante
Gender in Cross-cultural perspective by Brettell and Sargent
Reconstructing gender: a multicultural anthology by Disch
Constructing Sexualities by Lafont
Gendered Society Reader by Kimmel
Sex, Gender and Sexuality by Ferber et al.
Gender Relations in global perspective by Cook
Gender through the prism of difference by Zinn et al.

From these, some personal favourite articles include:
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible knapsack
The Egg and the sperm: how science has constructed a romance based on stereotypical male female roles
Heterosexism in research: the heterosexual questionnaire
The five sexes: why male and female are not enough
Creating good looking genitals in the service of gender
Faking it: the story of "ohh!"

OK, I better stop. But seriously, if anyone wants more of a specific type or whatever, please memail me.
posted by kch at 4:18 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

some of my favorites are Philippe Bourgois' In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio (previously recommended in Ufez Jones' linked thread and totally great), and Righteous Dopefield.
posted by anthropophagous at 4:24 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Neil L. Whitehead's Dark Shamans: Kanaima and the Poetics of Violent Death is awesome and chilling; it's about a secret society of sorcerors who practice stalking, murder and cannibalism in the forests of Brazil and Guyana.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:26 PM on August 13, 2010

I wrote a paper on Women of the Forest several years ago. It was well-written and interesting - an account of the lives of women in a tribe in the Amazon. One of the first ethnographies focused on the lives of women in a culture.
posted by jeoc at 4:56 PM on August 13, 2010

Biology Unmoored: Melanesian Reflections on Life and Biotechnology
-- I found it fascinating
Coming of Age in Second Life
- this one is a bit heavy on theory at the beginning, but it's really at the cutting edge of the field (which is why it's so heavy on theory). Ultimately, I found it really interesting and ended up doing my own research project in Second Life.

The Female Circumcision Controversy (this one will definitely give you a new perspective on this subject, if you're interested in gender issues... it inspired me to go on to study female circumcision as a graduate student in anthropology)

Yay anthropology!
posted by torisaur at 5:34 PM on August 13, 2010

You might enjoy Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes
posted by bluedaisy at 6:34 PM on August 13, 2010

William Whyte: Social Life of Small Urban Spaces and Organization Man were two books I found incredibly interesting. They're ethnographic investigations of urban spaces in big cities and 1950's professionals.
posted by migurski at 11:17 PM on August 13, 2010

Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection

Ethnography of modern globalized southeast asia.
posted by symbollocks at 7:04 AM on August 14, 2010

The website "Sociological Images" might be of interest to you, if you feel like link-hopping. When it's good there is actual discussion, both in the posts and the comments, between professors and canny readers about various issues. The archives are also large, so there's much to browse through and often links to other websites worth viewing.
posted by SallySpades at 4:12 AM on August 15, 2010

As usual with book recommendation threads on AskMe, there are far too many good answers to choose a best one. Lots of fascinating-looking books, which I look forward to reading. I've heard of a few of these, but I've only read one (The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which is absolutely fantastic). Thanks so much!
posted by bookish at 2:54 PM on August 16, 2010

« Older Really hoping that the name 'permanent marker'...   |   Computer Recommendations for Ableton and No Money? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.