Casual learning about anthropology and sociology
April 28, 2019 10:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in some reading and listening about anthropology and sociology. This could pretty pretty gosh darn technical or more casual. I really enjoy learning about new topics in anthropology and sociology - I find it really energizing. Please recommend textbooks/podcasts/books which deal with these topics.

I have always been interested in sociology and anthropology although my actual knowledge is limited. My nerd level is extreme so these can be pretty technical - well written/enjoyable textbooks may be appreciated. They can also be 'regular' books like The Almost Nearly Perfect People where different social topics are touched on and various experts are briefly interviewed about their expertise. Thanks in advance!
posted by Kalmya to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The blog Sociological Images uses images to discuss sociological concepts. Recent posts include "Contemptible Collectibles," an examination of racist memorabilia; "The Bisexual Boom," looking at changes to reporting in sexual identity; and "The Wildness of Crowds," a discussion of Durkheim's concept of "collective effervescence."

Here are a couple of open textbooks which are written by subject experts and available for free download/reading online:

Introduction to Sociology (2nd American ed.)
(and 2nd Canadian ed.)

Perspectives: An Open Invitation to Cultural Anthropology
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:46 AM on April 28, 2019

I once posted an FPP about anthropology linking to many texts of interest at the Open Library / Internet Archive: "Essential, influential, and recommended texts in cultural anthropology." I think most of the links are still good, but among those that are stale, I'd especially recommend this wayback machine alternative [PDF] as an important source explaining when, how, and why anthropology began addressing its colonial legacy.

If you buy just one book, I'd suggest Monaghan & Just's Social & Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction. The VSI series is generally good, but this one is especially worthwhile: throughout the book, the authors illustrate major points with their own personal fieldwork anecdotes, which is very much the experience you'd hope for if you took ANTH 101 at a university.
posted by Wobbuffet at 12:28 PM on April 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

I love that you're asking this question! I have an undergrad degree in Cultural Anthropology and still enjoy reading ethnographies to this day. I'm going to recommend what I consider to be a few reader-friendly/essential ethnographies- often ones that are written somewhat self-reflexively and go out of their way to define terminology and jargon that the layperson may not yet be familiar with.

Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn, from the UC Press summary: "Vodou is among the most misunderstood and maligned of the world's religions. Mama Lola shatters the stereotypes by offering an intimate portrait of Vodou in everyday life. Drawing on a 35 year long friendship with Mama Lola, a Vodou priestess, Karen McCarthy Brown tells tales spanning five generations of Vodou healers in Mama Lola's family, beginning with an African ancestor and ending with Claudine Michel's account of working with Mama Lola after the Haitian earthquake. Out of these stories, in which dream and vision flavor everyday experience and the Vodou spirits guide decision making, Vodou emerges as a religion focused on healing brought about by mending broken relationships between the living, the dead, and the Vodou spirits."

Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture Among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes , from the U Chicago Press summary: "Kulick analyzes the various ways travestis modify their bodies, explores the motivations that lead them to choose this particular gendered identity, and examines the complex relationships that they maintain with one another, their boyfriends, and their families. Kulick also looks at how travestis earn their living through prostitution and discusses the reasons prostitution, for most travestis, is a positive and affirmative experience."

With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India, summary from Goodreads: "With Respect to Sex is an intimate ethnography that offers a provocative account of sexual and social difference in India. The subjects of this study are hijras or the "third sex" of India, individuals who occupy a unique, liminal space between male and female, sacred and profane. Hijras are men who sacrifice their genitalia to a goddess in return for the power to confer fertility on newlyweds and newborn children, a ritual role they are respected for, at the same time as they are stigmatized for their ambiguous sexuality. By focusing on the hijra community, Reddy sheds new light on Indian society and the intricate negotiations of identity across various domains of everyday life. Further, by reframing hijra identity through the local economy of respect, this ethnography highlights the complex relationships between local and global, sexual and moral, economies."

Consuming Grief: Compassionate Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society, summary from Goodreads: "Mourning the death of loved ones and recovering from their loss are universal human experiences, yet the grieving process is as different between cultures as it is among individuals. As late as the 1960s, the Wari' Indians of the western Amazonian rainforest ate the roasted flesh of their dead as an expression of compassion for the deceased and for his or her close relatives. By removing and transforming the corpse, which embodied ties between the living and the dead and was a focus of grief for the family of the deceased, Wari' death rites helped the bereaved kin accept their loss and go on with their lives."

Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society, summary from Goodreads: "Lila Abu-Lughod lived with a community of Bedouins in the Western Desert of Egypt for nearly two years, studying gender relations and the oral lyric poetry through which women and young men express personal feelings. The poems are haunting, the evocation of emotional life vivid. But her analysis also reveals how deeply implicated poetry and sentiment are in the play of power and the maintenance of a system of social hierarchy. What begins as a puzzle about a single poetic genre becomes a reflection on the politics of sentiment and the relationship between ideology and human experience."

I'll probably post a few more later, as I have to run for now, but these are the first that came to mind.
posted by nightrecordings at 12:34 PM on April 28, 2019

Matt Ridley is wonderfully readable, interesting, and well researched. Even though some of his books may now be a little dated, I highly recommend The Red Queen, The Rational Optimist, and The Agile Gene. I have no scientific background but they kept me riveted to the last page, and really expanded my interest and understanding of evolution, both physical and social.
Also, the notes, sources and index of Optimist comprise nearly 100 pages, so if you're really interested.....
posted by Enid Lareg at 5:10 PM on April 28, 2019

Podcasts: I always keep an eye on the New Books Network, which has feeds for anthropology and sociology. Each episode is an interview with an academic who has recently published a monograph or edited collection, with the interviews conducted by someone else in the discipline. They vary considerably both in quality and in subject matter so one has to be willing to just stop listening, but I've encountered a lot of interesting ideas, and been directed to books, articles and theses, across a range of disciplines.
posted by tavegyl at 5:56 PM on April 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Smithsonian Anthropology Department published AnthroNotes for a number of years, with many articles that may be of interest, particularly the more recent ones. Here is the index. The issues and individual articles are all available via the Smithsonian Digital Repository. There is also a "best of" compilation called Anthropology Explored, available at amazon among other places. You can find a list of the contents here.
posted by gudrun at 6:40 AM on April 29, 2019

The wonderful thing about anthropology, is that it is the study of everything! So whatever else in the world you are interested in, an anthropologist has studied that.

So for instance, do you want to understand why Wall Street is so effed up? And why is it that so many smart kids enter college wanting to become teachers or doctors, but end up being convinced they need to work in finance instead? Read Liquidated by Karen Ho.

Got an opinion on whether anti-depressants are evil pushed by Big Pharma or live-saving miricles more people should take? You'll love Gut Feminism by Elizabeth Wilson.

Interested in the bigger picture of the college admissions scandal, or just looking for some validation for that feeling you always had that Frats and College Football are kinda out of control? Armstrong and Hamilton's Paying for the Party is the wild read you are looking for.

Have you ever wanted a smart answer to the question 'what is art anyway'? Van Gogh on Demand by Winnie Wong tells the story of 'fake art' factories in China, but from the perspective of the people who work in them.

I could go on... In fact, if you want to post a couple of topics you are interested in I'd be happy to find more tailored recommendations! If you'd rather browse on your own, then look through the sites of academic publishers for ideas. Duke University Press and University of California Press have particularly rich collections.

(Disclaimer: I am an anthropologist with very broad interests who reads ethnographies for fun like they are novels.)
posted by EllaEm at 7:40 AM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Coming in on the podcast side, for the social anthropology / sociology podcasts I follow:

- seconding New Books network
- Thinking Allowed - one I listen to most, very accessible and brief. Based on interviews with people so can lead to a lot more.
- Anthropod
- The Familiar Strange
- Camthropod

Not quite what you're asking, but take a look at Ottoman History Podcast - it's always excellent and often features sociology or anthropology.

Great question - enjoy !
posted by squishles at 10:04 AM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

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