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SpW summer break & summer readings!

It’s the end of another academic year and time for a break. We would like to thank all the writers of this last year: we appreciate your contributions! Thanks for all the new insights, interesting arguments and reviews, and fascinating reports of people and events in other parts of the world that you have shared with us.

We will be back in September and wish you a great summer! And if, like some of us in the editorial team, you find yourself with some more time to read now, we would like to suggest some books for your summer readings.

There is a book about how to think like an anthropologist, an ethnography about a mushroom, a philosophical book about different relations to nature, and a phantasmography; all recent or fairly recent publications to the discipline. To each book we have asked some of the editors and contributors to the blog to add a short introduction in which they say why they have read the book or why it’s on their reading list for this summer.

Enjoy the summer, and enjoy reading!

Credits: Princeton University Press

Engelke, Matthew (2018). How to think like an anthropologist. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

By Younes Saramifar

Matthew Engelke has the gift of writing easy and taking it easy when it comes to anthropology. The book presents nine major buzzwords of anthropology and unpacks them through anthropological tidbits and historical trajectories of the discipline. These terms are openings to larger issues that anthropologists have tried to address throughout the years. So he explores fundamental key terms such as culture, nature, identity, authority and etc. in order to show the disciplinary outline of anthropology. Engelke does not claim to reveal everything but his book can help anyone who has difficulty to explain what anthropology is. The book may appear to address a nonanthropology crowd but it actually tries to help anthropologist and students of anthropology to understand and explain what they are actually doing.  

Credits: Fordham University Press

Desjarlais, Robert (2018). The Blind Man: A Phantasmography. New York: Fordham University Press.

By Matthias Teeuwen

Robert Desjarlais’ The Blind Man promises to be an interesting read, not least because it is out of the ordinary. It is a Phantasmography: it traces the thoughts, feelings, fantasies, imaginations of Desjarlais as he ponders a photograph of the moment two tourists take a picture of a blind man at the Sacré-Coeur basilica in Paris. As he studies the photograph, Desjarlais explores topics ranging from the ubiquitous presence of photography in contemporary life to the effects of images in mass media. What I am most interested in, however, are the myriad paths the mind follows as it ponders a photograph and, in general, what a close, detailed (perhaps ‘auto-‘) ethnography like this reveals about our intersubjective, imaginative being in the world. What stories does Desjarlais fabulate about the people in the photograph? What associations does it trigger in his mind? And how do these associations shape his construals of others? In short: the book directs attention to the very real presence of imagination and fabulation in contemporary encounters.

Credits: Routledge

Roothaan, Angela (2019). Indigenous, Modern and Postcolonial Relations to Nature: Negotiating the Environment. London: Routledge.

By Peter Versteeg

In her most recent book philosopher Angela Roothaan (VU Amsterdam) addresses an urgent philosophical and practical problem: our relation with nature. Roothaan shows how the inclusion of ‘spirit ontologies’ is vital to this discussion. She shows how spirits are gradually returning to Western thinking (James, Jung, Derrida), after being banished in Enlightenment philosophy. Roothaan shows a strong affinity with the ontological turn in anthropology, which is one of her inspirations that lead her to a deconstructive and decolonizing approach of the human/nature divide, and eventually an ‘anim(al)istic anthropology’. The influence of the ontological turn notwithstanding, many anthropologists still seem bound to humanist views, which in essence are oppressive and destructive, even when they are presented as ‘liberating’. This book shows a way to engage with our own history, in the deepest sense, and move to an epistemology that is truly inclusive and posthuman.

Credits: Princeton University Press

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

By Matthias Teeuwen

The Mushroom at the End of the World has already been around for a while now and it has won a number of prizes since its publication. In the book, Anna Tsing studies the economy and ecology of the Matsutake mushroom to see what it reveals about capitalism, specifically the hollowed-out and worn-down lives and landscapes it leaves behind. Invoking a classic ethnographic trope, Tsing deliberately foregoes grand schemes and narratives in order to look at the patchiness and unpredictability of capitalism. She specifically focuses on the ruins of capitalism. And like ruins one occasionally stumbles upon in cities or in countrysides they trigger questions about what life was once like and how life is now possible amidst the ruins.

Younes Saramifar is PhD candidate at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Peter Versteeg is lecturer at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology. Matthias Teeuwen is student of the Social Science Research Master at the University of Amsterdam and editor at Standplaats Wereld. His research interests include religion, language, and the philosophy of science.

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