Ethnography in Unstable Places: Everyday Lives in Contexts of Dramatic Political Change / Edition 1

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Ethnography in Unstable Places is a collection of ethnographic accounts of everyday situations in places undergoing dramatic political transformation. Offering vivid case studies that range from the Middle East and Africa to Europe, Russia, and Southeast Asia, the contributing anthropologists narrate particular circumstances of social and political transformation—in contexts of colonialism, war and its aftermath, social movements, and post–Cold War climates—from the standpoints of ordinary people caught up in and having to cope with the collapse or reconfiguration of the states in which they live.
Using grounded ethnographic detail to explore the challenges to the anthropological imagination that are posed by modern uncertainties, the contributors confront the ambiguities and paradoxes that exist across the spectrum of human cultures and geographies. The collection is framed by introductory and concluding chapters that highlight different dimensions of the book’s interrelated themes—agency and ethnographic reflexivity, identity and ethics, and the inseparability of political economy and interpretivism.
Ethnography in Unstable Places will interest students and specialists in social anthropology, sociology, political science, international relations, and cultural studies.

Contributors. Eve Darian-Smith, Howard J. De Nike, Elizabeth Faier, James M. Freeman, Robert T. Gordon, Carol J. Greenhouse, Nguyen Dinh Huu, Carroll McC. Lewin, Elizabeth Mertz, Philip C. Parnell, Nancy Ries, Judy Rosenthal, Kay B. Warren, Stacia E. Zabusky

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Ethnography in Unstable Places is a profound exercise in ethnographic reflexivity. It seeks to consider new possibilities, new challenges, new horizons—at once conceptual, political, ethical—for an old anthropological method by taking it precisely where it was not designed to go: into everyday worlds radically transformed by hitherto unimagined
social conditions, unimaginable political circumstances, altered states, economies, subjectivities. Expansive in their scope, provocative in their theoretical implications, even poetic in their treatment of human lives, the essays in this volume show ‘where past has gone, where the future will come from’;the past and future, that is, of both anthropology and the worlds with which it concerns itself.”—John Comaroff, University of Chicago

“Beyond being topical, this groundbreaking collection represents precisely the kind of inquiry that contemporary anthropology should be dedicating itself to—one brave enough to abide, ethnographically and theoretically, in the interstices of knowledge-based and experiential models, in the gaps between individual and collective agency, in realms of historical and cultural contingency.”—Debbora Battaglia, Mount Holyoke College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822328483
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 3/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Carol J. Greenhouse is Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University.

Elizabeth Mertz is Associate Professor of Law and affiliated faculty in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also Senior Research Fellow for the American Bar Foundation.

Kay B. Warren is Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University.

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Ethnography in unstable places

Everyday lives in contexts of dramatic political change
By Carol J. Greenhouse

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-2848-8

Chapter One

Carroll McC. Lewin

Ghettos in the Holocaust: The Improvisation of Social Order in a Culture of Terror

In February 1941, near Warsaw, in the Otwock ghetto that was created by the Nazis two months earlier, twenty-five-year-old Calel Perechodnik, a secular Jew and self-proclaimed Polish patriot, volunteers as a ghetto policeman in order to avoid labor conscription. By the summer of 1942, relocations of ghetto residents "to the east" (as went the Nazi euphemism) have commenced, although the ghetto policemen, along with the also Nazi-created Judenrat (Jewish Council), have been assured that they, their wives, and their children will be spared deportation. On the morning of 19 August, Perechodnik and the other ghetto policemen help round up eight thousand of their fellow Jews, forcing those selected by the ss into railway cars. At the end of the day, the ss order the policemen to march away from their own wives and children. Perechodnik watches in horror as his wife, Anka, and two-year-old daughter, Alinka, climb into the fourth car from the locomotive. He subsequently learns that their destination is the Treblinka death camp (Perechodnik 1996).

This incident in the Otwock ghetto telescopes the unambiguous trauma and terror of the Holocaust that we rarely confront becauseit impinges on our own historical consciousness (Lewin 1993:312) and cries out for closure because of our positivist temptation to avoid that which appears "indeterminate, elusive and opaque" (Friedlander 1992:52). While state-sponsored violence, suffering, and terror undeniably constitute brutal facts of human existence, anthropology has paid little attention to such "evil" because it has regarded "wholeness" and the absence of suffering as the cultural norm (Hastrup 1993:727). Two things are required if we, as anthropologists, seek to reject muteness on evil such as that epitomized in the Nazi genocide. We need to jettison the idea that this genocide was an aberration or failure, rather than a product of modernity (Bauman 1989:12). We also require two interwoven ethnographies, that of the state and that of the individual, to come up with an ethnography of terror which can "realize the state in all its sublime horror" as it brutally destroys everyday lives and sensibilities (Desjarlais and Kleinman 1994:9).

There are numerous limits to the representation of Nazism and the Holocaust. Our received imagery is overwhelmingly that of the death factories-Auschwitz, Treblinka, and others-with endless cattle cars, piles of corpses, and pitiful survivors at the end of the war. The power of this imagery cannot, and should not, be obliterated, but we must not neglect other facets of the genocide that permit us to approach its vortex and a clearer understanding of genocidal intentionality and implementation. A significant and retrievable phase in the Holocaust is the internment and isolation of the Jews in ghettos created by the Nazis in Eastern Europe. Ghettos were improvised social fields in which both perpetrators and victims coexisted, sometimes very briefly as a short phase in the murder of the Jews, while at other times almost until the end of the war. This improvised social field was one in which roles and symbolic constructs were imposed on the Jews, who had no recourse but to attempt to create a facsimile (however distorted) of a social system based upon social contracts as they understood them.

The Judenrate, or Jewish Councils, consciously created by the Nazis to administer the ghettos, were a key node in the social, political, and economic motivations and machinations of the genocide. The forced participation of the Judenrate in what became the subjugation and destruction of their own people highlights the pathogenesis of the Holocaust. Degradation and persecution framed the accommodative attempts of the Judenrate as they were sucked into the Nazi-created illusion of order, reliability, and legality (Fein 1979:126). As will be seen in the examples of three ghettos, competitive relations between the components of the German war/genocide machine fed into the miscalculation by the Judenrate of mutuality in moral calculi, thus conspiring to bring about a fully determined genocide. In the depiction of ghettos below, we see how the negotiation of reality and social relationships under escalating conditions of terror was marked by alternations of denial and acceptance, of acquiescence and resistance, of despair and hope among the Judenrate and other ghetto residents. As terror and death increasingly became routinized, cognitive dissonance and moral nihilism compromised attempts to approach a mimesis of ordinary life and ordinary discourse. In all ghettos, ultimately, the ruse was finished for both victims and perpetrators. The life histories of ghettos indicate foremost that there was "a method to the madness" in which the state was "ordering the disorder" (Desjarlais and Kleinman 1994:11), notably in the Nazi-created illusion that the labor of the Jews would postpone their annihilation. This is clear in the reading both of the bureaucratic development by the Germans of the so-called "Final Solution" and of the depiction of Jewish attempts, recorded in diaries, chronicles, and memoirs, to define and redefine everyday life under extraordinary circumstances in which any remnant of wishfulness for normality irrevocably collapsed into despair.

Nazi Intentionality

In their exploration of the determination of the Nazi Final Solution with regard to the Jews, scholars have presented two poles of explanation, the "functionalist" and the "intentionalist." The former asserts that there was neither motivational logic nor consistency in Nazi policy, that it was arrived at incrementally, shifting in response to changing circumstances. "Intentionalists," on the other hand, propose that very early on the Nazis had clear notions as to the fate of Jewry under the eventual domination of Europe. More recently, it has been suggested that neither approach is entirely adequate and that the Final Solution was an unfolding plan, a combination of functionalism and intentionalism (Browning 1992:30). This newer approach is explored in this essay, which focuses on Poland and Lithuania, and, more particularly, the ghettos of Lodz, Warsaw, and Vilna. Here the Nazis had the problem of what to do about the Jews in the newly conquered territories, Poland in 1939 and Lithuania in 1941. Ghettoization had been raised as a possibility by Goering (the dominant figure in the war economy) as early as 1938 (Yahil 1991: 164). By the time of the invasion of Poland in September 1939, there were plans to reorganize demographically the conquered territories by concentrating Jews in urban centers. Heydrich (ss Reich leader Himmler's chief deputy) gave orders to dissolve Jewish communities of less than five hundred, transferring the populace to urban "concentration centers" located on rail lines. Instructions on setting up Jewish Councils as a means of creating order also were included. At this early point, competitive relations developed between the ss and the civil governor general, Hans Frank, and between the ss and Goering, which had a profound effect on the life history and fate of the ghettos in Poland.

As the point of departure for Nazi bio-racial policy, Poland was regarded by Hitler, Himmler, and Heydrich as a locus for the resettlement of Jews from Western Europe and attendant "racial cleansing." The ensuing struggle for power between the elements of German bureaucracy became determining factors in the eventual process of extermination (Scheffler 1985:35). Put simply, the conflict grew between those with escalating genocidal intentions and those who wanted to exploit the Jews as slave laborers until such time when Poland would be "cleansed" for the purpose of future German settlement. There was, at first, no true consensus of policy; indeed, Hitler encouraged a decentralized system of regional autonomy that fomented competition and rivalry (Headland 1992:179).

By February 1940, the ghettoization process in the large cities of Poland commenced, with Lodz as the first systematically fashioned ghetto, while the Warsaw ghetto was formed in October. But ghettos at that point were regarded as interim measures. During the first half of 1940, Nazi leadership pursued the so-called Madagascar Plan with the idea that the island would pass from French hands and European Jews would be settled there under a mandate. There is some debate as to the seriousness with which this plan was pursued (Breitman 1991:121). Whatever the case, impending war with the Soviet Union and the foreseen problem of transporting the Jews to Madagascar led to the abandonment of the plan. By the summer of 1940, ghettoization, which had slowed down temporarily, once again picked up speed.

The implementation of the Final Solution at this juncture rested on a predicted high rate of attrition under conditions of starvation and forced labor in ghettos; meanwhile, economic profit and contribution to the war economy would be affected (Breitman 1991:136). Given the problems of food shortages and the creation of viable ghetto economies, the struggle between the "productionists" and the "attritionists" in Lodz, Warsaw, and other ghettos in Poland, intensied (Browning 1992:30), although the Germans put in charge of the ghettos at that time had no premeditated plans for mass murder (Browning 1992:54). Raul Hilberg's attempt to straddle the controversy between "intentionalist" and "functionalist" arguments, characterizes what ultimately became the Final Solution: the Holocaust was "not so much a product of laws and commands as it was a matter of spirit, of shared comprehensions, of consonance and synchronization" (Hilberg 1985:54-55). This is the context in which ghettoization first proceeded, one in which components of German bureaucracy were somewhat at odds with regard to the Jews. The conflict over the economic needs of the war effort versus the genocidal endeavor was never fully resolved (Headland 1992:90) and greatly influenced Jewish leadership in the ghettos. Little did the Jews know, however, that by at least early 1941, Hitler fully intended to annihilate them, although the overall plan remained malleable until the summer of 1941 when the Soviet Union was invaded (Breitman 1991:206). Along with this invasion, the special task forces of Einsatzgruppen, set up by Himmler and Heydrich, entered the scene, unleashing the genocidal program in the Russian territories, ultimately killing two million Jews by shootings or in mobile gas vans. By the time the Vilna ghetto was established in September 1941, these mobile killing units had killed thousands in Lithuania. Here again, conflict between the elements of the German bureaucracy prevailed in the form of antagonism between the Einsatzgruppen on the one hand and, on the other, the civil administration and the Wehrmacht (the German army) as recruiters of Jewish labor. Thus, a report by the commander of Einsatzgruppen Unit Three in Lithuania dated 1 December 1941: "I wanted to eliminate the working Jews and their families as well, but the Civil Administration (Reichskommissar) and the Wehrmacht attacked me most sharply and issued a prohibition against having those Jews and their families shot" (cited in Arad, Gutman, and Margaliot 1981).

The crossfire between productionists and attritionists helped shape the perceptions and structure the reactions of ghetto Jews during the step-by-step genocidal process. In the end, however, in both Poland and Lithuania, ultimate ss control, along with the anti-Semitism of the local populace, conspired to seal the fate of the Jews (Fein 1979:82).

Establishment of Ghettos and Judenrate

Ghettoization began as an interim measure to effect demographic policies in the occupied territories, an expedient to round up Jews until it could be figured out what to do with them. Meanwhile, property could be confiscated and labor exploited. The Lodz ghetto was created when a plan to expel the Lodz Jews to Lublin fell through and the Madagascar Plan collapsed (Browning 1992:32). Warsaw was ghettoized in fits and starts, taking a full year in a process highly affected by concern over typhus, which became the final rationale for sealing the ghetto (Roland 1992:23). By the time the Vilna ghetto was set up, direct genocide was in full swing. Ghettoization was an important move in the extermination process, as it isolated the Jews and cut them of from potential sources of outside help, however meager these were. Looking at all of Nazi-dominated Europe, isolation and the degree of anti-Semitism in the local populace emerged as the most highly linked variables leading to the most intense victimization; simultaneously, Judenrate accompanied the highest degree of segregation (Fein 1979:127). Ghettos and Judenrate combined in Eastern Europe to create the most effective killing field in the Holocaust.

In establishing the Judenrate, the Nazis seized control by taking advantage of a long tradition of Jewish communal organizations (Yahil 1991:238). What had been indigenous welfare organizations known as Kehillot, which had served the social service and cultural needs of local Jewish populations, were transformed into structures that would serve to deflect hostility away from the Germans and turn it inward (Trunk 1972:261). In conjunction with the increasing isolation of the ghettos, the Jewish Councils grew into ramied administrative apparatuses, supplementing social welfare with new tasks created by the Nazis. These included the provision of municipal services, food rationing, taxation, and ransom payments to the Germans, as well as the supplying of forced labor, and, eventually, the victims of deportation and annihilation. There was some "haphazardness" in the "bizarre formation" of the Judenrate (Trunk 1972:25). What is clear, however, is that the Nazis constructed a divide-and-rule policy in which the Jews were forced into a complicity of repression. In creating the Judenrate, the Germans aroused hostility between Jews in order to offset unity; they tended, for example, not to intervene in strikes and demonstrations by ghetto residents against the Judenrate (Friedman 1980:148). That the Judenrate and the associated ghetto police were excused from forced labor and received more food rations increased hostility as the labor supply and food situation deteriorated.

There was some evolutionary quality to the establishment of Judenrate in Eastern Europe. In both Poland and Lithuania, many of the Jewish elite left for the Soviet Union or Western Europe just before and just after the Nazi invasion, affecting potential membership in the Judenrate. From the beginning, there was a rapid turnover of council members, and, in the long run, about 80 percent were killed or committed suicide (Trunk 1972:328). About one-half of the first council leaders in Poland were executed very early on by the Nazis; three quarters of these had refused to cooperate in the escalating deportations (Fein 1979:136-37). It is difficult to generalize about the Judenrate, although Isaiah Trunk's (1972:30-33) statistical survey on the Eastern European Judenrate membership indicates the following:

90 percent had families with children

40 percent had higher education (and knew German)

26 percent were professionals

67 percent were Zionist; few were communist or socialist

43 percent were previous members of Kehillot or municipal organizations very few were religiously orthodox

Since the tendency was toward political conservatism, nonorthodox religiosity, and a higher socioeconomic status in the Judenrate (Friedman 1980:145), members could not be representative of all social sectors in large ghettos such as Lodz, Warsaw, and Vilna. This factor looms large in the issue of the Judenrate's attitude toward a resistance against the Germans that was dominated by the young and the politically more adventuresome. In smaller ghettos, on the other hand, resistance was more accommodated by the Judenrate; there was less dissonance and debate because of greater social homogeneity and closer ties between the council members and the populace (Yahil 1991:475). In the larger ghettos, political factionalism and class issues compromised resistance efforts.


Excerpted from Ethnography in unstable places by Carol J. Greenhouse Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Altered States, Altered Lives / Carol J. Greenhouse Part One: Law against Culture
Ghettos in the Holocaust: The Improvisation of Social Order in a Culture of Terror / Carroll McC. Lewin
Unsettled Settlers: Internal Pacification and Vagrancy in Namibia / Robert J. Gordon
Judges without Courts: The Legal Culture of German Reunification / Howard J. De Nike
Part Two: Ethnographies of Agency in the Fissures of the State
Ethnography in/of Transnational Processes: Following Gyres in the Worlds of Big Science and European Integration / Stacia E. Zabusky
The Composite State: The Poor and the Nation in Manila / Phillip C. Parnell
Domestic Matters: Feminism and Activism Among Palestinian Women in Israel / Elizabeth Faier
"Best Interests" and the Repatriation of Vietnamese Unaccompanied Minors / James M. Freeman and Nguyen Dinh Huu
Part Three: Resistance and Remembrance
Beating the Bounds: Law, Identity, and Territory in the New Europe / Eve Darian-Smith
"Honest Bandits" and "Warped People": Russian Narratives about Money, Corruption, and Moral Decay / Nancy Ries
Trance Against the State / Judy Rosenthal
Part Four: Conclusion
The Perfidy of Gaze and the Pain of Uncertainty: Anthropological Theory and the Search for Culture / Elizabeth Mertz
Toward in Anthropology of Fragments, Instabilities, and Incomplete Transitions / Kay B. Warren
Works Cited
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