Exotic No More: Anthropology on the Front Lines / Edition 1

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Since its founding in the nineteenth century, social anthropology has been seen as the study of exotic peoples in faraway places. But today more and more anthropologists are dedicating themselves not just to observing but to understanding and helping solve social problems wherever they occur—in international aid organizations, British TV studios, American hospitals, or racist enclaves in Eastern Europe, for example.

In Exotic No More, an initiative of the Royal Anthropological Institute, some of today's most respected anthropologists demonstrate, in clear, unpretentious prose, the tremendous contributions that anthropology can make to contemporary society. They cover issues ranging from fundamentalism to forced migration, child labor to crack dealing, human rights to hunger, ethnicity to environmentalism, intellectual property rights to international capitalisms. But Exotic No More is more than a litany of gloom and doom; the essays also explore topics usually associated with leisure or "high" culture, including the media, visual arts, tourism, and music. Each author uses specific examples from their fieldwork to illustrate their discussions, and 62 photographs enliven the text.

Throughout the book, the contributors highlight anthropology's commitment to taking people seriously on their own terms, paying close attention to what they are saying and doing, and trying to understand how they see the world and why. Sometimes this bottom-up perspective makes the strange familiar, but it can also make the familiar strange, exposing the cultural basis of seemingly "natural" behaviors and challenging us to rethink some of our most cherished ideas—about gender, "free" markets, "race," and "refugees," among many others.

William O. Beeman
Philippe Bourgois
John Chernoff
E. Valentine Daniel
Alex de Waal
Judith Ennew
James Fairhead
Sarah Franklin
Michael Gilsenan
Faye Ginsburg
Alma Gottlieb
Christopher Hann
Faye V. Harrison
Richard Jenkins
Melissa Leach
Margaret Lock
Jeremy MacClancy
Jonathan Mazower
Ellen Messer
A. David Napier
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Jane Schneider
Parker Shipton
Christopher B. Steiner

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226500133
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 668,156
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeremy MacClancy is a professor in social anthropology at Oxford Brookes University. He is the author or editor of a number of books, including Consuming Culture, Popularizing Anthropology, and The Decline of Carlism.

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Read an Excerpt

Exotic No More: Anthropology on the Front Lines

By Jeremy MacClancy

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2002 Jeremy MacClancy
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226500136

1. Understanding Inner-City Poverty: Resistance and Self-Destruction under U.S. Apartheid


I did not run fast enough out the door of the video arcade crackhouse to avoid hearing the lookout's baseball bat thud twice against a customer's skull. I had misjudged the harsh words Caesar, the lookout, had been exchanging with a drug-intoxicated customer to be the aggressive but ultimately playful posturing that is characteristic of much male interaction on the street. Pausing on the curb in front of the crackhouse, I tried to decide from the continued sound of scuffling inside whether or not I should call for medical emergency. Reassured when I saw the beaten young man crawl out the door amidst a parting barrage of kicks and howling laughter, I walked two doors down the block to my tenement where I was living at the time in the primarily Puerto Rican neighborhood of East Harlem, New York. Confused by my impotence in the face of the violence of my crack dealer friends, I ended my fieldwork early that night and tried to recover from my own anger and rushing adrenaline by rocking my newborn son to sleep. My baby's appreciative gurgles, however, did not erase from the back of my mind the sound of Caesar's baseball batthudding on the drug addict's skull.

The following evening, I forced myself to return to the crackhouse where I was spending much of my time conducting research on inner-city poverty and social marginalization. I rebuked Caesar for his "overreaction" to the obnoxious customer the night before. Caesar was only too pleased to engage me in a playful argument. Half way through our verbal jousting, he grabbed my tape recorder out of my shirt pocket, turned it on, and spoke directly into the microphone. He wanted to make sure I had a clear record of his riposte so that it could be included as a direct quote in the book on street culture and the underground economy that I was writing at the time:

Nah, Felipe, you just don't understand. It's not good to be too sweet sometimes to people, man, because they're just gonna take advantage of you.

That dude was talking shit for a long time, about how we weak; how he control the block; and how he can do whatever he wants.

I mean, we were trying to take it calm like, until he starts talkin' this'n'that, about how he gonna drop a dime on us [report us to the police].

That's when I grabbed the bat--I looked at the axe that we keep behind the Pac-Man but then I said, "No; I want something that's going to be short and compact. I only gotta swing a short distance to clock him.

[Now shouting out the video arcade doorway for everyone outside to hear] You don't control nothin', because we rocked your bootie. Ha! Ha! Ha!

[Turning back to me] That was right when you ran out the door, Felipe. You missed it. I had gotten wild.

You see, Felipe, you can't be allowing people to push you around in this neighborhood, or else you get that reputation, like: "That homeboy's soft."

Primo, the manager of the crackhouse, further confirmed Caesar's story and raised the credibility of his violent persona by noting with a chuckle that he had only barely managed to subdue Caesar after the second blow of the baseball bat to keep Caesar from killing the offending customer while he lay semiconscious on the floor.


Most readers might interpret Caesar's behavior and public rantings and ravings to be those of a dysfunctionally antisocial psychopath. In the context of the underground economy, however, Caesar's braggadocio and celebration of violence are good public relations. Periodic public displays of aggression are crucial to his professional credibility. They ensure his long-term job security. When Caesar shouted his violent story out the door of the crackhouse for everyone in the vicinity to hear, he was not bragging idly or dangerously; on the contrary, he was advertising his effectiveness as a lookout, and confirming his capacity for maintaining order at his work site. Another side benefit that Caesar derives from his inability to control his underlying rages is a lifelong monthly Social Security Insurance check for being--as he puts it--"a certified nut case." He periodically reconfirms his emotional disability by occasional suicide attempts.

In short, at age nineteen, Caesar's brutality has allowed him to mature into an effective career as crackhouse lookout. Aside from providing him with what he considers to be a decent income, it also allows him on a personal and emotional level to overcome the terrified vulnerability he endured growing up in East Harlem. Born to a sixteen-year-old heroin addict, he was raised by a grandmother who beat him regularly, but whom he loved dearly. Sent to reform school for striking a teacher with a chair, Caesar admitted,

I used to cry every day; be a big sucker. I was thinking suicide. I missed my moms. I mean 'buela [Granma]--you've met her.

Plus I was a little kid back then--like about twelve or thirteen--and I'd get beat down by other kids and shit. I was getting my ass kicked. I used to get hurt.

It was a nasty reform school. I used to see the counselors holding down the kids naked outside in the snow.

Being smart and precocious, Caesar soon adapted to the institutionalized violence of his school and developed the skills that eventually allowed him to excel in the underground economy:

So then, I just learned. I used to fight so wild that they wouldn't bother me for awhile. I would go real crazy! Real crazy, every time I would fight. Like I would pick up a chair or a pencil or something and really mess them up. So they'd thought I was wild and real crazy.

I mean, I always got into fights. Even if I lost, I always started fights. That let me relax more, because after that nobody messed with me.


Caesar and his immediate supervisor, Primo, were merely two members out of a network of some twenty-five Puerto Rican retail crack sellers whom I befriended in the more than four years that I lived and worked in East Harlem at the height of what politicians and the media called "the crack epidemic," extending roughly from 1985 to 1991. As a cultural anthropologist engaged in the research methodology of "participant-observation fieldwork," or "ethnography," I can only collect "accurate data" by violating the canons of traditional, positivist research. We anthropologists have to become intimately involved with the people we study, striving to establish long-term, respectful, and usually mutually empathetic relationships. We attempt to suspend our value judgments in order to immerse ourselves in the common sense of the people we live with.

Researchers who are not cultural anthropologists have a hard time believing that useful, reliable data can be generated from the small samples of people that we study using participant-observation, qualitative methods. This is because quantitative-oriented researchers who collect data via surveys or by consulting published censuses do not understand the intensity of the relationship one must develop with each individual in one's sample in order to obtain information that addresses the cultural contexts and processual dynamics of social networks in holistic contexts. Anthropologists do not correlate discrete statistical variables; rather, they explain (or evoke) the reasons (or accidents) for why and how social relations unfold within their indigenous (and global) contexts. Ideally, anthropologists develop an organic relationship to a social setting where their presence only minimally distorts indigenous social interaction. We must seek out a legitimate social role within the social scene we are studying in order to develop friendships (and sometimes enmities) that allow us (with informed consent) to observe behavior directly in as unobtrusive a manner as possible. A major task of participant-observers is to put themselves "in the shoes" of the people they study in order to "see local realities" through "local eyes." Obviously, on an absolute level, such an achievement is impossible and possibly even dangerous, as it implies a power imbalance. Indeed, the premise that the "essence" of a group of people or a culture can be understood and described by an outsider and translated into academic analytic categories can lead to stereotyping. Postmodernists have criticized ethnography as being predicated on a totalizing modernist fantasy that is ultimately oppressive. Anthropologists risk imposing ethnocentric, power-laden, analytic categories and exotifying images onto the unsuspecting people they study in the name of an arrogantly assumed ethnographic academic authority. To avoid imposing in the name of science images that "other" the people they study, ethnographers need to be self-reflexively critical and to recognize that no single, simple reality or essence of a culture necessarily exists. Cultures and social processes are inevitably both more--but also less--than what can be captured in one outsider's attempt to reduce them into a coherent ethnographic monograph or article. Nevertheless, for the sake of defining participant-observation in a meaningful way, suffice it to say that cultural anthropologists, for all the problems that cross-cultural reportage implies, try to get as close as possible to local, everyday worlds without disrupting and judging them. The overall goal is to obtain a holistic perspective on the internal logics of and external constraints on the way processes unfold while at the same time recognizing humbly that cultures and social meanings are fragmented and multiplicitous.

In the case of my work with crack dealers in East Harlem, before even being able to initiate my research formally, I had to confront the overwhelming reality of racial- and class-based segregation in urban America. Initially, it felt as if my white skin signaled the terminal stage of a contagious disease sowing havoc in its path. Busy street corners emptied amidst a hail of whistles whenever I walked by as nervous drug dealers scattered in front of me, certain that I was an undercover narcotics agent. Conversely, the police made it clear to me that I was violating unconscious apartheid laws by throwing me spread-eagled against building walls to search me for weapons and drugs when they encountered me on their patrols. From their perspective, the only reason for a "white boy" to be in the neighborhood after dark is to buy drugs. As a matter of fact, the first time the police stopped me, I naively tried to explain to them in a polite voice that I was an anthropologist studying social marginalization. Convinced I was making fun of them, they showered me with a litany of curses and threats. They then escorted me to the nearest bus stop and ordered me to leave East Harlem, "and go buy your drugs in a white neighborhood ya' dirty mother . . ."

It was only through my long-term physical presence, residing in the neighborhood, and my polite perseverance on the street that I was able to overcome these racial and class boundaries and eventually earn the respect and full cooperation of the dealers operating on my block. It helped when they saw me getting married and having a baby. By the time my son was old enough to be baptized in the local church, I was close enough to several of the dealers to invite them to the party at my mother's apartment downtown.

In contrast, I was never able to communicate effectively with the police. I learned, however, always to carry a "picture I.D." showing my correct local address, and I always forced myself to stare at the ground politely and mumble effusive "yes sirs" in a white, working-class, New York accent whenever they stopped me. Unlike most of the crack dealers I spent time with, I was never beaten or arrested--only occasionally threatened and sometimes politely queried and advised to "find a cheap apartment in Queens instead."

I am convinced that it is only by painstakingly violating urban apartheid that I was able to collect meaningful data on inner-city poverty. Methodologically, it is only by establishing lasting relationships based on mutual respect that one can begin to ask provocative personal questions and expect to engage in substantive conversations about the complex experience of extreme social marginalization in the United States. Perhaps, this is why the experience of poverty and social marginalization is so poorly understood. The traditional, quantitative-oriented survey methodologies of upper-middle-class sociologists or criminologists tend to collect fabrications. Few people on the margins of society trust outsiders when they ask invasive personal questions, especially concerning money, drugs, and alcohol. In fact, nobody--whether rich or poor--likes to answer such indiscrete, incriminating queries.

Historically, inner-city poverty research has been more successful at reflecting the biases of an investigator's society than at analyzing the experience of poverty or documenting race and class apartheid. The state of poverty and social marginalization research in any given country emerges almost as a litmus for gauging contemporary social attitudes towards inequality and social welfare. This is particularly true in the United States, where discussions of poverty almost immediately become polarized around moralistic value judgments about individual self-worth, and frequently degenerate into stereotyped conceptions of race. In the final analysis, most people in the United States--rich and poor alike--believe in the Horatio Alger myth of going from rags to riches. They are also intensely moralistic about issues of wealth; perhaps this stems from their Puritanical/Calvinist heritage. Even progressive leftist academics in the United States secretly worry that the poor may actually deserve their fate. As a result they often feel compelled to portray the inner city in an artificially positive manner that is not only unrealistic but is also theoretically and analytically flawed.

This ideological context for inner-city poverty research in the United States is probably best epitomized by the best-selling books of the anthropologist Oscar Lewis in the 1960s. He collected thousands of pages of life-history interviews with an extended family of Puerto Ricans who migrated to East Harlem and the South Bronx in search of employment. Some thirty years later, his culture of poverty theory remains at the center of contemporary polemics around the inner city in the United States. Despite his being a social democrat in favor of expanding government poverty programs, his theoretical analysis offers a psychological reduction-ist--almost blame-the-victim--explanation for the transgenerational persistence of poverty. On some level it sounded the death knell for the Great Society dreams of the Johnson administration and helped disabuse the dream of the early 1960s that poverty in America could be eradicated. If anything, thirty years later, his theory resonated more than ever with the campaigns for individual responsibility and family values that were so celebrated by politicians in U.S. national elections during the 1990s. In a 1966 Scientific American article, Lewis wrote,

By the time slum children are six or seven, they have usually absorbed the basic attitudes and values of their subculture. Thereafter they are psychologically unready to take full advantage of changing conditions or improving opportunities that may develop in their lifetime.. . .

It is much more difficult to undo the culture of poverty than to cure poverty itself.

In their anger and frustration over the way Lewis's family-based and Freudian-influenced focus on impoverished Puerto Rican immigrants confirms conservative American biases, liberal social scientists have often fallen into the trap of glorifying the poor and denying any empirical evidence of personal self-destruction. When I moved into the same inner-city neighborhood where the Puerto Rican families that Lewis studied had lived more than thirty years ago, I was determined to avoid his failure to examine structural inequality, while at the same time documenting the way oppression is painfully internalized in the day-to-day life of the persistently poor. Striving to develop a political economy perspective that takes culture and gender seriously, and which also recognizes the link between individual actions and social/structural determination, I focused on how an oppositional street culture of resistance to exploitation and social marginalization is contradictorily self-destructive to its participants. In fact, street dealers, addicts, and criminals become the local agents administering the destruction of their surrounding community.


Given the extraordinary economic importance of illicit drugs and the destructive impact they have on people's lives, inner-city researchers have to address the issue of substance abuse and the role of drugs in the underground economy. The easiest dimension of drug dealing for outsiders to understand is its economic logic. On a worldwide scale, illegal drugs have become an immense, multibillion-dollar business.


Excerpted from Exotic No More: Anthropology on the Front Lines by Jeremy MacClancy Copyright © 2002 by Jeremy MacClancy. 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: Taking People Seriously
Jeremy MacClancy

1. Understanding Inner-City Poverty: Resistance and Self-Destruction under U.S. Apartheid
Philippe Bourgois

2. Min(d)ing the Body: On the Trail of Organ-Stealing Rumors
Nancy Scheper-Hughes

3. World Markets: Anthropological Perspectives
Jane Schneider

4. Political Ideologies: Socialism and Its Discontents
Chris Hann

5. On Conflict and Violence
Michael Gilsenan

6. Imagined but Not Imaginary: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Modern World
Richard Jenkins

7. Fighting the Good Fight: Fundamentalism and Religious Revival
William O. Beeman

8. Unraveling "Race" for the Twenty-First Century
Faye V. Harrison

9. Interpreting Gender and Sexuality: Approaches from Cultural Anthropology
Alma Gottlieb

10. Medical Knowledge and Body Politics
Margaret Lock

11. Anthropology, Culture, and Environment
Melissa Leach and James Fairhead

12. Hunger in Africa: Untangling Its Human Roots
Ellen Messer and Parker Shipton

13. Anthropology and the Aid Encounter
Alex de Waal

14. The Refugee: A Discourse on Displacement
E. Valentine Daniel

15. Our Own Way: On Anthropology and Intellectual Property
A. David Napier

16. Anthropologists in a World with and without Human Rights
Ellen Messer

17. Future Generations and Global Standards: Children's Rights at the Start of the Millennium
Judith Ennew

18. The Anthropology of Science
Sarah Franklin

19. Fieldwork at the Movies: Anthropology and Media
Faye Ginsburg

20. Ideas of Culture and the Challenge of Music
John Chernoff

21. Art/Anthropology/Museums: Revulsions and Revolutions
Christopher B. Steiner

22. Paradise Postponed: The Predicaments of Tourism
Jeremy MacClancy

23. Survival International
Jonathan Mazower



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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2002

    The Cutting Edge in Anthropology

    This collection of cutting-edge essays tells it like it is. It shows why everyone is imitating and rediscovering anthropology today from other disciplines. Buy this, read it, and see why anthropology is the most effective way to investigate so many problems in modern life.

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