Surviving against the Odds: Village Industry in Indonesiaby S. Ann Dunham
President Barack Obama’s mother, S. Ann Dunham, was an economic anthropologist and rural development consultant who worked in several countries including Indonesia. Dunham received her doctorate in 1992. She died in 1995, at the age of 52, before having the opportunity to revise her dissertation for publication, as she/p>
Read the foreword by Mara Soetoro-Ng
President Barack Obama’s mother, S. Ann Dunham, was an economic anthropologist and rural development consultant who worked in several countries including Indonesia. Dunham received her doctorate in 1992. She died in 1995, at the age of 52, before having the opportunity to revise her dissertation for publication, as she had planned. Dunham’s dissertation adviser Alice G. Dewey and her fellow graduate student Nancy I. Cooper undertook the revisions at the request of Dunham’s daughter, Maya Soetoro-Ng. The result is Surviving against the Odds, a book based on Dunham’s research over a period of fourteen years among the rural metalworkers of Java, the island home to nearly half Indonesia’s population. Surviving against the Odds reflects Dunham’s commitment to helping small-scale village industries survive; her pragmatic, non-ideological approach to research and problem solving; and her impressive command of history, economic data, and development policy. Along with photographs of Dunham, the book includes many pictures taken by her in Indonesia.
After Dunham married Lolo Soetoro in 1967, she and her six-year-old son, Barack Obama, moved from Hawai‘i to Soetoro’s home in Jakarta, where Maya Soetoro was born three years later. Barack returned to Hawai‘i to attend school in 1971. Dedicated to Dunham’s mother Madelyn, her adviser Alice, and “Barack and Maya, who seldom complained when their mother was in the field,” Surviving against the Odds centers on the metalworking industries in the Javanese village of Kajar. Focusing attention on the small rural industries overlooked by many scholars, Dunham argued that wet-rice cultivation was not the only viable economic activity in rural Southeast Asia.
Surviving against the Odds includes a preface by the editors, Alice G. Dewey and Nancy I. Cooper, and a foreword by her daughter Maya Soetoro-Ng, each of which discusses Dunham and her career. In his afterword, the anthropologist and Indonesianist Robert W. Hefner explores the content of Surviving against the Odds, its relation to anthropology when it was researched and written, and its continuing relevance today.
“[T]his book is a fascinating and important scholarly piece of work. It’s a good reminder that Ann not only had a sharp intellect, but was a perfectionist as well, and a hard-working one at that. Her work is extremely well-documented, with hard statistical data making her book extremely detailed and well informed. At the same time, Ann’s book—like her—is deeply empathetic. Full of evocative descriptions of the lives of the villagers she worked with, the book is a testament of her commitment to the development of the lives of rural and marginalized peoples all around the world. Ann was an internationalist with a global outlook, but it was Indonesia and its people that became the love of her life, and her passion also comes through in her book, something all too rare in academic writing.” - Julia Suryakusuma, Jakarta Post
“[T]he editors and Duke University Press did a wonderful job with this book. It is lovingly put together, and it will become the definitive source for anyone wanting to understand the ethical and intellectual make-up of Dunham, as well as blacksmithing and more generally village crafts in Indonesia. . . . This book—an estimable ethnography in its own right—is of unique interest precisely for . . . for the light it sheds on how Dr. Dunham’s work may have shaped her son and, thereby, his presidency.” - Michael Dove, Anthropological Quarterly
“Surviving against the Odds is a work of very fine scholarship grounded in a deep understanding of Indonesia. Reading it, I learned a great deal about economic anthropology, blacksmithing (across a range of dimensions, from the supernatural to metallurgy), local life and labor in the Javanese village of Kajar, and the remarkable welter of development schemes and projects in play during the long period of S. Ann Dunham’s research. Dunham knew the arcane world of development very well and her account of it is fascinating and important.”—Donald Brenneis, University of California, Santa Cruz, past president of the American Anthropological Association
“S. Ann Dunham’s Surviving against the Odds bears witness to her knowledge of and affection for the Southeast Asian nation of Indonesia. The book also speaks legions about Dunham’s integrity as a cultural anthropologist. . . . By the mid-1980s Dunham had begun to see the audience for her work as made up of not just academics but Indonesians, aid workers, and foreign analysts whose findings affect the lives of ordinary Indonesians. Rather than go with the academic flow, Dunham stayed true to a research program requiring varied and rigorous methodologies, all in an effort to speak truth to power and policy making.”—Robert W. Hefner, Boston University, president of the Association for Asian Studies, from the afterword
“The greetings that the village women exchanged with Mom conveyed an intimacy that made clear they had fully taken each other’s measure. Their connection had been established to a sufficient degree for laughter to be easy. Mom had come to a real understanding with them, it seemed, and not just the women; she was welcomed and trusted by all. This made me proud, I remember, for many of the same reasons my pride swells at the sight of my brother, our president; Mom too moved with such ease through every world, and people opened up at the sight of her smile.”—Maya Soetoro-Ng, daughter of S. Ann Dunham and sister of President Barack Obama, from the foreword
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Meet the Author
S. Ann Dunham (1942–1995), mother of President Barack Obama and Maya Soetoro-Ng, earned her undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees, all in anthropology, from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. Dunham spent years working on rural development, microfinance, and women’s welfare through organizations including USAID, the World Bank, the Ford Foundation, the Indonesian Federation of Labor Unions, and Bank Rakyat Indonesia. Alice G. Dewey, an Indonesianist, is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i. Nancy I. Cooper is Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i. Maya Soetoro-Ng has a doctorate in international comparative education from the University of Hawai‘i and teaches high-school history in Honolulu. Robert W. Hefner is Professor of Anthropology and Associate Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs at Boston University. He is President of the Association for Asian Studies.
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