Essential, influential, and recommended texts in cultural anthropology
December 22, 2015 2:07 AM   Subscribe

Allegra Lab's recently published list of 30 essential books in cultural anthropology overlaps substantially with Ryan Sayre's earlier list, 100 influential ethnographies and anthropological texts, but neither provides many details. Angela Stuesse's Engaged Ethnography site provides an up-to-date list of politically-engaged ethnographies (etc.) with descriptions of what to expect, and the Staley Prize each year selects and describes a book at least two years old but not more than eight to recognize recent work of lasting interest. Incidentally, many books on these lists are available online.

The following titles can be read at Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, or the Open Library, but note that influential anthropological "classics" may exemplify armchair anthropology, essentialism, ethnocentrism, colonialism or legacies of colonialism [PDF], exoticism, individual and/or structural selection biases [PDF], representation in the ethnographic present, and more--lessons/issues that are normally read critically while searching for further questions to ask.
posted by Wobbuffet (9 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
I still fondly remember the light that switched on in my brain after first reading The Original Affluent Society (one of the essays in the first link's Stone Age Economics by Marshall Sahlins).
posted by fairmettle at 2:20 AM on December 22, 2015

i haven't read a single one of those. is there anything that is interesting to the layperson? i guess maybe freud (i've heard he's a good read - i'm not particularly interested in whether any particular book is "correct" or not)?

(the one anthropological book i have read, i really enjoyed).
posted by andrewcooke at 4:33 AM on December 22, 2015

Holy shit, Wobbuffet, if your personal goal this December is to kick MeFi's ass into gear by posting the most incredible FPPs, you are sure achieving it. Thanks for this.

andrewcooke -- yes! I'd start with Fadiman and Hurston myself.
posted by thetortoise at 5:21 AM on December 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

is there anything that is interesting to the layperson?

I've only read three or so off of the first list (the Allegra Lab list), but I would say, based on those three, that if you are intellectually curious and willing to engage with sometimes difficult concepts and issues, that the answer is unequivocally yes. Number 25 on that list is Scheper-Hughes' Death Without Weeping, which remains probably the most powerful book I have ever read. It's not easy reading (because a book about child mortality is never going to be easy), but it is incredibly well-written and deeply thought through.

But I'd defer to someone who knows that field for a real suggestion about where to start as an interested outsider. I enjoyed reading Geertz, but I wouldn't suggest it as a starting point, for example.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:43 AM on December 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

The Fadiman book was written for mass market, so it's definitely of interest to a lay person.

I was a sociology/anthropology major in college and this list brings back a lot of memories.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:46 AM on December 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State David Price
posted by bukvich at 5:47 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

buckvich, is it working? This sounds like the HR department saying "from now on, we're going to use psychology, dammit!" Great idea, but the practice turns out to be more difficult than we imagined and is often counterproductive.
posted by sneebler at 8:21 AM on December 22, 2015

There's also a nice cache of classic cultural anthropology texts over at HAU Books.
posted by cosmologinaut at 8:44 AM on December 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

sneebler what they do is hire social science degreed folk to curate death squad hit lists. If body count counts as working it works very well.
posted by bukvich at 9:10 AM on December 22, 2015

« Older Despite What You May Think, My NFL Career Was a...   |   ‘The Quatermass Experiment’ Experiment. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments