Conversations with Ayanobasiya (Part Two: Polygamy)

“Why would a man have more than one wife?” I asked Ayanobasiya. “What? Do you want a war!” she replied. “I am not a man. You need to ask a man why.” “Your father even married six women,” I said. “What good is in it? I want your perspective.” Beyond the assumed sexual reasons, a …

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Conversations with Ayanobasiya (Part One)

Ayanobasiya was always ready to talk about heavy subjects.  “Can you describe what the next world is like when we die?” I asked unexpectedly. “What is the afterlife like?” She laughed. “Who do you think I am? I am not a koko (a witch returned from the dead). I have not died before!” Ayanobasiya looked …

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Against the Slavers: An Account of Resistance

In an earlier essay, I described how some Nankani families exchanged their children for food during times of need. This essay offers a perspective on how the Nankani experienced and resisted slave raids [1600 words]. “The Ashanti were coming here for us,” said Asingya, an elder that gave me Nankani history lessons. He was describing …

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Of House or Bush: The Cultural Psychodynamics of Infanticide in Northern Ghana

My latest article was accepted for publication in Current Anthropology. It has been a long ten years in the making. Infanticide, Oedipus, projection, family conflict, scapegoats, and narcissistic injury--all the makings of a good drama. I'll be posting a link to it after some final edits. For now, the abstract (summing up the 12,000 word behemoth) and …

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The Koko: Truth, Reality, and a Chimera

“In my tradition,” Ayisoba said, “we pour a libation before things begin.” It was the start of the dry season and early in my fieldwork with several Nankani communities in Northern Ghana. This was my first formal interview with Ayisoba,* although we had chatted several times before. The savanna air was comfortable. Families’ granaries were …

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A Brief Note: Bourdain and Anthropology

I rarely react to celebrity deaths. And I avoid the social media detritus strewn in their wake. I don’t identify with the famous. Perhaps what makes my sentiments around Bourdain’s passing different is that he was one of ours. We won’t admit it, but despite some quirks, many anthropologists envied him. His fieldwork. His voice. …

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On Personhood and its Subjunctivity

This post reflects on tentative and malleable forms of personhood--a construct we often consider to be given and fixed throughout life. This is an enhanced version of material originally appearing in Spirit Children: Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana. [1,300 words] Elijah and I sat chatting with three elder men outside a compound. Earlier we …

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A Brief Reflection on Learning and Doing Ethnography

I'm not big on business clichés and recycled quotes. However, I found an interesting statement by someone describing Bruce Lee's method. It's pointless in isolation, but when I applied it to thinking about ethnography, it made me consider the value of learning and doing "classic" ethnography (immersion and long-term participant observation). Doing so is a luxury. …

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Narrative Transformations: Reflections on Frey’s “Carry Forth the Stories”

My commentary on Rodney Frey's latest ethnography, Carry Forth the Stories: An Ethnographer’s Journey into Native Oral Tradition, was reciently published. It was an honor to be able to review and comment on his book. Rodney was my first mentor and MA advisor. Much of what he taught, and what his mentors showed him, shaped who I …

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On the “Reality” of Witchcraft

The following are some thoughts I shared with my Culture, Health, and Disease students on belief and reality. [950 words] “Why would anyone admit they are a sorcerer or a witch?” is a question that arises when I teach topics related to witchcraft, sorcery, and belief. This is a well-trod theme for anthropologists. However, it …

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An Introduction to Spirit Children: The Case of N’ma

The following is an excerpt from the introduction of my recent book, Spirit Children: Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana. The following ethnographic vignette introduces the spirit child phenomenon through the case of N’ma. [2,600 words] Outside his office one morning Joe was urgently awaiting my arrival. With a notebook and mobile phone in hand, he quickly …

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Rituals for Suspicion, Rituals for Fate

This piece moves further into how culture shapes our our interpersonal concerns. [2,900 words] I must have seemed unhinged. I was in the midst of an extended period of fieldwork and appearing irrational, anxious, and paranoid to outsiders. Julien, a visiting Swiss vaccine researcher, joked that I might "go bush" if I was not careful. …

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Spirit Children and Family Misfortune: The Case of Victor

The following is a second excerpt from my recent book, Spirit Children: Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana. Within rural Northern Ghana, the Nankani people describe how disabled or ill children and those whose births coincide with tragic events are spirit children sent from the bush to cause misfortune and destroy the family. Upon identification, …

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An Introduction to Psychoanalytic Anthropology: Perspectives (2/2)

This is the second post (of two) on psychoanalytic anthropology. The previous post, which discussed background details, is located here. There is significant diversity in how anthropologists have engaged or adopted psychoanalytic methods and theory in their ethnographic research and writing.  To summarize these perspectives, I grouped these approaches into four categories.  While presented as …

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An Introduction to Psychoanalytic Anthropology: The Background (1/2)

There has always been a kinship between anthropology and psychoanalysis, however uneven, from Freud’s interest in anthropological data and his attempts to link the psyche with social forms, to more contemporary shared theorizations of the self and subjectivity in culturally diverse contexts. Psychoanalyst and anthropologist Elizabeth Bott-Spillius believed that while the content and expressions between …

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What is Cultural Psychodynamics?

I frequently refer to parts of my research and writing as working from a "cultural psychodynamic" perspective. What is this? In short, it is a theory and methodology that brings together perspectives from cultural phenomenology and psychoanalysis (culture + psyche). It emphasizes the complexity of cultural subjects and examines the ways in which culture and …

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Risk, Hope, and Help-Seeking: The Case of Leah

The following is an excerpt from my recent book, Spirit Children: Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana. I present Leah and the challenges that her family had while caring for her. Experience-near, ethnographic accounts provide a much needed "human" and "lived" dimension to the oft-sterile health statistics and stereotypes that are used to inform …

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