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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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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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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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The White Man is My Driver

I'm working on a collection of essays and experimenting with different forms of writing. Readability and narrative will be privileged over theory and abstraction. In other words, the book consists of mostly the good parts. [1800 words] In rural Northern Ghana if you have a vehicle you likely hold a powerful position or are successful. Using …

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Theories of Culture in Uncertain Times: Anthropology and the Rise of Financial Risk Culture

This post originally appeared on Linkedin. At the time, I intended it to be the first in a series exploring the role that anthropology can play in risk culture. I remain interested in this area; however, due to other priorities it will likely be sometime before I write more on this theme.  Since the 2008 financial crisis, …

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Finding Empathy Through Troubling Stories

This reflection was originally posted on the University of Wisconsin Press website to mark the publication of my book, "Spirit Children: Illness and Poverty in Ghana." As I began writing about infanticide and the “spirit child” phenomenon in Northern Ghana, I became interested in how narratives of vulnerability and difficult human experiences can evoke powerful …

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