Anchoring the Unspeakable: Trauma in Younger Onset Dementia Narratives

“Before the dementia diagnosis, Marcel and I were at dinner with some Jewish friends from South Africa,” said Ruth, Marcel’s wife. I was interviewing Ruth about Marcel’s younger onset dementia. “Marcel started talking about things he never talked of before,” she said. “He told stories about himself during the Holocaust as a child. You know, …

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Passing the Flame: Narrative Trajectories of Trauma

This essay was destined to be a commentary on an article for a small journal I occasionally contribute to. However, my commentary was lost (likely buried in a chain of emails) and not published. To not be a complete loss, I am posting it here. While this version reads better when paired with the article …

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Contesting Identities: Historical Trauma, Loss, and Cultural Authenticity

“Where do the Coeur d’Alene people come from?” asked Richard. Richard, the Coeur d’Alene Nation's cultural resource manager, was interviewing me about my research proposal. It was 2001, and I was beginning an ethnographic project with a Coeur d’Alene family on intergenerational relations and identity. I was new to anthropology. Intimidated. I wondered why he …

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No One Wants to Be “That” Mother: Middle-Class Ideas of the Good Life

By Emma Jelstrup Balkin In this guest essay, Emma, a graduate student at Macquarie University, discusses her research on how neoliberal economic models impact middle-class parents in Australia. “It’s really tough… and no one really understands what I’m going through.” I’m interviewing Laura, a single mother of three children. Her six-year-old daughter Marnie has become …

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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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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.  “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 remains significant …

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Rituals for Suspicion, Rituals for Fate

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. I was not losing my mind. Nor was I "going native," a term describing …

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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

As I wrote 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 emotional and imaginative reactions in listeners and readers. Spirit children are, most often, disabled or ill children believed to be spirits sent to destroy the family. In …

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