In read on August 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm
Marston, John, ed. 2011. Anthropology and community in Cambodia: reflections on the work of May Ebihara. Caulfield (AUS): Monash University Press.
It’s rare enough for new academic texts on Cambodia to be published that each publication feels something like an event. John Marston‘s latest edited volume doesn’t fail that test. Marston, previously co-edited a volume of collected essays titled “History, Buddhism, and new religious movements in Cambodia,” along with Elizabeth Guthrie. This new volume follows another recent festschrift in honor of David Chandler. The festschrifts come fast and furious recently, which is both gratifying and nerve-wracking, since the arrival of festschrifts usually implies the transfer to field or disciplinary authority to a new generation. John is of that next generation, and along with his peers – my elders – reassures the reader that they will be able to continue moving the field forward.
May Ebihara was an astonishing person in many many ways. I won’t ruin the experience of getting to know her from the book, which open with a lovely essay on Ebihara by David Chandler, and closes with a transcript of an interview between Marston and Ebihara. I had the honor of meeting her in person just once, and prior to meeting her Chandler told me, with the sort of grave seriousness that meant I both should and should not take his pronouncements too seriously, that there “are two things you need to know about May. First: she’s a very little women. Second: she’s really not.” David was right. May was a woman of astonishing short physical stature. But she took up a lot of room. Not in a boorish or dominating way, but rather through her humor, her openness to conversation with anyone – even lowly graduates who stumbled onto a dinner far above their station – and her intelligence, which was both broad and deep.
As the only American anthropologist to have conducted a field ethnography prior to the Khmer Rouge period, her work holds an enormous amount of value for all of us in the field. Her dissertation Svay continues to be a foundational source of understanding about Cambodian peasant life. The best advice I ever received when writing my own dissertation was that “dissertations were meant to be bound on all four sides.” This remains completely untrue of Ebihara’s great dissertation.
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In quote on August 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm
Both of my long-term readers know that the key concept in my work on Cambodian funerals and religion is deathpower, the social power created through the proper (moral or amoral) management of death. A colleague recommended Alfred Gell‘s monumental 1998 volume Art and Agency: an anthropological theory to me, and what do I find on p. 149 but this gem, which practically describes my work:
A Buddha statue celebrates the possibility of a ‘good death’ and monks are semi-dead individuals who aspire to the ultimate good-death condition….In a sense, then, what the relic does is make the Buddha state like the Buddha, by making it ‘dead’ through the insertion of a ‘death-substance’–in the rather paradoxical sense that Buddha-hood implies death-in-life.
In notice on July 18, 2011 at 9:59 am
I’m deeply saddened to hear that the great anthropologist Georges Condominas, whose work has been an important influence in my own approach, has passed away. His amazing ethnographic style, on display in We Have Eaten the Forest, would have been sufficient to make him a master. But his thoughts on ritual, agriculture, religion, and ethnic identity (via the concept of emboîtement – ‘emboxment’) have influenced so many at this point, that his presence in the field is undoubtedly assured for a great while.
The Vietnamese Language Centre in Singapore has this excellent obituary.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Condominas.
via VIETNAM LANGUAGE CENTRE IN SINGAPORE
In comment, sounding on April 18, 2011 at 2:45 pm
Happy Khmer New Year, everybody! សួស្តី ឆ្នាំថ្មី! I’m a few days late of course, but my wishes are sincere for all of that. May your upcoming year be full of health, success, happiness, and peace. I was not able, this year, to attend the awesome (and increasingly awesome) New Year’s events at my local Khmer temple – Wat Munisota [I can't ever say that name without wanting to point out how fantastically funny and smart the namers were: Munisota means (in Sanskrit and Khmer): "That which is heard from the sage" (the Dharma), but of course, it also sounds very much like "Minnesota," which was intentional. Brilliant, good humor], in spite of some excellent invitations. But I’m hopeful I might be able to make it to the Madison temple‘s New Year celebration this coming Saturday.
In this week’s Sounding on Cambodia, I talk about:
- The 36th anniversary of the Fall of Phnom Penh, April 17, 1975 [The picture above is Lon Nol Buddhist-inspired propaganda which characterizes the communist insurgency as Vietnamese anti-Buddhist monsters, defeated by the power of Nang Thorani's hair in the scene of the Buddha's enlightenment].
- “Aid to Cambodia Rarely Reaches the People it’s Intended to Help,” by Joel Brinkley, and a review of Joel Brinkley’s new book, “Cambodia’s Curse,” by Elizabeth Becker
- PM Hun Sen rumored to have lung cancer – no confirmation
More after the jump…
In sounding on July 2, 2010 at 3:02 pm
Some things that have crossed my wires (in all senses) recently, that I’m keeping track of:
- Theory is a force that gives us meaning. A very good post which makes a point similar to that of the revered J.Z. Smith: in order for theory to be truly useful, it must be at least temporarily granted the opportunity to direct and determine portions of our reasoning. Or else it’s largely just academic window dressing. My students will be reading this next Spring.
- “But Don’t We All Just Feature In Our Own Stories?” No. Against Narrativity.
- The flexibility of memory. An awesome Slate Magazine project in mass manipulation, demonstrating media’s awesome capacity for mind-control, even in the supposedly democratic anti-ideological age of the !n†3rw3Bz. Also, remember Satanic Ritual Abuse? It never happened either.
- Another great post by Economic Anthropologist Keith Hart on Marcel Mauss: Mauss on gifts, markets, and money.
- A nice intro to Whorfian-style language-constraint theory on BoingBoing, of all places.
- Highlight the connections between people! A call for doing anthropology differently, along the lines of what I think as the Deleuzian dictum: “Relativism is not the the relativity of truth, but the truth of relation.”
- OOOOOOH! Anthropology Timelines!
- Some thoughts on whether folktales, the sort of which I have spent a fair bit of time studying, translating, and interpreting, were involved in Khmer revolts of the Middle Period.
In comment, teach on March 4, 2010 at 11:26 am
This is sooooooo cool. I can hardly stand it. I’m bringing it to my classes.
FT.com / Reportage – Exclusive Claude Lévi-Strauss cartoon.
In teach on February 25, 2010 at 11:57 am
I feel pretty good, but have no voice whatsoever. So, since I have four and a half hours of class to teach today, I’ve spent the morning typing out my introduction to Victor Turner for my class on Ritual. We’ve spent most of the first three weeks discussing Durkheim’s Elementary Forms and van Gennep’s Rites of Passage, but the students have not been given formal introductions to Marx or Weber in this class (though they’ve likely encountered them elsewhere).
The reason I’m really posting this here, though, is that I’d like to submit these notes to the collective wisdom of both of my readers. Anything in here you’d care to quibble about? Let me know!
RITUAL – Introducing Victor Turner
Erik W. Davis
In many ways, Turner sets the stage for contemporary interventions in the anthropological theory and study of ritual. He combines in his person and scholarship a lot of the concerns from conflicting and previously unassociated theoretical approaches: Marxism, Durkheim, and Van Gennep.
Durkheim and His Competitor Trains of Thought
Recall that Durkheim is considered one of the three major founders of Social thought (inclusive of both Anthropology and Sociology), along with Karl Marx and Max Weber. Each of these founders has a distinctive approach to key problems: the nature of the social division of labor, the relationship of economic and social organization to ideology and religion, ‘modernity,’ and the role of institutions in social life.
Each of them were confronted by an apparently radically novel social situation – capitalism – which seemed to break definitively from all previous forms of traditional society. It is difficult to overemphasize the extent to which all three of these thinkers, regardless of their differences, saw the contemporary modern period as a period of profound social flux and change. All of them also tied these changes to capitalism, the new division of labor in society into classes, and the role of religion. Summarizing any of these individual’s thought does violence to their subtlety. However, schematically, we can characterize them in the following ways:
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In sounding on February 24, 2010 at 11:53 am
Some interesting stories along the garden path of my day:
In read on February 16, 2010 at 10:17 am
Important new events within the criminally insane Human Terrain System, a military program enlisting anthropologists to serve as the front lines of colonial oppression.
I’m going to link to Maximilian Forte’s Zero Anthropology Blog here, instead of the original articles at Counterpunch and elsewhere, because Max has the best online coverage of the HTS available, and should be your first-stop shop for attempting to understand the issues.
David Price: Human Terrain Systems Dissenter Resigns, Tells Inside Story of Training’s Heart of Darkness.
Also: the disgraced Montgomery McFate (like lots of folks with anti-social personality disorder, she doesn’t seem to realize or care that she’s been disgraced) is apparently back blogging at her ridiculously named military porno site, “I luv a man in a uniform.” This person is driving the policy? Seriously?