What We Are Reading Today: Ethnography through Thick and Thin by George E. Marcus

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Updated 15 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Ethnography through Thick and Thin by George E. Marcus

In the 1980s, George Marcus spearheaded a major critique of cultural anthropology, expressed most clearly in the landmark book Writing Culture, which he coedited with James Clifford. Ethnography through Thick and Thin updates and advances that critique for the late 1990s. Marcus presents a series of penetrating and provocative essays on the changes that continue to sweep across anthropology. He examines, in particular, how the discipline’s central practice of ethnography has been changed by “multi-sited” approaches to anthropology and how new research patterns are transforming anthropologists’ careers. Marcus rejects the view, often expressed, that these changes are undermining anthropology. The combination of traditional ethnography with scholarly experimentation, he argues, will only make the discipline more lively and diverse.

The book is divided into three main parts. 

In the first, Marcus shows how ethnographers’ tradition of defining fieldwork in terms of peoples and places is now being challenged by the need to study culture by exploring connections, parallels, and contrasts among a variety of often seemingly incommensurate sites. The second part illustrates this emergent multi-sited condition of research by reflecting it in some of Marcus’s own past research on Tongan elites and dynastic American fortunes. In the final section, which includes the previously unpublished essay “Sticking with Ethnography through Thick and Thin,” Marcus examines the evolving professional culture of anthropology and the predicaments of its new scholars.

What We Are Reading Today: Social Butterflies by Henry S. Horn

Updated 05 August 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Social Butterflies by Henry S. Horn

Throughout his career, Henry S. Horn took a unique approach to the study of butterflies. This book brings together his findings with recent advances in behavioral ecology to provide an incomparable look at the social lives of butterflies, illuminating for the first time the marvelously diverse range of butterfly behaviors across several species.

Social Butterflies features in-depth studies of five sympatric species—the Plain Ringlet, the Eyed Brown, the Great Spangled Fritillary, the Viceroy, and the Pearly Eye—showing how their social interactions span much of the range of behaviors observed in vertebrates. Drawing on decades of his own keen observations in the field, Horn describes the natural history and behavioral peculiarities of each species and develops models to explain characteristic aspects of their behaviors. He then emphasizes key departures from these models to challenge the notion that butterflies are simply preconditioned to react to stimuli, showing how some make decisions by observing how other butterflies interact with the landscape and each other. Along the way, he sheds light on butterfly territoriality, mating tactics, vagrancy, feeding strategies, and more.

Charting new directions for future research, Social Butterflies poses intriguing questions about the complex and sometimes mystifying social behaviors of these marvelous creatures, making it essential reading for lepidopterists, ecologists, and anyone interested in the social behaviors of invertebrate species.

What We Are Reading Today: Music by the Numbers; From Pythagoras to Schoenberg

Updated 04 August 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Music by the Numbers; From Pythagoras to Schoenberg

Author: Eli Maor

Music is filled with mathematical elements. The works of Bach are often said to possess a math-like logic, and Arnold Schoenberg, Iannis Xenakis, and Karlheinz Stockhausen wrote music explicitly based on mathematical principles. 

Yet Eli Maor argues that it is music that has had the greater influence on mathematics, not the other way around. Starting with Pythagoras, proceeding through Schoenberg, and bringing the story up to the present with contemporary string theory, Music by the Numbers tells a fascinating story of composers, scientists, inventors, and eccentrics who have played a role in the age-old relationship between music, mathematics, and the physical sciences. 

Weaving compelling stories of historical episodes with Maor’s personal reflections as a mathematician and lover of classical music, this book will delight anyone who loves math and music.

What We Are Reading Today: Moon, Sun, and Witches by Irene Marsha Silverblatt

Updated 03 August 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Moon, Sun, and Witches by Irene Marsha Silverblatt

When the Spanish arrived in Peru in 1532, men of the Inca Empire worshipped the Sun as Father and their dead kings as ancestor heroes, while women venerated the Moon and her daughters, the Inca queens, as founders of female dynasties. 

In the pre-Inca period such notions of parallel descent were expressions of complementarity between men and women. Examining the interplay between gender ideologies and political hierarchy, Irene Silverblatt shows how Inca rulers used their Sun and Moon traditions as methods of controlling women and the Andean peoples the Incas conquered. She then explores the process by which the Spaniards employed European male and female imageries to establish their own rule in Peru and to make new inroads on the power of native women, particularly poor peasant women.

Harassed economically and abused sexually, Andean women fought back, earning in the process the Spaniards’ condemnation as “witches.” Fresh from the European witch hunts that damned women for susceptibility to heresy and diabolic influence, Spanish clerics were predisposed to charge politically disruptive poor women with witchcraft. 

Silverblatt shows that these very accusations provided women with an ideology of rebellion and a method for defending their culture

What We Are Reading Today: Putting it together

Updated 02 August 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Putting it together

Edited by James Lapine, Stephen Sondheim

Putting It Together chronicles the two-year odyssey of creating the iconic Broadway musical Sunday in the Park with George. 

This is a “really insightful look at a classic show,” said a review on goodreads.com. 

In 1982, James Lapine, at the beginning of his career as a playwright and director, met Stephen Sondheim, 19 years his senior and already a legendary Broadway composer and lyricist. 

Shortly thereafter, the two decided to write a musical inspired by Georges Seurat’s 19th-century painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. 

Through conversations between Lapine and Sondheim, as well as most of the production team, and with a treasure trove of personal photographs, sketches, script notes, and sheet music, the two Broadway icons lift the curtain on their beloved musical. 

Putting It Together is a deeply personal remembrance of their collaboration and friendship and the highs and lows of that journey, one that resulted in the beloved Pulitzer Prize–winning classic. 

Lapine “is an incisive and at times self-deprecating interviewer, conceding that his unfamiliarity with musical theater and direction could sometimes lead him astray,” said the review.

What We Are Reading Today: Metrics at Work by Angele Christin

Updated 01 August 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Metrics at Work by Angele Christin

When the news moved online, journalists suddenly learned what their audiences actually liked, through algorithmic technologies that scrutinize web traffic and activity. Has this advent of audience metrics changed journalists’ work practices and professional identities?

In Metrics at Work, Angèle Christin documents the ways that journalists grapple with audience data in the form of clicks, and analyzes how new forms of clickbait journalism travel across national borders.

Drawing on four years of fieldwork in web newsrooms in the US and France, including more than one hundred interviews with journalists, Christin reveals many similarities among the media groups examined— their editorial goals, technological tools, and even office furniture.

Yet she uncovers crucial and paradoxical differences in how American and French journalists understand audience analytics and how these affect the news produced in each country.

American journalists routinely disregard traffic numbers and primarily rely on the opinion of their peers to define journalistic quality.

Meanwhile, French journalists fixate on Internet traffic and view these numbers as a sign of their resonance in the public sphere.