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Anthropology and Anthropologists

Anthropology and Anthropologists

Anthropology is a social science that devotes itself to the holistic study of humankind in its variation and commonality across time and space. It encompasses four major subdisciplines: (1) cultural/social anthropology, also called ethnology, which focuses largely on contemporary cultures and societies, representing its findings in ethnography; (2) archaeology, which examines the evolutionary and historical past by excavating artifacts and other material remains; 3) anthropological linguistics, which studies the development, structure, and sociocultural dynamics of languages; and 4) physical or biological anthropology, the study of human biology as it has evolved over time and adapted to diverse biocultural environments. The anthropology of African Americans brings together concepts, perspectives, and methodological tools from all the discipline's subfields into a specialization that concentrates on African descendants in the Americas.

Although the United States has been a setting in which African-American studies has developed extensive institutional support, scholarly projects of this sort have not been restricted to the United States nor to academic settings. There are parallel yet interconnected African-American anthropologies in the Caribbean and Latin America. While each national project has had its own approach, there have been shared themes that unify these complementary bodies of knowledge into a cohesive inquiry. The field has developed, in part, from the efforts of scholars who have belonged to networks connecting them to their counterparts in other parts of the world. Ideas have been exchanged and cross-fertilized within these transnational circuits that have not been confined to university-based and formally trained researchers. Also, individuals trained in other professions have made their mark on the field. The father of U.S. anthropology, Franz Boas, began his career in physical geography. The physician, diplomat, and politician Jean Price-Mars founded Haiti's Institut d'Ethnologie, and the father of Afro-Cuban studies, Fernando Ortiz, initially worked as a lawyer.

The major themes within the various African-American anthropologies are: (1) nature versus nurture in explaining racial differences; (2) folklore; (3) African survivals versus New World or "Creole" cultural rebirth; (4) diasporic religions; (5) social organization; (6) forms of difference and inequality (e.g., race, class, ethnicity, and gender) and their implications for identity, social action, and political mobilization; and (7) the political economy of poverty, social mobility, and development. Anthropologists have brought historical depth, cross-cultural perspective, and geographical breadth to these concerns.

Debating the Biology and Biologization of Race

In the U.S. context, anthropology emerged as a profession in the middle of the nineteenth century. It played a leading role in the development of scientific racism, which gave a veneer of legitimacy to the idea that African Americans were inferior and unworthy of full citizenship and equal rights. Race crossing was seen as a danger to white purity and national progress. Antimiscegenation laws promoted boundary maintenance and population control. While these devices did not prevent intimate interracial contact, they stigmatized it. This distinctly American approach contrasted with the way that interracial unions and mixedness were dealt with in other parts of the hemisphere. Intermediate categories between black and white existed, and national ideologies espousing the virtues of mestizaje (mixedness) prevailed. The implicit goal of these nations, however, was whitening. Whereas in the United States biologized thinking assumed that races were mutually exclusive and permanent, the version of Social Darwinism that took hold in Latin America and the Caribbean allowed for the racial mobility of the few individuals with sufficient money and cultural prestige to offset the stigma of blackness. Despite racial harmony myths, governments encouraged the immigration of Europeans and implemented other policies to reduce the population of blacks and mulattos, who were concentrated in the lowest sectors of the socioeconomic structure.

In his 1854 speech "The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered," Frederick Douglass initiated the nature versus nurture debate in U.S. public culture. In another part of the New World, Anténor Firmin, a Haitian statesman and member of the Paris Anthropology Society, refuted the validity of Arthur de Gobineau's 18531855 treatise, Essay on the Inequality of Human Races, with a counterargument entitled The Equality of the Human Races. This 1885 publication offered an alternative to biological determinism. Firmin's accomplishment inspired Jean Price-Mars, who established an ethnological school in the early twentieth century, to document the cultural roots of Haitian national identity. W. E. B. Du Bois's Health and Physique of the Negro American (1906) reported the results of anthropometric research that demonstrated the effects of environment on physique and health. In 1932 Carolyn Bond Day published A Study of Some Negro-White Families in the United States. She combined anthropometry and ethnography to demonstrate the normalcy of middle- and upper-middle-class African-American families in Atlanta, who because of their admixture were misrepresented as degenerate threats to the nation. In the 1920s Melville Herskovits conducted a study in Harlem, West Virginia, and the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C. He concluded that African Americans were a new racial amalgam of tri-racial origins. Due to segregation, they had developed a distinctive physical type marked by relatively low variability. His observations at Howard convinced him that intelligence was not correlated with the amount of "white blood." W. Montague Cobb, a professor of anatomy and medicine at Howard (1930s1980s), established a laboratory and skeletal collection with which he refuted biodeterminism and promoted socially responsible research on health.

Today critical biological anthropologists are examining racism's effects on health and learning, underscoring that genetic endowment never operates independently of social environments. Recent bio-archaeological investigations document the stresses that Africans and African descendants faced at work and in other domains of their lives. Manifested in diet, disease, childbirth, accidents, and violence, the abuses of both slavery and freedom had effects on bodies, revealed by skeletal and DNA remains. The excavation of burial grounds uncovers evidence on religious practices as well as clues about the regions of African origins.


From the late nineteenth century through the first half of the twentieth century, black folklore was an important focus of anthropological interest. Franz Boas was an advocate for collecting myths, legends, tales, songs, conundrums, jokes, and games as evidence for studying continuities and discontinuities with the past. He assumed that African Americans would eventually assimilate into Euroamerican culture and that the mass migration of southern blacks to northern cities would accelerate the loss of folk traditions. Hence, it was urgent to collect folk narratives while they remained elements of black popular life and cultural specificity. African Americans recruited and trained to collect folkloric materials included Arthur Huff Faucet and Zora Neale Hurston. Faucet studied blacks in Nova Scotia, Canada, emphasizing cultural hybridity and diversity among various African diasporic communities rather than diffusion from Africa. Hurston's research in the U.S. South and the Caribbean was published in Mules and Men (1935), Tell My Horse (1938), and in the novels and other literary writings for which she is better known. Operating outside the Boasian school, Katherine Dunham focused on dance in Jamaica and Haiti (e.g., Journey to Accompong, 1946; Dances of Haiti, 1947). She went on to develop a distinctive dance method and a style of concert dance informed by her fieldwork. Ellen Irene Diggs studied Afro-Cuban folkways with Fernando Ortiz. With Lydia Cabrera and Afro-Cuban intellectual Rómulo Lachatañeré, Ortiz established a program of study focused on Afro-Cuban folklore. Ortiz was influenced by Raymundo Nina Rodrigues, whose folkloric interests were in Afro-Brazilian religions. Rodrigues also influenced the direction that Arthur Ramos took (O folk-lore negro do Brasil, 1935). In Haiti, Jean Price-Mars (Ainsi parla l'oncle, 1928) promoted folkloric studies of Haitian peasants. Another Haitian who conducted folkloric research was Jacques Roumain, whose writings helped to delineate a distinctively Haitian aesthetic. His most significant writing was ethnographic fiction. His novel, Masters of the Dew (1944), depicted the peasantry's collective potential for change.

Martha Warren Beckwith conducted extensive field-work on folk life in Jamaica in the early 1920s. Her Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaican Folklife (1923) was the most comprehensive treatment at that time of folk beliefs and practices, including Anansi stories, games, ethnobotony, and religious cults. John Szwed and Roger Abrahams were two other Americans who made contributions to folklore; in the 1960s they studied urban folklore in the United States. Szwed examined the adaptations to racial conflict that sacred and secular musical styles represented. Abrahams's research focused on the verbal arts, such as the competitive verbal sparring, "playing the dozens." He also extended his research to the English Caribbean, where he continued to examine the folk performances of "men of words."

Africanisms and Creolization

"Africanism" is the concept that Herskovits coined for African cultural survivalsretentions and the more amorphous reinterpretations. When Herskovits initially came into contact with members of the New Negro movement, the scholarly arm of the Harlem Renaissance, he, like his mentor Boas, espoused an assimilationism that conflicted with the views of his African-American colleagues. Through ongoing conversations with them as well as with his international counterparts, he shifted his position to one emphasizing the legacy of the African past, manifest in retentions, reinterpretation, syncretisms, and cultural foci.

Herskovits's approach sparked controversy. Sociologist E. Franklin Frazier was the most articulate critic in the United States. In his view, African Americans in the United States had been stripped of African culture and social organization by the trauma of slavery and racism. Frazier's critique was informed by his focus on social structure and adaptation to economic conditions. Herskovits placed greater emphasis on symbolic elements, which were most amenable to his idea of reinterpretation. The Jamaican social anthropologist M. G. Smith expressed concern over Herskovits's conceptual imprecision and neglect of details about culture contact situations, which varied across the diaspora as well as over time. The varying social, economic, and political dynamics of New World contact situations affected the conditions under which cultural change occurred. Yet such variables were largely absent from Herskovits's

analysis. Herkosvits found another theoretical contender in studies organized around the concept of creolization, the birth of new sociocultural forms from the raw materials of the cultures that came into contact in New World contexts. Those materials were reconstructed and reintegrated in response to environmental constraints.

Sidney W. Mintz and Richard Price have sought to reconcile retention and creolization approaches. They delineate the processes by which African cultural materials contributed to the institution building that the enslaved undertook to make their lives meaningful and coherent (The Birth of African-American Culture, 1992 [1976]). Instead of emphasizing direct continuities from the African past, Mintz and Price point to the change and creativity that characterized African-American sociocultural life. They also underscore the role that underlying "grammatical" principles played. The study of language has been an important source of metaphor-concepts for cultural anthropological studies of the African diaspora. It also has elucidated the birth and development of creole languages, which are full-fledged languages in their own right, as well as of the situationally-shifting usage of black dialects of English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch.

Diasporic Religions

Interest in syncretist religions has led U.S. and European researchers to the Caribbean and Brazil. Native researchers in these settings have been active documentarians as well. At the turn of the twentieth century, Raymundo Nina Rodrigues was known for his psychoanalytic approach to Afro-Brazilian religions. His work had a major impact on Ramos's research in the 1930s. Afro-Brazilians who studied the survival of African cultural heritage in Bahia included João da Silva Campos, João Varella, and Édison Carneiro. Carneiro was a journalist and amateur ethnographer (Religiões Negras, 1936) whose expertise put him in demand as a consultant for formally trained researchers. He collaborated with American anthropologist Ruth Landes, who researched Bahian Candomblé during the late 1930s and wrote City of Women (1947). Her emphasis was not on African survivals. Placing religious practices in the context of local history and politics, she examined gender and sexuality, including the ritual significance of homoeroticism. These foci made her work unacceptable in Brazil and the United States.

French ethnologist and sociologist Roger Bastide made an impact with his studies of Candomblé's relationship to historically changing social and economic conditions. Moving beyond a strictly cultural analysis, he recognized that the situations of culture contact that produced syncretisms and reinterpretations represented "complex webs of communication, of domination-subordination, or of egalitarian exchange. They are a part of institutions." (The African Religions of Brazil: Toward a Sociology of the Interpenetration of Civilizations, 1978, p. x).

Cuba was also an important venue for research on religious syncretisms. In association with Cabrera and Lachatañeré, Ortiz produced an extensive body of work. His most important contribution was his theory of transculturation, a term he coined as an alternative to acculturation, which often assumes subordinates becoming more like those who dominate them. Elaborated in Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar (1947), transculturation assumes a more complex multicultural situation in which there is interaction between two or more cultures that are mutually changed. Ortiz's earliest writings on Afro-Cuban religions were biased by his reduction of black religious practices to brujería, sorcery, illegal and deviant behavior. The view he articulated in Los negros brujos (1906) was influenced by the positivist criminology of Cesare Lombroso and Enrico Ferri. Their research on criminals relied on techniques for measuring faces and bodies, from which inferences about natural criminal inclinations were made. Lachatañeré criticized Ortiz's use of brujería and proposed an alternative term: Santería, the way of the saints. Lachatañeré was the first Afro-Cuban to write extensively on religious syncretism, interpreting myths of orishas, the syncretized deities or saints (Oh, Mío Yemayá! 1938, reprinted as Afro-Cuban Myths: Yemayá and other Orishas, 2005).

Cabrera, like Ortiz, was a white translator of black folklore. She collected proverbs, Abakuá tales and legends, and the ceremonial lexicon of the Yoruba. She also wrote fiction rich in symbolism informed by Afro-Cuban religion and culture (e.g., Black Stories of Cuba, 1940). Her most important book was El Monte: Notes on the Religion, the Magic, the Superstitions, and the Folklore of Creole Negroes and the Cuban People (1954). Andrés Rodriguez Reyes and Beatriz Morales are contemporary Afro-Cuban anthropologists who study Santería. Morales has followed its adherents' migration paths to the United States, where the religion has adapted to new settings and attracted non-Cuban converts. In one case, the orishas have been de-Catholicized in an Afrocentric "reinterpretation" that renews the religion's so-called authenticity.

Haiti and Jamaica have also been important sites for research on religious cults and movements. Native ethnologists such as Price-Mars and, decades later, Michel Laguerre (Voodoo and Politics in Haiti, 1989) and Leslie Desmangles (The Faces of the Gods: Vodou and Roman Catholicism in Haiti, 1992), have made important contributions. Two African-American women, Zora Neale Hurston and Katherine Dunham, undertook ethnographic projects in Haiti during the 1930s. Hurston's treatment of voodoo in both New Orleans and Haiti reveals her interest in the central role women and male-female tensions played in religious and other societal contexts. Both she and Dunham underwent rites of initiation rather than only observe them. In the late 1930s and early 1940s Maya Deren worked as an assistant and performer in the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. In 1947 she began to study vodou rituals in Haiti. Her participant observation led to initiation as a priestess. She published Divine Horsemen (1953) and produced the beginnings of a film by the same name. Swiss ethnologist Alfred Metraux gained international recognition as an authority; his ethnography, Voodoo in Haiti (1959) is still recognized as a classic. More recently, Karen McCarthy Brown's Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn (1991) combines her personal experience, life history, and theology to examine the reorganization of vodou in the context of transnational life in the United States.

The American anthropologist George Eaton Simpson studied Caribbean religions and religious pluralism during the 1950s. His writings on Haitian vodou, Trinidadian Shango, and Jamaican Revivalism and Rastafarianism examined acculturation, racial and class conflict, and politics. He characterized Rastafari as a social movement and situated it in the context of urban poverty and colonial oppression in the shantytowns of Jamaica's capital city, Kingston. The Jamaican government-commissioned report (The Ras Tafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica ) that Jamaican social scientists M. G. Smith, Roy Auguier, and Rex Nettleford published in 1960 presented Rastafarian grievances as legitimate rather than as the irrational rantings of deviants. Barry Chevannes has produced the most comprehensive work on Rastafari religion as well as shed light on its historical continuities with earlier folk religions, such as the Revival tradition. American anthropologist John Pulis has also written on Rastafari and has taken an historical approach to tracing its genealogy. Toward that end, he has examined the early-nineteenth-century Native Baptism/Anabaptist movement, influenced by black loyalist ministers from the United States who migrated to Jamaica in the wake of the Revolutionary War. (The British promised manumission to blacks who supported the Crown.) Australian anthropologist Diane Austin Broos's writings on contemporary Pentecostalism are also noteworthy for elucidating working class experience and worldview.

Social Organization

The varied patterns of kinship, marriage, and household organization found especially in peasant and working-class communities have been the subject of debates over African survivals, adaptive mechanisms, and cultural deficits and pathology. Eurocentric and class-biased notions about nuclear families have interfered with culturally unbiased inquiry. British ethnographer R. T. Smith (The Negro Family in British Guiana, 1956) and Jamaican anthropologists Edith Clarke (My Mother Who Fathered Me, 1957) and M. G. Smith (West Indian Family Structure, 1962) provided evidence that African-Caribbean households and families should not be viewed through a lens that only sees disorganization and dysfunction. The adaptive kinship organization that they documented was characterized by matrifocality, a consanguineal (blood kin) emphasis, and a development cycle in which having children was not necessarily linked to legal marriage. Sexual relations and mating patterns ranged from visiting relationships and consensual unions to marriage, the latter being more likely to occur later in the life cycle, when resources were more predictable. American anthropologist Nancie L. Gonzalez (Migration and Modernization: Adaptive Reorganization in the Black Carib Household, 1969), who worked along Central America's Caribbean coast, emphasized the high rate of outmigration that left communities without large numbers of marriageable men. High levels of unemployment and economic insecurity have also been important factors. Matrifocal kinship networks have been instrumental in pooling limited resources and sharing responsibilities for subsistence and childcare.

In the late 1960s Peter Wilson studied Providencia's crews, male units of social organization. In Crab Antics: The Social Anthropology of English-Speaking Societies of the Caribbean (1973) he claimed that West Indian life is organized around the contrasting principles of respectability and reputation. Tony L. Whitehead presented an alternative perspective on the importance of achieving a social balance between class-appropriate forms of respectability and reputation. Jean Besson disputed the claim that reputational attributes (e.g., toughness and independence) are only male, because working-class and peasant women exhibit them as well to meet their work and family responsibilities. Although respectability may be an important value, class and color dynamics make poor women less respectable than middle- and upper-class "ladies." Lisa Douglass's research (The Power of Sentiment: Love, Hierarchy, and the Jamaican Family Elite, 1992) underscores this principle of gender, race, and class hierarchy. She also argues that elite and lower-class kinship is more alike than Fernandes Henriques's Family and Colour in Jamaica (1953) acknowledged. Matrifocal emphasis within the domestic sphere and the "cult of manhood" exist across class. Indeed, elite and lower-class families are sometimes connected by consanguineal relationships generated by extramarital bonds.

In the United States Carol Stack, Joyce Aschenbrenner, and Niara Sudarkasa have countered misrepresentations of African-American families as unstable units lacking organization. They argue that female-headed households are not intrinsically dysfunctional or responsible for perpetuating poverty, academic underachievement, and crime. In the 1980s Sudarkasa revived Herskovits's concern by arguing that continuities with the African cultural past can be detected in African-American families. In her view, the value placed on consanguineality and matrifocality is consistent with the cultural logic underlying West African polygynous family compounds.

Intersecting Hierarchies and Stratifications

African diasporic peoples live in societies characterized by complexity and diversity along lines of race, ethnicity, class, and gender. To make sense of Caribbean diversity in particular, M. G. Smith applied the plural society model, originally crafted for explaining interethnic conflicts in the former Dutch East Indies. In the anthropological study of the African Americas, concepts of race, class and gender have been significant. In the 1930s African-American anthropologists Allison Davis and St. Clair Drake were part of a biracial research team that studied the organization of race and class in Mississippi (Davis et al., Deep South: A Social Anthropological Study of Caste and Class, 1941). They understood that class was an important organizing principle that operated in conjunction with race, conceptualized in that research in terms of birthascribed caste.

Anthropologists as well as laypeople commonly apply the concept of race in describing African descendants, whereas ethnicity is more often used for Native Americans and Asians. This double standard is particularly relevant to the Caribbean and Latin America because it implies a structure of differentiation in which black culture, apart from elements (e.g., Carnival and emblematic musical and dance genres) appropriated by national culture, are negatively evaluated in terms of deficits that must be filled through acculturation. The extensive color lexicon developed to describe peoples of African descent represents a yardstick for measuring improvement through admixture and lightening. A graded color vocabulary has not been applied to East Indians or Chinese, whose relationship to colonially dominant whites was expressed as a ranking among civilizations. Africans, on the other hand, were historically represented as primitive and savage.

Anthropologists have studied the social construction of race in diverse cultural contexts, showing that the racial regime in the United States is not universal but the product of unique conditions. Boas and Du Boisand a later generation of scholars that included Allison Davis and his colleagues, Burleigh and Mary Gardner, St. Clair Drake, and Ashley Montagulaid the foundations for the critical study of race in the United States. The 1990s saw a resurgence of interest in race. Social anthropologist Audrey Smedley (Race in North America : The Origin and Evolution of a Worldview, 1993) and historian of anthropology Lee D. Baker (From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 18961954, 1998) emerged as two of the leading voices in this discourse. Other African-American anthropologists who have recently addressed the ideological and material dynamics of race and racism in the United States and in other places in the diaspora include biological anthropologist Michael Blakey (U.S.) and cultural anthropologists Marilyn Thomas-Houston (U.S.), Angela Gilliam (Brazil and Mexico), Edmund T. Gordon (Nicaragua), Gayle McGarity (Cuba), Yolanda T. Moses (U.S.), Trevor Purcell (Costa Rica), Kimberly Simmons (Dominican Republic), Frances Winddance Twine (Brazil), and Faye V. Harrison, who has taken a comparative approach.

Brazil has long been a site where American anthropologists have gone to study race. In the 1950s and 1960s Charles Wagley and Marvin Harris studied racial classification there. Harris interpreted Brazil's situationally contingent and ambiguous "racial calculus," which contrasted with the bipolar categories in the United States. Recent ethnographers have questioned Brazil's racial democracy. France Winddance Twine, John Burdick, and Robin Sheriff are three of the American critics. Brazilian anthropologists have also been vocal. João H. Costa Vargas is an Afro-Brazilian whose research on racism, politics, and human rights raises provocative questions that challenge the dominant paradigm. A product of the black consciousness movement himself, he is interested in the solidarity networking that black Brazilian activists have begun to establish with their counterparts in the United States.

The dominant paradigm for studying race in Brazil can be traced back to Gilberto Freyre's historical sociology of slavery and race relations, as exemplified by his Masters and Slaves (1933) and Mansions and Shanties (1936). Providing an historical rationale for racial democracy, he claimed that Brazilian slavery was mild, based on paternalistic relationships that humanized the institution. Florestan Fernandes (The Negro in Brazilian Society, 1969), who was part of the UNESCO Race Relations Project of the 1950s, challenged the myth of racial democracy but explained racism's persistence as a remnant from the preindustrial past (without understanding that racism also has modern faces). The year he published his critique, the military dictatorship removed him from his teaching position, forcing him to flee the country for several years. Thales de Azevedo is another leading anthropologist who distinguished himself. To disprove the myth of racial democracy, he documented the cases of racial discrimination reported in the media, clearing the way for more recent research.

Other anthropologists who have made important contributions to our understanding of race in the African diaspora in Latin America are: Norman Whitten, Jr. (Ecuador), who in the 1960s helped set the stage for Afro-American studies in Latin America; Peter Wade (Colombia), whose ethnographic analysis is rich and theoretically nuanced; Arlene Torres (Puerto Rico), who insists that, regardless of socially orchestrated denials, blackness is central to the histories and cultural landscapes of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean; Bobby Vaughn (Mexico), who brings perspectives from the Pacific Costa Chica into the discussion; and Helen Safa (Hispanic Caribbean, Brazil), who has examined racial discourses in Latin America generally.

Studies of gender in the diaspora have grown considerably over the past two decades. Most of the chapters in Black Feminist Anthropology (McClaurin, 2001) address the interplay of gender and race in the diaspora. An earlier anthology, The Black Woman Cross-Culturally (1980), edited by Filomina Chioma Steady, was, and perhaps still is, the most extensive collection of anthropological essays on women in the diaspora and Africa. Recently women-centered research has been complemented by ethnographic investigations that examine genderthe meanings, relations, and practices that culturally define the identities, roles, and social positions of the sexes, males and females along with transgendered persons. Peter Wilson and Tony Whitehead are examples of ethnographers who have addressed the cultural struggles and negotiations that shape diasporic masculinity. Lisa Douglass examines the cultural politics of femininity in a cultural system in which stark distinctions are made between working-class black womanhood and upper-class white or whitened femininity. A number of other gender-cognizant ethnographies already been mentioned, for instance, the writings of Hurston, Landes, and McCarthy Brown. Studies of diasporic kinship, even when gender remains implicit, usually have relevant implications. Gender may also be a salient dimension in analyses of socioeconomic dynamics.

Our understanding of the cultural and power dynamics of gender, class, and race along with those related to age and rural or urban residence also has been enhanced by sociolinguistic research. Many diasporic situations are characterized by language usage and competence that is diglossic or heteroglossic. Culturally-intelligible communication often relies on code switching from one language or dialectal variety into another language or dialectical variety according to social parameters.

Diasporic Political Economy

Anthropologists have acknowledged that economic marginality is found throughout the African diaspora, challenging black people to exercise considerable creativity to make ends meet and develop humanizing adaptations. Economic insecurity and poverty are often backdrops to the ethnographic narratives that anthropologists write. A number of ethnographers have gone further to shed light on the economic practices, activities, and modes of organization that are integral to African descendants' everyday lives. Attention is also given to the embeddedness of local adaptations within national, regional, and global systems of production and exchange. Currently, globalization and transnational flows of capital and commoditiesalong with the mobile ideas, cultural forms, and people that accompany themare popular issues for anthropological inquiry. The preoccupation with globalization is consistent with concerns that many African Americanists have had for a while. The New World diaspora formed from the transoceanic movements of people, capital, and commodities. Those transterritorial flows were integral to the development of plantation and mining-based societies that depended on captive Africans for their lucrative objectives. The history of the African diaspora, thus, implicates the development and expansion of the modern world systemglobal capitalism.

Caribbeanists have been particularly conscious of this history. Eric Wolf and Sidney Mintz were early students of the haciendas and plantations that were major sites on the landscapes where African-Caribbean people were enslaved and later emancipated, only to face new forms of exploitation as peasants, rural proletarians, and urban wage workers and informal sector participants. Mintz's ethnographic and cultural historical analyses of Puerto Rican sugar plantations, Haitian and Jamaican peasantries, and the role of women in internal marketing systems were major contributions. Building on this foundational corpus of knowledge, Victoria Durant-Gonzalez focused her lens on more of the particulars in the work and family life of Jamaican market women, higglers. Charles Carnegie studied interisland or transterritorial marketing in the Eastern Caribbean, exposing the limitations of the nationstate as a unit of economic or even social analysis. Gina Ulysse has examined the modern-day higglers called informal commercial importers (ICIs), who operate under conditions of globalization and the neoliberal policies that the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and U.S. government have imposed on Caribbean economies. These ICIs travel across national boundaries to supply consumer goods to their clients back home. Carla Freeman has studied pink-collar workers in offshore data-processing firms in Barbados. Although these working-class women earn wages no higher than those of women working in Free Trade Zones, working in air-conditioned offices with computers makes them feel they are better off and on the margins of the middle class. Their high heels and professional attire symbolize what they perceive as their newfound fortune. A. Lynn Bolles's research on women who work in assembly plants and in the tourist industry offers the nuanced perspective that ethnographic analysis can provide on economics and society. Faye V. Harrison has addressed Jamaica's urban informal economy and the impact of structural adjustment and other neoliberal policies on a slum where both political violence and drug-related conflicts are common. Her analysis shows how both households and drug gangs are local units of socioeconomic organization that have become increasingly transnational as subsistence security diminishes. Michel-Rolph Trouillot's research in Dominica reveals how small farmers are inextricably tied in circuits of global capitalism. Karla Slocum's research in another Eastern Caribbean setting, St. Lucia, elucidates how a social movement of small banana producers expresses grievances against the state, refusing to blame globalization for their problems. In an era that some anthropologists have characterized as postnational, with nation-states having less sovereignty vis-àvis the global market, these peasants may be reminding us that the state is not yet obsolete, and its responsibilities to its citizens cannot be forgotten or dismissed.


The anthropology of African Americans, defined in hemispheric terms, is a growing body of evidence, concepts, interpretations and explanations. It has illuminated African-American cultural history, historical consciousness, and diversity as well as the significance of the international mobility of ideas and people. It encompasses diverse anthropologists, including a significant number of African Americans who have begun to move their scholarship from the margins into the center of the field.

See also Africanisms; Archaeology and Archaeologists; Candomblé; Creole Languages of the Americas; Dunham, Katherine; English, African-American; Folklore; Folk Religion; Haitian Creole Language; Hurston, Zora Neale; Negro Brujos ; Orisha; Race and Science; Religion; Rastafarianism; Santería; Slave Religions; Sociology; Voodoo


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faye v. harrison (2005)

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