315TvOGLaeL._SY300_Harrison, Faye V. (ed).  2010 [1991]. Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further toward an Anthropology for Liberation.  3rd Ed.  Arlington: American Anthropological Association (Association of Black Anthropologists).

As Kimberly Eison Simmons says in her preface to the 3rd edition of Decolonizing Anthropology, in the 1990s it was a ‘must have’ on any bookshelf, and “represented a radical shift in thinking and approach to research and scholarship.”  Includes examinations of the role of anthropology in a world in which global capitalism institutes a global apartheid and mechanisms for reinforcing that hierarchy of power within anthropology today.  Definitely start with the intro, it gives a really thought-provoking overview.



Scheper-Hughs, N. and Bourgois, (eds) P. 2004. Violence in War and Peace: An Anthology.  Blackwell Publishing

Beyond necessary reading–the intro is an especially good place to start for some really hard-hitting criticism of how anthropological theory tends to shy away from dealing with violence, or worse, by dealing with violence in a reductive way.  Also gives a brief overview of ethical engagement in anthropology, which is equally fascinating.


{142e67a9-cd27-4f44-9bd2-10fecd2a71bc}Img400Baker, L. 1998. From Savage to Negro: anthropology and the construction of race, 1896-1954. London: University of California Press.

Great overview on anthropological takes on race in the US; especially interesting for a focus on race theorists like Boas and Du Bois, as well as a really in-depth look at how anthropology and public policy shape and feed off each other.  Excellently written, in a historical framework tracing the sociopolitical context of the development of anthropology, framed by two of the most important Supreme Court decisions segregating and then de-segregating public space in the US.



Harrison, Faye V. and Harrison, Ira E. (eds.). African-American Pioneers in Anthropology. 1999. Oxford: University of Illinois Press.

A really good companion volume to the above two, and a fun book in its own right.  Obviously, a focus on American anthropologists, so a companion of British anthropologists might be helpful (although, see Black Oxford under ‘General Reading’), but still interesting on a lot of levels.  The introduction alone has some really good points on the significance of having non-mainstream voices in an academic discipline, as part of “the emancipation of a subjugated knowledge.”


41obF0aZMvL._SY300_Mills, D. 2008. Difficult Folk?  A political history of social anthropology.  Oxford: Berghan Books.

Really entertaining and informative account of the ‘four i’s–ideas, individuals, identities, and institutions’ that formed the discipline as we know it today.  In being reflexive about the practice of anthropology, it’s hugely important to realize how the discipline formed and why, and Mills does a great job of explaining this and still being fun to read.



Soja, E. 1996. Thirdspace: journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places. Oxford: Blackwell.

Beyond just a fabulous discussion of space and space in a philosophical sense, Soja does a really excellent job at looking at the relationships between anthropology and modern/postmodern philosophy, focusing on ‘marginalized’ philosophers like bell hooks and her writings on intellectual space.  Anne: this book completely reworked my understanding of anthropology.  Can’t recommend enough, although it is tedious in places.



Devisch, R. and Nyamnjoh, F. B. 2001. The Postcolonial Turn: Re-Imagining Anthropology and Africa. Langaa RPCIG.

Offers a critical engagement with colonial and postcolonial anthropology on Africa challenging eurocentric anthropology and questioning notions of centre and periphery. The chapters mostly by anthropologists but also by philosophers, sociologists, literary scholars and mathematicians attempt to overcome the division between scientific and ‘local’ epistemologies while underlining the importance of endogenous knowledges. (and for an interesting current case study putting this theory into practice, try this article from The Atlantic on the role of the US in the conflict in South Sudan:


9780252077692Ntarangwi, Mwenda, 2010. Reversed Gaze: An African Ethnography of American Anthropology. University of Illinois Press.

Ntarangwi’s ethnography of Western anthropology subjects anthropologists to what they subject others to: the critical gaze of the ethnographer, scrutinizing the ‘culture’ of academic anthropology. Thereby Ntarangwi sheds light on the situatedness of knowledge and draws attention to issues of power, race and representation of the ‘other’ within the field of anthropology. “It is a critique that is as sharp as it is lively, full of insights and irreverent observations on the foibles of the anthropological tribe. It raises disturbing questions about anthropology’s enduring analytical and political blind spots, its continued fetishization of the colonial and postcolonial other, and the incapacity of many western anthropologists to engage in true self-reflexivity and examine their own societies.”–Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, author of Manufacturing African Studies and Crises


dileonardoDi Leonardo, M. 2000.  Exotics at Home: Anthropologies, Others, and American Modernity.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

An intensely satisfying piece to read, although a little meandering and dense.  Di Leonardo examines constructions of the exotic Other in American culture, and how these have informed cultural dialogue and shaped identities in the US.  Especially interesting for a more nuanced version of the creation of white ethnicities in the US than the usual reminder that Southern Europeans were not considered ‘white’ for a while, and for a take-no-prisoners history of the role of anthropology in American public discourse.


Campbell, John R., ‘The ‘problem’ of ethics in contemporary anthropological research’, Anthropology Matters, Vol 12, No 1 (2010)

Abstract: Why is it that ‘ethics’ is seen as a problem in anthropology? This paper seeks to explore this question by looking at (a) historical shifts in the relation between ethnographers and their subjects/informants and (b) anthropological practice. I am interested in past anthropological practice to see whether it provides a reasonable guide to future practice, specifically with regard to the ethical conduct of ethnographic fieldwork.

Available online:

Headland, T. 1997.  “Revisionism in Ecological Anthropology.” Current Anthropology: 38:4, 605-630.

This is a bit of a peripheral choice, but it was recommended for a tutorial on the construction of ‘primitive’ people in anthropological literature, and I keep finding myself citing it elsewhere.  It focuses on Headland’s experience of surprise when he noticed how Westernized a ‘remote’ tribe (the Agta, a Negrito group in the Philippines) was on his first contact, and then expands the idea to how anthropologists often shape groups in their writings as reflections of Western discourses, even when this means occasionally re-writing groups when Western ideas change.

Available online:


Scheper-Hughes, N. 1995. ‘The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology.’ Current Anthropology 36:3

From the article: “In bracketing certain “Western” Enlightenment truths we hold and defend as self-evident at home in order to engage theoretically a multiplicity of alternative truths encoded in our reified notion of culture, anthorpologists may be “suspending the ethical” in our dealings with the “other.” Cultural relativism, read as moral relativism, is no longer appropriate to the worldin which we live, and anthropology, if it is to be worth anything at all, must be ethically grounded.  This paper is an attempt to imagine what forms a politically committed and morally engaged anthropology might take.”

Available online:

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