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Global Health  

Emily Mendenhall and Svea Closser

Global health can be understood as part of a larger history of global cooperation that reflects and enacts uneven politics, power, and privilege on an unequal earth. Global health emerged in the early 21st century when the groundswell of money for HIV/AIDS transformed the field, and a global orientation, as opposed to one of international relations or modularity, took hold. It is rooted in a long history of wealthier countries intervening in poorer countries with the stated aim of improving health—often with other goals, including economic power or winning hearts and minds. This history has been told by historians of medicine, as well as anthropologists. The idea of “global health” references the fact that health problems are concentrated not only in poorer countries, but rather around the world in resource-constrained settings, including rural areas and those that have been systematically cut off from services. The infusion of money for HIV, largely from wealthy nations, including the United States, positioned decision-making in global power centers that reflected a holdover from previous epochs of international health and colonial medicine. As in earlier eras, the period of global health was one where the focus was often on short-term, measurable outcomes achieved through top-down programs that sidestepped government infrastructure and development. This lack of sustained attention and support for national governments’ ability to build sustainable, broad-based health systems underlines long-standing concerns around the utility of technical solutions for health problems when long-standing social and economic political and policy problems are overlooked.


Global Human Rights  

Peter W. Van Arsdale

Global human rights, writ large, impact the entire human condition. They span cultural, social, economic, ecological, political, and civic realms. They pertain to how people are treated, protected, and respected. They are interrelated, interdependent, and of importance to all people, yet in actuality—as they play out—do not apply equally to all people. They have not been formulated by representatives of all societies, have not been accepted by members of all nation-states, and have not—in any sense of an entirety or set—been formally approved by many important transnational rights-oriented organizations. However, as commonalities are considered in the way rights emerge and evolve, there are many. Certain principles are foundational. The processes are as essential as the products. The aspirations are as important as the achievements. The subject of human rights can be addressed from many angles. Some authorities suggest that philosophy provides the overarching umbrella, dating from the era of John Locke (b. 1632, d. 1704). From one perspective of history, which features emergent religious interpretations, duties and obligations that are situated in various diverse cultural traditions are central. From another perspective of history, which features seminal events such as wars and genocides, the actions and reactions of various actors—from victims to warriors—become central. From the perspective of law, covenants and protocols designed to advise, protect, and aid prosecution emerge prominently. From the perspective of political science, the ways in which citizens engage the political process as rights and wrongs are debated is key. Other disciplines, from psychology to theology to journalism, also contribute significantly. By way of contrast, cultural or social anthropology takes an ethnographic perspective. The cultural context is specified, with case-specific narratives often featured. Documentation of encounters (one-to-one, group-to-group, institution-to-institution) is crucial. Past, present, and potential future issues are addressed. The actions of victims, survivors, and perpetrators, as well as service providers, advocates, and everyday citizens, stand out. Field research, both theoretical and applied, is part and parcel of what anthropologists do. There is no single “theory of human rights.” However, there are a number of prominent paradigms, theories, and models that inform anthropological work in human rights. Of note are statist, cosmopolitan, and internationalist models, with the cosmopolitan of particular interest to anthropologists given its emphasis on individuals rather than states. Viewed differently, from the perspective of power and its abuses, the theory of structural violence is very useful. Case studies of perpetrators of abuse are usually more difficult to develop than those for victims, yet are particularly illustrative of power differentials. Ultimately, improvements in the ways in which abuses are dealt with and the ways in which the human rights regime (i.e., the systematized body of discourse, norms, resources, and protocols) ultimately can change for the better for everyday citizens, are tied to processes of socialization, internalization, and obligation. Rights are not static, but rather, very dynamic.


Heritage, Archaeology, and Local Communities in Sudan  

Rebecca Bradshaw and Geoff Emberling

As a discipline with colonial origins, archaeology is increasingly addressing ways in which it has supported historical and current inequalities. One essential aspect of this work is engaging in conversations and collaborations with local communities, particularly to understand varying conceptions of heritage. Another is through attention to the benefits that derive from archaeological research—does fieldwork primarily support (foreign) archaeologists and their careers, or do local communities and professional colleagues also benefit? These issues have been developing particularly rapidly in Sudan, where development and international funding have supported a number of fieldwork projects in various forms of community engagement.


Heritage Management in West Africa  

Caleb Folorunso

The definition of heritage in West Africa must adopt a wider perspective of incorporating tangible and intangible heritage as recognized and defined by UNESCO. Generally, the West African region does not feature monumental heritage as in Europe and the Americas. The few monumental heritage properties belong to the historic period and are located in the Sahel zone (Mali in particular), while the coastal regions possess monumental heritage properties that were essentially relics of the period of European contact and colonialism (Benin Republic, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal). Heritage resources in West Africa are therefore essentially discrete and nondiscrete prehistoric and historic archaeological sites which include rock shelters, relics of ancient settlements, mounds, earthworks, industrial relics such as furnaces and surface finds, isolated historic buildings and spaces, and tangible (traditional architecture and artifacts) and intangible (language, poetry, songs, dances, festivals, beliefs, and value systems) ethnographic resources. Some studies in the 2010s have included heritage resources of all archival materials such as recorded audiovisuals of events and entertainments of the colonial and early postcolonial periods. Heritage management in the West African region has been problematic due to various factors that could be both historical and attitudinal, which include colonialism, intrusion of foreign religions and ideologies, economic and social conditions, insufficient and noneffective legal and policy frameworks for protection and conservation of heritage resources, and a general lack of awareness and interest in matters of heritage by the populace. In spite of these factors, some efforts have been made toward managing heritage in ways that can be interrogated. Government efforts at promoting heritage are more evident in the areas of cultural festivals, dance, and music with the establishment of cultural troupes at various political and administrative levels, thus creating the impression that heritage is limited to intangible cultural resources. Museums are few and far in between, priceless artifacts are still looted and illegally exported to foreign museums to join those looted during the colonial era, and facilities are limited and not standard, while the staff is poorly trained and unmotivated. In the face of expanding infrastructural developments and urbanization, the most appropriate management strategy and practice would be conservation through recording archaeological sites and historic properties.


History, Anthropology, and Rethinking Modern Disciplines  

Saurabh Dube

Pervasive presumptions in the human sciences project anthropology and history as taken-for-granted divisions of knowledge, whose relationship is then tracked as being vexed but constructive. At the same time, it is more useful today to rethink history and anthropology as disciplines of modernity – in their formation, elaboration, and transformation. To begin with, going back to the Enlightenment and Romanticism, historical and anthropological knowledge each appeared as mutually if variously shaped by overarching distinctions between the “primitive/native” and the “civilized/modern.” It followed that the wide-ranging dynamic of empire and nation, race and reason, and analytical and hermeneutical orientations underlay the emergence of anthropology and history as institutionalized enquiries in the second half of the nineteenth century. Further, across much of the twentieth century and through its wider upheavals, it was by attempting uneasily to break with these genealogies yet never fully even escaping their impress that history and anthropology staked their claims as modern disciplines. This entailed especially their discrete expressions of time and space, culture and change, tradition and modernity. Finally, the mutual makeovers of history and anthropology since the 1970s have thought through the formidable conceits of both these disciplines while reconsidering questions of theory and method, object and subject, and the archive and the field. Based upon salient intersections with a range of critical understandings – for instance, postfoundational and postcolonial perspectives, considerations of gender and sexuality, and subaltern and decolonial frames – the newer emphases have imaginatively articulated issues of historical consciousness and marginal communities, colony and nation, empire and modernity, race and slavery, alterity and identity, indigeneity and heritage, and the state and the secular. At the same time, considering that such disciplinary changes are themselves embedded within wider shifts in social worlds, the haunting terms of the antinomies between the “savage/native” and the “civilized/modern” unsurprisingly find newer expressions within ever emergent hierarchies of otherness.


Hoarding and Saving  

Gustav Peebles

The negative connotations of “hoards” has blinded us to their actual ubiquity, bringing to the fore only the most egregious exemplars, such as dusty piles of gold or junk. Whether valued or valueless, hoards are often seen as harboring dark forces of anti-sociality and death. But anthropology has far too much data on the power of anti-sociality and death in society to cast a simplistic gaze upon hoarding. Instead, hoarding needs to be more carefully defined by investigating its dialectical relationship to saving. The two are inextricably linked in an ongoing effort to reproduce and grow the social world via the world of things. If hoards are frequently deemed “dead,” savings are frequently seen as “living.” Each needs the other in order to survive, suggesting that the cycle of birth, death, decay, and rebirth that is known from the natural world may also be operative in the economic world. Surveying hoarding and saving from this angle amounts to a call to study the metaphysics of the economy as much as its physics. While material and monetary flows move in quantifiable and empirical ways, they carry with them a host of unquantifiable attachments and tethers that continually braid and unbraid the social worlds of which they form an integral part. Understanding the dialectic between hoarding and saving illuminates the threads and boundaries of this social fabric. In actuality, hoards are everywhere and may well be a human “universal”; that is, upon closer inspection, it is likely that all societies have methods for storing away unused and dead things for future use, so that they can one day be reactivated and thereby sustain a social world. Savings, however, are activated live things, consumed in the present, so that they may grow the future today. In this sense, hoarding and saving must be seen as two distinct methods of future orientation. Each carries the capacity to exist on a spectrum of perceived irrationality to rationality, even though popular perceptions often envision hoarding as a distinctly irrational stance toward the imagined future. Succinctly, saving is a process of projecting outward, away from a given self. The given self is casting its future out beyond the limits of the self and asking an outside Other to subsume the saving into its own growth process. Hoarding, by contrast, is a process of projecting inward, magnetically pulling the world of things back toward the given self and away from the risky terrain beyond. Hoarding, then, is a form of retention, a gathering in of things that are not allowed to be shared beyond the given self. Both practices are tied to questions about spatial and temporal boundaries, commoditization, social hierarchy, and a host of related topics that we often struggle to carefully define. Hoarding and saving, in short, help humans navigate the world and chart the future by forming people’s ever-shifting relationship to, and with, the world of things. The disciplines of economics and psychology have both dramatically ramped up their interests in hoards in recent decades, but they have yet to develop a shared discourse. Instead, they have bifurcated into two, highly telling foci of research. Economists are largely interested in the seemingly irrational hoarding of treasure by corporate bodies, whereas psychologists are largely interested in the seemingly irrational hoarding of trash by individual bodies. Insights from anthropological research brings treasure and trash into a unified totality as part of a general human phenomenon of building vivacious social worlds through the vivacious world of things.


Human and Nonhuman Rights to Water  

Veronica Strang

All living kinds, human and nonhuman, require rights to water. A UN Declaration upholds rights to clean drinking water and basic sanitation for humans, and some environmental legislation seeks to assure minimal flows of water in ecosystems. However, such rights are situated within complex social and political relations that are often far from equal. The distribution and management of water is entangled in issues such as ethnicity, class, gender, and levels of enfranchisement, and is heavily dependent upon how beliefs and values about water are represented in dominant narratives. Although water has been regarded a “common good” for millennia, many forms of collective ownership of freshwater have been overridden by colonial appropriations and by attempts to enclose and privatize water resources and to reframe them as commercial assets. An accelerating global water crisis caused by climate change, intensifying farming, and the over-allocation of water resources reveals unsustainable pressures on freshwater ecosystems. There have been concomitant losses of access to water for less powerful human communities, and most particularly for nonhuman beings. As a result, approximately two hundred species become extinct every day. Widespread environmental degradation has caused indigenous communities to critique the exploitative practices of colonial societies and to promote alternate and more egalitarian visions of human-nonhuman relationships. Inspired by these alternate cultural beliefs and values, and sometimes in alliance with indigenous people, conservation organizations and environmental activists have sought ecological justice to protect nonhuman beings and their habitats. Many are demanding that the UN should declare “rights for nature” and that the International Court of Criminal Justice should define “ecocide” as an international crime. Anthropologists have challenged dominant dualisms about culture and nature, providing accounts of diverse cultural worldviews in which all living kinds inhabit a nonbifurcated world. They have underlined the fluid interelationalities between human and nonhuman beings and the material environment. Building on a strong disciplinary history of advocating for human rights, they are exploring ways to articulate nonhuman needs and interests, for example, in new forms of river catchment management. There is growing consensus about the need to encourage forms of “pan-species democracy” that will ensure that all living kinds have sufficient rights to water and to the conditions that enable them to flourish.



Jocelyn Marrow

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article. Even though hysteria is no longer a diagnostic category in Western medical systems, the phenomena to which it referred have remained productive of anthropological deliberation. This may be due to the dramatic and highly variable nature of hysterias and related afflictions as observed. Hysterias are shape-shifters, with signs and symptoms varying according to their historical and cultural niches. Further, hysterias demand notice and response from those who witness them. Interpretation is the sine qua non of hysteria, rendering it irresistible to vernacular and scholarly meaning-making. In the late 19th and early 20th century, hysteria was a diagnosis commonly given by physicians practicing in European and North American medical traditions to individuals (mostly women) whose wide-ranging motoric symptoms were thought to be caused by psychological distress. In the present, hysteria is no longer a medical diagnosis; it persists in common English language usage as a pejorative term to refer to excessive emotional displays. Contemporary medical diagnostics replace hysteria with a bevy of psychosomatic illness diagnoses, including conversion disorder, dissociative reaction, and functional neurological disorder, among others. There are at least three ways that anthropological scholarship engages with hysteria. The first, and historically earliest, applies the postulated psychodynamics of hysteria to explain spirit possession—the phenomenon in which an individual’s body is engulfed by that of a supernatural being such as the soul of a deceased human, a divinity, or a demon. This anthropological literature postulates that spirit possession involves altered states of consciousness, such as hypnosis or trance, to explain the belief that the self may be overwhelmed by a will not its own. The idea that another entity is speaking and acting in place of the host’s volition allows the host to express anger at injustices perpetrated against them. This genre of writing about hysteria and hysteria-like phenomena argues that it is a “weapon of the weak.” The second way in which scholarship engages with hysteria is through examining the politics of the labels “hysteria” and “hysterical,” and documenting how powerful people may deploy the label “hysteria” to disparage the complaints of marginalized or disempowered people. In these instances, anthropologists have examined the event, or series of events, to argue that the grievances provoking complaint are real and serious, rather than exaggerated or “all in the heads” of those making them. A third strand of research emerges from fieldwork in medical anthropology and examines the contemporary sociocultural contexts in which people are given hysteria-like diagnoses (such as conversion disorder or dissociative trance disorder) in clinical settings. These studies are based on fieldwork in diverse clinical settings relying upon Western medical categories and treatments.



Michael Blim

Inequality in all its forms is common to human societies, and thus its understanding is part of the central mission of anthropology. Social structural elements such as race, class, gender, status, and caste have a decisive influence on human well-being and have been a persistent focus of inquiry over the course of more than a century of anthropological investigations. It is also fair to say that anthropologists over time have adopted as core values equal protection and equal opportunity for all peoples. These principles have been applied by extension most recently to sexual minorities, stateless refugees, and migrants.



Jörg Niewöhner

The notion of infrastructure commonly refers to the networked technical support structures that facilitate the provision of services and the movement of goods, people, and ideas through space. In anthropology, the notion of infrastructure also designates an analytic. As such, infrastructure is sensitive to the constant interweaving of technical objects, social organization, knowledge practices, and moral orders. Three key perspectives have been formative for this analytic: historical materialism, the historical and social construction of technology, and the ethnography of infrastructure. The wealth of current infrastructure research revolves around the discussion of four current topics: technopolitics, poetics and promises, paradoxes, and thinking infrastructures. Infrastructure as a theoretical framework holds potential as a new Anthropocene anthropology through minor and terrestrial infrastructuring.


Juggling Currencies in Transborder Contexts  

Magdalena Villarreal and Joshua Greene

Financial practices only partially entail money. People and institutions weave their economic lives intermixing pecuniary but also social, cultural, geographic, moral, and emotional elements. These elements are often knitted together in ways that appear erratic or that only conform to established models in a single dimension, which leaves the analyst ill-informed concerning the workings of finance in everyday life. Fortunately, conceptual tools to go beyond narrow economic perspectives and explore the interaction of the multiple dimensions involved are on the rise. In this effort, it is critical to explore such dimensions in motion. People act in certain social milieus, push distinct fundamentals, exclude others, do their best to meet specific goals, and prioritize or overlook certain issues. Such actions are framed in what we can call economic exchange “languages” wherein assessments of equivalence are interpreted according to conventional significations. This brings up the notion of currencies, not only those represented in dollars, pesos, or euros, but currencies portraying values in social, symbolic, and cultural terms that embody economic transactions. Currencies flow within specific circuits involving different means of equivalence that entail diverse normative and moral frameworks. Multiple currencies coexist and interplay in everyday life, and people and institutions are obliged to juggle in order to make do. The allusion to juggling of currencies implies that there are a number of different economic and livelihood circuits that people operate in simultaneously. Some of these circuits involve religion, gender, identity, family, and markets, which operate with distinct criteria. Others involve hard cash or perhaps social and symbolic assets. It is the act of keeping these multiple circuits in motion at the same time that is the juggling of currencies. Juggling currencies is a key to success, however success may be depicted. Placing the lens on borderlines and transborder crossings is revealing, particularly when the aim is to explore monetary practices and economic lives. It is here that discontinuities, conflicts, and dilemmas become evident. People who are obliged to operate in two or more officially sanctioned monetary currencies, for example, need to be deeply knowledgeable about different normative frameworks and schemes of value equivalences wherein diverse social categories, expectations, and moralities are mobilized. Juggling is the name of the game.


Kant and Anthropology  

Naveeda Khan

Actual, possible, and potential relations between Kant and anthropology in early-21st-century scholarship are worth exploring. Within the realm of actual relations, classical figures within anthropology took up Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason to understand the nature of thinking and morality within so-called primitive societies. They sought to put society before mind within Kant’s architectonic of thought and to posit classification, or relational thinking, as equally important as cognition. Within possible relations, contemporary anthropologists engaged Kant’s anthropology or Kant as a possible anthropologist in his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View or “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” or set apart their enterprise of studying ethics from his on morality. A very central question that Kant’s writings posed for them was whether the figure of the human was knowable, to which anthropology added its own nuance by asking whether we can assume it is the same human or reason across all contexts. Within potential relations, writings on the history and method of anthropology both critiqued and celebrated the inheritance of German romanticism, understood as an intellectual trend, a methodology, a sensibility, a mystical orientation, and a celebration of individual singularity and genius within anthropology. In contrast to this mode of inheriting romanticism, a more Kantian-inflected understanding of the romantic movement, mediated by different figures, suggested itself as a productive point of entry for anthropology to understand the philosophical underpinnings of its preferred methods (e.g., fieldwork), its engagement with philosophy beyond that of agonism and possible arrogation, and its re-engagement with the question of the human in relation to itself, other humans and nonhumans, and nature. The fragment, one of romanticism’s greatest creations and a complex response to Kant’s two world metaphysics, appears to anthropology through both trajectories and, in keeping with anthropology’s evolving relation to philosophy, anthropology provides its own spin on the importance of the fragment for inhabiting the world.


Landscapes and Memory  

Ben Bridges and Sarah Osterhoudt

Broadly, landscapes can be considered terrains of connectivity. Landscapes encompass wild, cultivated, urban, feral, and fallow spaces, as well as the human and nonhuman entities who inhabit and shape them. Memory refers to the past as it exists in the present, bridging temporally discrete moments through the intentional or unintentional act of remembering. Memory studies, from the view of anthropology, include explorations of individual forms of remembrance, as well as the collective, heterogenous ways of marking, interpreting, and erasing the past. Taken together, landscapes and memory co-constitute one another: landscapes store, depict, and evoke memories while memories recall, revise, and shape landscapes. Knowledge and power are inevitably wrapped up in the relationship, and anthropologists have investigated the manifest ways such forces emerge through human acts of cultivation, commemoration, nostalgia, and forgetting. Because landscapes and memory appear in both physical and immaterial forms, the social constructs, cultural expressions, and human and nonhuman relationships on which they are based generate rich material for anthropological study. While landscape and memory are surely topics independently worthy of study, undertaking the two in tandem elucidates the intertwining threads that bind together space and time; such studies interrogate realms of personal meaning and political power while simultaneously highlighting dynamic processes of adaptation, improvisation, and erasure.


Language and Colonial Rule  

David Tavárez

The study, classification, and standardization of languages by scholars, missionaries, and administrators played a vital and often protean role in the implementation and enforcement of colonial domination. Ongoing scholarship surveys the merging of linguistic investigations and linguistic knowledge with colonial hegemony in the Americas and East Asia between the late 15th century and the end of World War II, with a sustained focus on Mesoamerica and the Andes. European colonial expansion from the 15th century onward resulted in the emergence of multiple philological and lexicographic projects that were intimately tied to a hegemonic refashioning of the social order through the establishment of extractive economic regimes, colonial administrative systems, and religious institutions that sought to Christianize and discipline colonial subjects. The conversion, education, and surveillance of these subjects were intricately tied to colonial governance objectives, priests, missionaries, and colonial officials who worked in tandem with Indigenous scholars and assistants who described and documented Indigenous languages. As a result of colonial policies, new vernaculars emerged, and regional languages underwent severe language shift or extinction. Even after the demise of colonial regimes, the linguistic policies embraced by nation-states relied on highly racialized, neocolonial approaches to linguistic and ethnic difference.


Language and Culture in Workplace Ethnography  

Lauren A. Hayes

Scholars studying the anthropology of work have traditionally been interested in questions of power, class, inequality, moral economy, and the transformations brought about by global capitalism. To address these larger questions, workplace ethnography gives attention to both interactional and systemic level analysis, making linguistic methods a powerful tool for studying both talk at work and institutional discourse. Language has many social functions within the workplace, from the organization of tasks and goals to the ways people navigate relationships and perform identity. Linguistic theoretical and methodological perspectives are applied to the study of power and gatekeeping practices in institutional settings, performance of identity and gender at work, and inequalities related to race, ethnicity, and perceptions of accent. Linguistic practices in the neoliberal global economy are also an economic resource to be managed, regulated, scripted, and marketed, as part of the reflexive project of worker self-improvement. Language is also a form of labor itself in global customer service interactions, accent-reduction training, and contexts of tourism. Thus, workplace ethnography and language study complement each other, and linguistic methods and theory may be applied to major questions in the field of anthropology of work.


Language Contact  

Sandhya Narayanan

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article. Language contact highlights the social dynamics that are crucial to any understanding of language change and the emergence of linguistic variation and complexity over time. As an analytic approach and field of anthropological and linguistic inquiry, it reminds us that the study of language cannot be separated from an in-depth understanding of the speakers and communities that these varieties come from, highlighting the need to center the analysis of human social practices, interactional dynamics, and broader ideological frameworks in any inquiry into linguistic and social change. Observing and analyzing language change as an outcome of contact between two or more linguistic varieties can occur across different grammatical domains. Closer attention to the kinds of structural changes that occur because of contact can challenge current theoretical models of language change. As such, contact-induced structural changes speak to the ways that different linguistic systems can influence each other, producing small-scale changes such as borrowing of grammatical elements, to larger and more structurally encompassing transformations such as the emergence of mixed linguistic varieties, pidgins, and creoles. However, change should not always be expected from language contact situations, opening the possibility to also consider the significance of no change occurring, or for linguistic forms to become further differentiated from each other. At the same time, linguistic change, in any form, cannot be abstracted away from social practices and social changes. Yet understanding these social processes requires us to think less about individual linguistic forms, and more about the range of linguistic practices that emerge in zones of language contact. Because language and communication are another form of social action, attention to the social dynamics of contact—which include the cultural contingencies of contact between speakers of different linguistic varieties, the interactions that emerge and constitute a zone of contact, and the ideological frameworks that shape these interactions—is equally important in shaping language change and linguistic complexity over time. Understanding these social processes and grounding language contact within the broader ethnographic context of the encounter provides a different vantage point to address questions concerning the nature of language as a product of social practices and moments of interactive, intersubjective creativity and innovation.


Language Ideologies  

Catherine R. Rhodes

Language ideologies are a mediating device that helps people make sense of the relationship between linguistic and other communicative patterns and socially salient categories. Language ideologies are used to evaluate socially perceivable behavior as meaningful with respect to issues of power, authority, and difference. They can be understood as a framework for linking certain uses of language (or other communicative forms) with certain social positionalities. The study of language ideologies involves examining the social work language users do through their behaviors, activities, and social relations. As a concept grounded in indexical processes, analyzing the social work of language ideologies requires a semiotic framework that can make clear how people evaluate context, which can also evidence their understanding of social distribution. This article defines key terms in language ideologies research, provides a brief history of the development of the concept, discusses methodological considerations when studying language ideologies, explores scholarship on the making of social difference through linguistic ideological work, and discusses key areas of research interest.


Language Socialization  

Shannon M. Ward

Language socialization is a theoretical and methodological paradigm that originated in the discipline of anthropology, with the goal of addressing the relationship between culture and language learning. Scholars of language socialization use methods from ethnography, field linguistics, and sociolinguistics to document and analyze patterns of language use in communities. In the 1980s, anthropologists developed the paradigm of language socialization in response to a lack of attention to the diversity of languages and cultures represented within the study of first-language acquisition. To center inquiries into language learning around cultural and linguistic diversity, language socialization attends to everyday practices of language and communication as well as to the enduring language attitudes and cultural belief systems that co-constitute language structures. Language socialization emphasizes that humans build social identities, cultural practices, and senses of belonging as they learn and use languages. While language socialization originated in the study of young children’s first-language acquisition, it has since expanded to examine broader contexts of language learning. Guided by the understanding that the structures of real-time interactions and social institutions mutually create one another, language socialization scholars have examined how our social roles in families, schools, and professions shape our language use across the lifespan. Since the 1990s, language socialization research has taken particular interest in the relationship between language and power, drawing from theories of language ideologies—or taken-for-granted beliefs about languages and their speakers—to address topics related to multilingualism, including code-mixing, second-language learning, heritage-language learning, and language shift and revitalization. In 2023, key debates in the field focus on defining learners’ identities and highlighting communicative diversity beyond spoken languages.



Laura Sterponi and Jenny Zhang

Literacy has been in the purview of anthropological inquiry since the late 19th century. In fact, while linguistics repudiated written language as derivative and secondary (Saussure), it has been anthropology that has chiefly contributed to the establishment of literacy as a domain worthy of investigation. Whether through historical analysis or ethnographic methods, anthropologists have consistently attempted to elucidate literacy’s effects on human cognition and societal organization. Early formulations conceptualized literacy as a technology and connected the acquisition of writing to a significant enhancement of cognitive capacities at the level of the individual and to the inception of democracy at a societal level. This view was subsequently criticized and, in the 1980s, replaced with a socioculturally situated perspective which theorized literacy as a cultural practice expressed in manifold cultural activities and at the same time shaped by political, economic, and ideological conditions. Attempting to overcome both technological determinism and cultural relativism, theoretical formulations of the last few decades have advanced a techno-cultural articulation and an expansion toward multimodality. As theories of literacy have come to affirm plurality, complicating linear trajectories and teleological narratives underpinning alphabetic ascendancy, literacy education has turned into a more complex and controversial focus of inquiry. On the one hand, literacy researchers have taken to examining a wide range of contexts beyond schools, thus displacing schooled literacy from center stage. On the other hand, they have acknowledged that schooled literacy continues to have a very powerful function in society. Scholarship at the intersections of literacy and disability and of literacy and race illuminates the functioning of schooled literacy as a mechanism for the maintenance and reproduction of a social order predicated on racial hierarchies and ableism. The methodological toolkit of cultural and linguistic anthropologists equips them well to achieve rich documentation of literacy practices on the ground and to shed light on the political and economic forces that shape textual activities locally and globally. In advancing the literacy research program, anthropologists can be instrumental in deepening our understanding of literacy as a transnational phenomenon and as an international enterprise. Building on the important work that has brought to light the ways certain conceptualizations and implementations of literacy align with systems of oppression and inequity, anthropologists are also well positioned to advocate refashioning and repositioning literacy as an instrument and objective of social justice and community empowerment.


Literature and Anthropology  

Andrew Brandel

Literature is often understood to be one of anthropology’s most recurrent and provocative companions in thought. The relationship between the two has taken a number of different and variously interrelated forms. Perhaps the most familiar of these is the theorization of the anthropologist’s status as a writer; this work tends to take its cue from certain strands of postmodernism and invokes literary techniques as tools through which to address concerns around representation and the evocation of lived experience. A second important, if often overlooked, area of research involves the study of concrete literary practices including reading, writing, performing, sharing, and listening, whether by means of ethnographic fieldwork or anthropological modes of textual analysis. Finally, there are the myriad relationships that anthropologists have maintained with particular literary figures or texts, which have proven essential to their thinking and to their lives.