All In Your Head

by Mara Buchbinder, author of All in Your Head: Making Sense of Pediatric Pain


This guest post is published as part of a series of author interviews in relation to the American Anthropological Association conference in Denver this past November.

How can anthropology add to our understanding and engagement in the study of chronic adolescent pain?

One of the puzzles of pediatric pain is why its incidence rises so sharply during adolescence. Approaching this puzzle from a purely biological perspective can give us one set of plausible explanations. For instance, some have theorized that the hormonal changes that occur during adolescence contribute to pain etiology. But an anthropological perspective can open up a host of additional explanations, tapping into a range of cultural factors that make adolescence a particularly challenging life stage. For many middle-class Americans, adolescence is marked by mounting academic pressures, increasing extracurricular demands, turbulent peer relationships, engaging in risky behaviors, and sometimes troubles at home. Now, pain medicine has actually done a remarkably good job of acknowledging the wide range of factors that contribute to chronic pain; the “biopsychosocial” model has been a dominant paradigm in the field for many decades. However, anthropology offers a particularly valuable set of methodological and analytic tools for attuning our attention to how pain fits into everyday life. In short, anthropology can help to operationalize a biopsychosocial approach to the study of chronic pain by situating it within an ethnographic context.

How do you suggest we improve the language of how pain is explained to patients?

If anything, I think my research has taught me that clinicians are actually quite good at explaining pain through creative metaphors and explanatory models. Many of them don’t reflect on their explanatory approaches unless explicitly invited to do so, however—such as when prompted by a nosy anthropologist. Like many aspects of clinical medicine, explaining pain is something that is more like an art than a science, and is typically acquired through immersive experience. If there is room for improvement, I think it might come in making more of a clearly defined space for pain in medical school curricula. Pain treatment faces the challenge of not belonging to a single organ system, which makes it harder for particular curricular units to lay claim to teaching about it. (It faces a similar challenge, incidentally, with respect to research funding from the National Institutes of Health.)

What challenges did you encounter while conducting research and interviews?

As an anthropologist ‘at home’ in the field, one of my biggest challenges was in figuring out how to delimit the field. On days when I stayed home trying to schedule research visits or waiting for families to return my phone calls, it often didn’t feel much like fieldwork. It also took me a bit longer to recognize certain local events as critical to my research. For example, I launched my project in the fall of 2008, just as the subprime mortgage crisis was coming to a head. It didn’t become clear until later on how much the national economic climate was influencing the experiences of families in my study—not only to the extent that it affected their ability to pay for treatments that were not covered by health insurance, but also in shaping adolescents’ aspirations and senses of possible futures. Anthropologists often warn students to write everything down early on in a project because ‘everything is data’ and I would agree with this advice, but I have found that it can be harder to recognize certain experiences as data when one’s field site is also one’s long-term home.

Mara Buchbinder is Assistant Professor of Social Medicine and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UNC–Chapel Hill. She is coauthor of Saving Babies? The Consequences of Newborn Genetic Screening..


Welcome Project, an Open Access Platform for Collaborative Annotation Project is a new open access web platform that enables collaborative annotation across websites. Launching today with a coalition of over 40 scholarly publishers (including University of California Press), along with platforms and technology partners that share the goal of building an open conversation layer over all knowledge, the Project will allow this coalition to work together to in partnership in order to “define, design and implement a common framework for scholarly collaboration from peer-review through post-publication discussion, all based on open standards…The coalition is open to any publisher, platform, library or technology organization that shares its vision and objectives and wants to participate”.

University of California Press is thrilled to be working with many university press colleagues over the coming years in order to establish Project’s dynamic, user-friendly collaborative annotation platform. Through the utilization of its interoperable conversation layer that’s set to transform scholarly collaboration, annotation will be facilitated with ease, and can be implemented for all the following functionalities: personal note taking, peer review, copy editing, post publication discussion, journal clubs, classroom uses, automated classification, deep linking, and more to come in the future. Project states that “in the last few years a small community has been working to…standardize a model for an “annotation”, the unit of conversation that this paradigm enables, and to build it into the very fabric of the Web. Their efforts led in the fall of 2014, to a formal Working Group within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards body for the Web. Much progress has been made, and many implementations are mature enough now to begin deployment.”

Please check out the introductory video Project created in order to learn more about how this innovative technological platform will push forward the democratization of information on the web.

Hypo Vid


Mark Twain opines on Thanksgiving

You can pick almost any subject and find Mark Twain’s opinions expressed on it somewhere. Thanksgiving is no exception.

In an address given at the first annual dinner of Philadelphia’s New England Society in 1881, he begins with the words “I rise to protest,” and goes on to question the celebration of the landing of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in quite amusing terms, (though not without a good dose of moral indignation at the same time).

Twain by Joseph Keppler appeared on the back cover of PUCK, Dec. 23, 1885. From the Dave Thomson collection.

In Volume 1 of the Autobiography, we are given another view of his thoughts on the holiday, this time through his ironic complaints on a conflict over the scheduling of his 70th birthday party:

This talk about Mr. Whittier’s seventieth birthday reminds me that my own seventieth arrived recently, that is to say, it arrived on the 30th of November, but Colonel Harvey was not able to celebrate it on that date because that date had been preempted by the President to be used as Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for annually, not oftener if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side, consequently it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments. The original reason for a Thanksgiving Day has long ago ceased to exist the Indians have long ago been comprehensively and satisfactorily exterminated and the account closed with Heaven, with the thanks due. But, from old habit, Thanksgiving Day has remained with us, and every year the President of the United States and the Governors of all the several States and the territories set themselves the task, every November, to advertise for something to be thankful for, and then they put those thanks into a few crisp and reverent phrases, in the form of a Proclamation, and this is read from all the pulpits in the land, the national conscience is wiped clean with one swipe, and sin is resumed at the old stand.

The President and the Governors had to have my birthday the 30th for Thanksgiving Day, and this was a great inconvenience to Colonel Harvey, who had made much preparation for a banquet to be given to me on that day in celebration of the fact that it marked my seventieth escape from the gallows, according to his idea a fact which he regarded with favor and contemplated with pleasure, because he is my publisher and commercially interested. He went to Washington to try to get the President to select another day for the national Thanksgiving, and I furnished him with arguments to use which I thought persuasive and convincing, arguments which ought to persuade him even to put off Thanksgiving Day a whole year on the ground that nothing had happened during the previous twelvemonth except several vicious and inexcusable wars, and King Leopold of Belgium’s usual annual slaughters and robberies in the Congo State, together with the Insurance revelations in New York, which seemed to establish the fact that if there was an honest man left in the United States, there was only one, and we wanted to celebrate his seventieth birthday. But the Colonel came back unsuccessful, and put my birthday celebration off to the 5th of December.

The Clemens family in Hartford, Connecticut, 1884.

Thanksgiving at home, though, was a more familiar affair, with plays performed by his children, and much of the traditional family togetherness we associate with the holiday today.

Note from the Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1: In 1789 George Washington created the first nationally designated Thanksgiving Day, held on 26 November that year. Subsequently, the holiday was appointed by presidential and gubernatorial proclamation, but irregularly and not on a uniform date. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that a national Thanksgiving Day henceforth would be celebrated on the last Thursday in November, which in 1905 was the fifth Thursday, and also Clemens’s birthday. In 1939 Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date to the third Thursday of November, and in 1941 Congress passed legislation definitively establishing Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November.

See another post on the history of Thanksgiving as a national holiday, as well as one on Mark Twain’s birthday, which includes a giveaway of the complete set of the Autobiography!

Unwrap a world of ideas…gifts for everyone on your list

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We’re kicking off the holiday season with a special discount on books we think everyone on your list will thank you for. Here’s a curated selection to whet your appetite—browse the full collection of titles here.

For Art Aficionados, San Francisco History Lovers, and World’s Fair Buffs:

9780520287181_GanzJewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exhibition 
Timed with the centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, this lavishly illustrated catalog that accompanies the current exhibition at the deYoung Museum presents a large and representative selection of artworks from the fair, emphasizing the variety of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and prints that greeted attendees. The most comprehensive art exhibition ever shown on the West Coast up to that point, it featured the first American presentations of Italian Futurism, Austrian Expressionism, and Hungarian avant-garde painting, along with major displays of paintings by prominent Americans, especially those working in the Impressionist style. Includes artworks by masters such as Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Robert Henri, Edward Weston, Auguste Rodin, Imogen Cunningham, Edvard Munch, Oskar Kokoschka, Umberto Boccioni, and many more.

For Bibliophiles and Biography Readers:

9780520279940_TwainAutobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3 
When the first volume of Mark Twain’s uncensored Autobiography was published in 2010, it was hailed as an essential addition to the shelf of his works and a crucial document for our understanding of the great humorist’s life and times. This third and final volume crowns and completes his life’s work. Like its companion volumes, it chronicles Twain’s inner and outer life through a series of daily dictations that go wherever his fancy leads. Created from March 1907 to December 1909, these dictations present Mark Twain at the end of his life: receiving an honorary degree from Oxford University; railing against Theodore Roosevelt; founding numerous clubs; incredulous at an exhibition of the Holy Grail; credulous about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays; relaxing in Bermuda; observing (and investing in) new technologies. The Autobiography’s “Closing Words” movingly commemorate his daughter Jean, who died on Christmas Eve 1909.

For Wine Lovers + DIY Makers:

9780520285972_WarrickThe Way to Make Wine: How to Craft Superb Table Wines at Home, Second Edition 

In this newly revised edition, learn everything needed to make delicious wines—both reds and whites—from start to finish. Rich with insider know-how, this book divulges the many practical advances made in the past few decades and demonstrates that do-it-yourself winemaking is now simpler and more rewarding than ever. Straightforward illustrations of key tools and steps help make this book one-stop shopping for wine lovers, beer brewers, avid cooks, or anyone who’s ever dreamed of producing table wines at home.


For Current and Would-Be Graduate Students:

9780520288300_ShoreGrad School Essentials: A Crash Course in Scholarly Skills 

What’s the hardest part of grad school? It’s not simply that the workload is heavy and the demands are high. It’s that too many students lack efficient methods to let them do their best. Professor Zachary Shore aims to change this. With humorous, lively prose, Professor Shore teaches you to master the five most crucial skills you need to succeed: how to read, write, speak, act, and research at a higher level. Each chapter in this no-nonsense guide outlines a unique approach to acquiring a skill and then demonstrates how to enhance it. Through these concrete, practical methods, Grad School Essentials will save you time, elevate the quality of your work, and help you to earn the degree you seek.


For Bird and Animal Lovers:

9780520239258_ToftParrots of the Wild: A Natural History of the World’s Most Captivating Birds 

Parrots of the Wild melds scientific exploration with features directed at the parrot enthusiast to inform and delight a broad audience about the lives of these creatures, who are among the most intelligent and rarest of birds. The authors discuss the evolutionary history of parrots and how this history affects perceptual and cognitive abilities, diet and foraging patterns, and mating and social behavior, in addition to conservation and the various ways different populations are adapting to a world that is rapidly changing across the 350-odd species of parrots. The book is enhanced by an array of illustrations, including nearly ninety color photos of wild parrots represented in their natural habitats.


For Holiday Revelers:

9780520284722_ForbesAmerica’s Favorite Holidays: Candid Histories

America’s Favorite Holidays explores how five of America’s culturally important holidays—Halloween, Thanksgiving Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter—came to be what they are today: seasonal and religious celebrations, heavily influenced by modern popular culture. Deftly distilling information from a wide range of sources, Bruce David Forbes reveals often-surprising answers to questions about each holiday’s traditions. Was Christmas always as commercialized as it is today? Is Thanksgiving a religious or secular holiday? When did we begin trick-or-treating on Halloween? Appealing and insightful, America’s Favorite Holidays satisfies our curiosity about the origins of our holidays and the fascinating ways in which religion and culture mix.


For Urban Dwellers and Angelenos:

9780520273726_UlinSidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles 

Part personal narrative, part investigation of the city as both idea and environment, Sidewalking is many things: a discussion of Los Angeles as urban space, a history of the city’s built environment, a meditation on the author’s relationship to the city, and a rumination on the art of urban walking. Exploring Los Angeles through the soles of his feet, David Ulin gets at the experience of its street life, drawing from urban theory, pop culture, and literature.

Give thanks to Sarah Josepha Buelle Hale

Most Americans know the story of Thanksgiving, but the woman who helped ensure its status as a national holiday, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, is a little less well known. Hale was an educated woman, prolific writer (of novels, poems, essays, and even the nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”!), magazine editor, and an advocate for women’s education and numerous other causes—including the cause for a national day of thanks.

Hale portrait, 1831
Portrait of Sarah Josepha Hale, 1831, by James Reid Lambdin

Bruce David Forbes explores Hale’s legacy in his new book, America’s Favorite Holidays: Candid Histories:

“In 1846, with Godey’s Lady’s Book [the magazine Hale edited] as her base of influence, Hale began writing strongly worded editorials every year promoting Thanksgiving as a national holiday, and the November issues of her magazine were filled with Thanksgiving poems, heartwarming short stories about family gatherings for Thanksgiving dinner, cooking advice, and much more. Hale understood that the first step was to persuade as many states as possible to adopt the holiday, and then a national mandate might follow.”

Hale letter to Lincoln
1863 letter from Hale to President Lincoln discussing Thanksgiving

“The bandwagon rolled along, pushed by Sarah Josepha Hale and supported by New Englanders scattered throughout the nation. New York had adopted the holiday in 1817, and Michigan in 1824, but the greatest number of states joined in the 1840s. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa added Thanksgiving in the 1850s. By 1860, Thanksgiving had been officially proclaimed in thirty states and two territories; territories sometimes declared the holiday even before they received statehood.”

Hale didn’t live to see Thanksgiving legally become a national holiday, but as we can all attest today, her efforts were certainly not in vain!

See here for other recent posts on the history behind our holidays.

Extraordinary Conditions

by Janis Jenkins, author of Extraordinary Conditions: Culture and Experience in Mental Illness

This guest post is published in advance of the American Anthropological Association conference in Denver. Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Sunday, November 22nd.


How can anthropology add to our understanding and engagement in the study of mental illnesses?

Culture is pervasive in shaping nearly every aspect of mental illness. From onset to recovery, cultural processes are vital to the subjective experience and meaning of mental illness. For example, what would be culturally diagnosed as mental disorder from a clinical perspective is conceptualized differently from the perspectives of people actually living with such problems, that is, those afflicted and their kin. For example, among Mexican-descent families, the problem might be thought of as one of nervios – something that everyone experiences to a greater or lesser extent.  Using this term serves a variety of purposes in terms of the “work of culture.” First, the problem is conceived on a continuum of human experience rather than in terms of fixed or dichotomous categories. Second, since it’s on a range of possible human experience, it is not so severely stigmatized, and more easily incorporated into the family. Third, as we know from studies that I and other researchers have carried out around the world, the social and emotional response to problems diagnosed as mental illness can make a significant difference for who gets better, and who does not. This is critically important. Anthropologically, what has classically been of ethnographic interest — how people conceptualize their world — shapes social response to mental illness that can affect course and outcome. That’s one way that anthropology can make a powerful contribution for theorizing the role of culture in health and illness.

Another way that anthropology can contribute to our understanding of mental illness is through the notion of “cultural chemistry.” I coined the term to refer to the active ingredients through which conditions — such as schizophrenia, depression, and so forth — can be thought of as a petri dish for the mixing of biology, meaning, desire, and actions that shape responses to psychotropic drugs. As a matter of “cultural chemistry,” psychotropic drugs are subjectively experienced, and culturally represented, differently in different sociaties. For example, they may be “mind food for gastrointestinal nutrition” as Stefan Ecks found in India, or “medication for chemical imbalance,” as culturally peculiar in the United States.

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How could this kind of anthropological understanding aid a worldwide “scaling up” of mental health services?

All this is relevant for current efforts in Global Mental Health to “scale up” treatments around the globe. The primary – and often the only – treatment is psychotropic drugs. These can be useful short-term and in some cases for longer periods, but the use of these drugs is a complicated matter for the afflicted and their families. These difficulties – entailing a variety of paradoxes in the lived experience of taking these drugs (e.g., the “recovery without cure,” or “stigma despite recovery” that I talk about in the book) cannot be brushed aside and indeed must be taken as a significant challenge for the scaling up and implementation of global mental health services as currently proposed. It is critical to actively involve families through engaged listening to the satisfactory and dissatisfactory aspects of their use. Experience-near perspectives must inform interventions to take into account the numerous quandaries involved in understanding the cultural, social, and biological effects of psychotropic drugs. Mental health care that involves psychotropic drugs must be followed ethnographically to determine the cultural, social, and political processes that accompany its use. Partnerships need to be undertaken to develop culturally valid community-based treatments that draw upon and sustain local expertise. Means must be found to complement the use of psychopharmaceutic drugs with psychotherapy for true efficacy. Ultimately, any true scaling up of mental health services worldwide will require economic resources to counteract the structural constraints of poverty and social disadvantage. That formidable fact cannot ethically be taken as so daunting as to justify failure to improve care in all ways possible as soon as possible.

Was there any aspect that surprised you when researching and writing this book? 

Because in the book I am working with an array of my ethnographic studies – the experience of mental illness, refugees fleeing their homelands under conditions of political violence, adolescents hospitalized multiple times by the age of 14 — I needed a means to theorize the reciprocal relations between subjective experience and institutional structures. Looking over all these different situations, I developed the notion of what I call “extraordinary conditions” to refer both to conditions that are culturally defined as mental illness or disorder and also to structural features of socioeconomic and political conditions that produce affliction via entrapment in precarious situations. When I did that, I saw that ultimately thee extraordinary conditions are more about struggle than symptoms. So, across instances of hearing voices, serious depression, troubled emotional environments in families, domestic and political violence, I identify the primacy of struggle — I see struggle as common in the lives of the mentally ill. Indeed, struggle was considered virtually moot during the long period in which serious mental illness, schizophrenia in particular, was considered a permanent and progressively deteriorating condition. Transnational and longitudinal studies such as ours have contributed to changing that. The international movement of “Voice Hearers” is changing that, and my research empirically supports these efforts by highlighting the vital importance of agency, strategies, and creativity in these processes of struggle. Of course, struggles are not always effective, can be non-linear, or be sabotaged by the environment. But my research shows that that people are often remarkably determined in an ongoing active struggle to feel better, be healed, and live their lives. Anthropologically, this endurance — despite acute distress — suggests that the capacity for struggle may be the most remarkable feature of Homo sapiens. This is true in neurobiological and cultural respects alike. Finally, while in no way discounting the reality of neurobiological processes, I am convinced that in the case of mental illness, and extraordinary conditions more broadly as I am define them, there can be no such thing as individual pathology because illness is always also a social and cultural process.


Janis H. Jenkins is a psychological/medical anthropologist at the University of California, San Diego, and an internationally recognized scholar in the field of culture and mental health.


How to Become a Garagiste

by Sheridan Warrick

Warrick looks over a portion of his 2015 syrah, just pressed, from a vineyard in California’s Carneros region.

It’s not that hard to get started making excellent wines—as good as the ones you usually buy—right in your own home. In fact, you already know how to do it. I’m not kidding.

First, crush some red wine grapes—with your feet, if you like, as in the terrific old I Love Lucy episode or as the New York Times just showed amateur vintner Matt Baldassano, age 35, doing in his New York apartment. Second, get a fermentation going. Let it start by itself or speed it up by adding yeast, as you would to pizza dough. Next, when the fermentation ends, dispose of the grape skins and seeds. You’ve seen that, too: An Italian guy pulling on the handle of an old-fashioned wine press. Finally, let the wine stand around in sealed containers for several weeks or months. It’ll get clear.

That’s it—that’s the recipe. It’s pretty much how they do it in Napa and Sonoma and in Burgundy and Bordeaux. But what does it take to become an accomplished garagiste? Someone attuned to winemaking’s aromas and flavors. Someone who knows when to watch versus when to act, who’s enthralled by the seasonal rhythm: harvest, crush, fermenting, cellar work, and tasting. Who understands the mellifluous language of yeasts. That could be you. Accomplished winemakers put stock in four principles.

  1. Trust your senses. They’ll tell you if your grapes are good or if they’re funky, when a living wine is healthy and when it’s struggling. Swirl, sniff, sip, and spit: It’s the law.
  2. Embrace the new world. Enologists have created strains of yeast and bacteria that abolish much of the risk and trouble of making wines at home. Likewise, they’ve found ways of sanitizing gear and shielding wines from spoilage. Be wise and follow their lead.
  3. Be a sponge. Knowledge evolves, new ideas pop, old dogmas falter and die. Soak up perspective from vintners, friends, and wine shop staff. And read everything you can find. WineMaker magazine, for amateurs, regularly highlights new gear and methods.
  4. Never stop hunting for fruit. Explore the many sources of great grapes around the country, some likely near you. A wine can only be as good as the grapes that go into it.

Sheridan Warrick is the author of The Way to Make Wine: How to Craft Superb Table Wines at Home (2d ed., University of California Press, 2015).

They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields

by Sarah Horton, author of They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields: Injury, Illness, and Illegality among U.S. Farmworkers

This guest post is published in advance of the American Anthropological Association conference in Denver. Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Sunday, November 22nd.


You write in your introduction that your book is based on nearly a decade of research on the health of the same group of migrant farmworkers. What are the advantages of a longitudinal approach? 

Originally, I had not intended to conduct a longitudinal study of my interviewees’ health. Yet as I continued to follow the same individuals over time, I was shocked to find that women younger than I had developed hypertension, that men younger than my own father were diagnosed with kidney failure. I came to the realization that my data provided a sequential snapshot of my interviewees’ declining health. And I began to see that understanding the cumulative health insults farmworkers suffered in turn was key to explaining their work ailments—and in particular, why they died from heat at work at a rate higher than any other occupational group.

A longitudinal approach has the advantage of allowing me to witness first-hand the unfolding of the major health challenges migrant farmworkers face: diagnoses of chronic disease made in the Emergency Room after hemorrhages and strokes, of diabetes through chance employer-provided screenings, of chronic kidney disease at its end-stage. It allowed me to “see” the hidden relationships between macro-level forces and the chronic illnesses migrant farmworkers face, such as how immigration and work stresses get under their skin and culminate in higher rates of chronic disease. And it allowed me to trace the connections between migrants’ chronic diseases—which the public health world often treats as though separate, bounded entities—and the illnesses they develop at work, which in turn were shaped by U.S. immigration and labor policies. In short, a long-term perspective helps illuminate the compounded effects of social inequality over farmworkers’ life-course, deepening the synchronic snapshot often provided by ethnographic immersion.

Why do you focus your book on the issue of heat death? What do you want readers to take away about the causes of heat death among migrant farmworkers?

From the perspective of a casual reader of a newspaper over a morning cup of coffee, heat deaths in the nation’s fields may appear an unfortunate and perhaps inevitable by-product of global warming and rising temperatures. What I aim to show in my book is that this perspective naturalizes a public health problem that is socially and politically produced, and therefore entirely amenable to intervention. I show that farmworkers’ historic exemption from the labor protections that middle class Americans take for granted forces them to expend exceptional effort to keep their jobs, all the while recently-intensified immigration control policies entangle them in new forms of legal compromise that make them even more vulnerable at work. Yet, of course, heat death isn’t merely a matter of farmworkers’ vulnerability at work; it implicates a host of other systems—the health care system, the disability and retirement systems, and even our current food safety system—that systematically fail this vulnerable population. This book documents how a web of public policies and private interests create health outcomes anomalous in a modern industrialized nation.

Thus heat death is merely the narrative hook for a broader story about how U.S. policies produce the worse health outcomes and shorter lifespans of migrant farmworkers. Because this book uses farmworkers’ narratives and experiences as the raw material from which to create this critique, it serves as a kind of social epidemiology detective story.

Why do you make your primary focus the changing circumstances of the same set of families over time? How does this change your own positionality and obligations as a researcher?  

A primary aim of this book is unabashedly humanistic—that is, to convey the texture of farmworkers’ everyday lives such that their worlds appear less foreign to readers. To help accomplish this, I follow the lives of a cast of characters over time. This allows readers to acquaint themselves with farmworkers as individuals and to watch as events in their lives unfold. It highlights the diversity in immigrant farmworkers’ experiences, as readers inhabit the shoes of male and female farmworkers and those at varying stages in the life course. Moreover, I also use it with the goal of attribution—that is, of decentering ethnographic authority and giving my migrant interlocutors their due.

Situating my research among migrant farmworkers themselves implies a particular set of loyalties and, in turn, a corresponding set of obligations. While this positioning provided me a window onto the vulnerabilities of migrants’ lives, it also gave me access to the illicit strategies farmworkers must use to circumvent immigration policies, find work, and survive economically. Because intensive engagement with vulnerable populations makes visible a population that often aims to remain invisible, researchers need to carefully consider the issue of dissemination—what we say and before what audiences, what we leave unspoken, and whether academic scholarship should be accompanied by a plan for public dissemination and engagement.

Finally, intensive engagement with vulnerable populations requires action. Witnessing the daily struggles of immigrant farmworkers compels a form of moral engagement that stems from empathic listening. A turn towards advocacy and activism is a logical extension of the norm of reciprocity that underlies anthropologists’ intense engagement with our subjects.

Sarah B. Horton is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado, Denver.

In honor of Mark Twain’s birthday

Mark Twain liked to entertain and be entertained, but his 70th birthday party was truly an evening to be remembered. Thrown by Colonel George Harvey, the editor of Harper’s Weekly, at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York, it included a souvenir pamphlet, and speeches were given by luminaries of the day.

Mark Twain’s 70th birthday celebration, December 5, 1905, Delmonico’s Restaurant, New York. Courtesy of the Mark Twain Papers, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

In honor of Mark Twain’s birthday this year, we invite you to celebrate on November 30th.

Not feeling up for staging a grand party? Here are some suggestions to whet your appetite for revelry.

  • Host an intimate affair including some of his favorite foods. Oysters and champagne remain a perennial favorite, or peruse this list for a menu of your own making.
  • Dress as the man himself. It is Movember, after all.
  • Play charades, a favored game of the Clemens family.
  • Smoke a cigar (one at a time, please).
  • Raise a glass of his esteemed “cock-tail” (see slideshow below for recipe).
  • Curl up with a copy of your favorite Mark Twain book.

However you choose to pay homage, get creative and share your photos using #HBDMarkTwain on Instagram (uc_press) and Twitter (@ucpress) between now and December 1st. Two entrants will be randomly selected to receive complete sets of the Autobiography (Volumes 1-3).



Disruptive Foods and Unsettled Stomachs

By Melissa L. Caldwell, Editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies.

This guest post is published on the occasion of the American Anthropological Association conference in Denver. Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Sunday, November 22nd.

A trainee moves pig excrement to the back of the stall. From “Waste, Incorporated,” Gastronomica 15:4, Winter 2015. Photograph by Chika Watanabe © 2010

When it comes to food, “making the familiar strange” is not necessarily an idea that sits well with many people. More commonly it is food’s familiarity that is privileged. Comfort food, heritage food, food safety, food justice—these are all ways of thinking about the comforting and stabilizing qualities of food. Food is meant to sustain communities, neighborhoods, families, and traditions. But yet part of food’s power is precisely its capacity to be disruptive—to upend our expectations, whether that is through novel combinations of ingredients, changes in forms of production and presentation, or even the reworking of sensory perceptions.

I have been thinking a lot about the disruptive potential of food recently. Certainly in Silicon Valley where I live, new technologies are changing how food is produced, distributed, and consumed. Digital technologies are radically transforming the social experience of shopping and dining, so that consumers can use apps to shop for food and meals that get delivered to their homes or tables without a single moment of human contact. Alternatively social networking platforms allow solo diners to eat communally in real-time with family and friends around the world. I regularly see my students find a quiet place in the cafeteria where they can Skype their loved ones while eating their lunches. These new technologies are even changing the nature of food itself, with experimental techniques breaking down the conventional structures of foods and creating new synthetic and natural food products: we have moved beyond food in a pill and Tofurkey to in vitro meat and many other alternative forms of protein.

But more intriguing are other types of disruption made possible by food. One question that I have found especially provocative is how to rethink terroir, or the taste of place. A recent project at the Center for Genomic Gastronomy created egg foams that captured the unique smog configurations in particular locations. In so doing, they challenged tasters to think about whether one could taste place beyond the soil and things that grow in the soil—in this case, a taste of place in the air.

From a different angle, anthropologist Chika Watanabe has raised the provocative question about what happens with a truly sustainable form of agriculture in which farmers recycle their own waste and use it as the fertilizer in which their food is grown. In this case, terroir becomes a taste of the person in a particular place, as well as a taste of place as rendered through a particular person.

Thus even as food can be familiar and comforting, it can also unsettle our expectations and prompt us to rethink fundamental questions and experiences, which in turn push us in new directions and explorations.


Melissa L. Caldwell is Professor or Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz, Editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies and Ethical Eating in the Postsocialist and Socialist World, and author of Dacha Idylls: Living Organically in Russia’s Countryside and Not by Bread Alone: Social Support in the New Russia.