The terms "center" and "periphery" are particularly relevant to anthropologists, since traditionally they look outward from institutional "centers"-universities, museums, government bureaus-to learn about people on the "peripheries." Yet anthropology itself, as compared with economics, politics, or history, occupies a space somewhat on the margins of academe. Still, anthropologists, who control esoteric knowledge about the vast range of human variation, often find themselves in a theoretically central position, able to critique the "universal" truths promoted by other disciplines.
Central Sites, Peripheral Visions presents five case studies that explore the dilemmas, moral as well as political, that emerge out of this unique position. From David Koester's analysis of how ethnographic descriptions of Iceland marginalized that country's population, to Kath Weston's account of an offshore penal colony where officials mixed prison work with ethnographic pursuits; from Brad Evans's reflections on the "bohemianism" of both the Harlem vogue and American anthropology, to Arthur J. Ray's study of anthropologists who serve as expert witnesses in legal cases, the essays in the eleventh volume of the History of Anthropology Series reflect on anthropology's always problematic status as centrally peripheral, or peripherally central.
Finally, George W. Stocking, Jr., in a contribution that is almost a book in its own right, traces the professional trajectory of American anthropologist Robert Gelston Armstrong, who was unceremoniously expelled from his place of privilege because of his communist sympathies in the 1950s. By taking up Armstrong's unfinished business decades later, Stocking engages in an extended meditation on the relationship between center and periphery and offers "a kind of posthumous reparation," a page in the history of the discipline for a distant colleague who might otherwise have remained in the footnotes.
Yucatan has been called “a world apart”—cut off from the rest of Mexico by geography and culture. Yet, despite its peripheral location, the region experienced substantial change in the decades after independence. As elsewhere in Mexico, apostles of modernization introduced policies intended to remold Yucatan in the image of the advanced nations of the day. Indeed, modernizing change began in the late colonial era and continued throughout the 19th century as traditional patterns of land tenure were altered and efforts were made to divest the Catholic Church of its wealth and political and intellectual influence. Some changes, however, produced fierce resistance from both elites and humbler Yucatecans and modernizers were frequently forced to retreat or at least reach accommodation with their foes.
Covering topics from the early 19th century to the late 20th century, the essays in this collection illuminate both the processes of change and the negative reactions that they frequently elicited. The diversity of disciplines covered by this volume—history, anthropology, sociology, economics—illuminates at least three overriding challenges for study of the peninsula today. One is politics after the decline of the Institutional Revolutionary Party: What are the important institutions, practices, and discourses of politics in a post-postrevolutionary era? A second trend is the scholarly demystification of the Maya: Anthropologists have shown the difficulties of applying monolithic terms like Maya in a society where ethnic relations are often situational and ethnic boundaries are fluid. And a third consideration: researchers are only now beginning to grapple with the region’s transition to a post-henequen economy based on tourism, migration, and the assembly plants known as maquiladoras. Challenges from agribusiness and industry will no doubt continue to affect the peninsula’s fragile Karst topography and unique environments.
Contributors: Eric N. Baklanoff, Helen Delpar, Paul K. Eiss, Ben W. Fallaw, Gilbert M. Joseph, Marie Lapointe, Othón Baños Ramírez, Hernán Menéndez Rodríguez, Lynda S. Morrison, Terry Rugeley, Stephanie J. Smith
The government of Yemen, unified since 1990, remains largely incapable of controlling violence or providing goods and services to its population, but the regime continues to endure despite its fragility and peripheral location in the global political and economic order. Revealing what holds Yemen together in such tenuous circumstances, Peripheral Visions shows how citizens form national attachments even in the absence of strong state institutions.
Lisa Wedeen, who spent a year and a half in Yemen observing and interviewing its residents, argues that national solidarity in such weak states tends to arise not from attachments to institutions but through both extraordinary events and the ordinary activities of everyday life. Yemenis, for example, regularly gather to chew qat, a leafy drug similar to caffeine, as they engage in wide-ranging and sometimes influential public discussions of even the most divisive political and social issues. These lively debates exemplify Wedeen’s contention that democratic, national, and pious solidarities work as ongoing, performative practices that enact and reproduce a citizenry’s shared points of reference. Ultimately, her skillful evocations of such practices shift attention away from a narrow focus on government institutions and electoral competition and toward the substantive experience of participatory politics.