For our first experiment in reading together, we’ve picked Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil, by Nancy Scheper-Hughes.
Death Without Weeping is based on Scheper-Hughes’ fieldwork in a rural village in Northeastern Brazil in the 1980s, and her decades of contact with the community there. The book centers on maternal love in a context where scarcity and child death are the norm. Along the way, Scheper-Hughes explores conflicts between academic reflection and activism, and what it means to be an ethnographer:
The ethnographer, like the artist, is engaged in a special kind of vision quest through which a specific interpretation of the human condition, an entire sensibility, is forged. Our medium, our canvas, is “the field,” a place both proximate and intimate (because we have lived some part of our lives there) as well as forever distant and unknowably “other” (because our own destinies lie elsewhere). In the act of “writing culture,” what emerges is always a highly subjective, partial, and fragmentary — but also deeply felt and personal — record of human lives based on eyewitness and testimony. The act of witnessing is what lends our work its moral (at times its almost theological) character. So-called participant observation has a way of drawing the ethnographer into spaces of human life where she or he might really prefer not to go at all and once there doesn’t know how to go about getting out except through writing, which draws others there as well, making them party to the act of witnessing.
It’s gorgeous. Go get it! We would love to hear what you think of it. You can share your thoughts, your favorite quotes, your blog posts, etc. on twitter with the hashtag #ethnobookclub, or send us an email at ethnographymatters[at]gmail. We’re still experimenting with formats, but our current plan is to post thoughts on the book every week or so starting in November.