Hidden Anthropology Gems: Etnicidad, identidad y migraciones

By Ricardo R. Ontillera Sánchez

Today, English is increasingly considered to be the ‘global language of science’ and has developed practically a monopoly in international periodical publications. With 90 percent of articles in the natural sciences and well over three-quarters in the social sciences and humanities written in English, researchers from around the globe have little incentive to publish in other than English.

Aside from the obvious advantages of a standardized language of scientific communication, this hegemony also has drawbacks – especially for non-native speakers, who are under increasing pressure to publish in English. It also means that scholarship published in other languages is largely ignored by English speakers. This is a particular problem for people doing fieldwork in non-Anglophone countries, where not only academic papers but also a huge volume of local literature (and other sources) is written in other languages. Although we tend to take for granted that any academic topic is extensively reported in English, as we will see from this blog series, this is not always the case.

This series is borne out of the desire to present some hidden anthropology gems not written in English. It therefore fulfils a dual purpose: to illustrate that there is life beyond English literature and to establish a dialogue with social scientists working overseas. Through this series we seek to introduce ideas and works from non-Anglophone countries. This trend-bucking exercise will provide, on a monthly-basis, a wide range of works from all around the world and for a variety of audiences. So, let’s get to work!

I would like to begin this series with the book that I liked the most when I studied social anthropology in Spain: Etnicidad, identidad y migraciones: Teorías, conceptos y experiencias. (Somewhat curiously, in this attempt to escape from an Anglocentric view of literature, I have chosen an author born in Cambridge, England.) A university lecturer in anthropology at the National Distance Education University (UNED), Eugenia Ramírez Goicoechea has undertaken most of her studies and fieldwork amongst different autonomous communities in Spain. She has also given courses and lecturers at international universities and she was, for instance, a visiting scholar at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. Her works have centred on ethnicity, migrations, identity, and more recently, biosocial anthropology and interdisciplinarity.

What would become of anthropology without new and different worlds? The author clearly feels the need to understand the complex processes which make people different (and unite them as well). This book is intended as a manual for undergraduates, reflecting Eugenia’s personal method of interpreting and analyzing the multiple ways in which ethnicity, identity and migration are embodied, although she draws extensively from previous epistemological, theoretical and empirical studies in outlining her approach. For example, one of the central concepts at the core of the book is alterity (otherness):

“Alteridad, Otredad, significa la clasificación socialmente construida y subjetivamente in-corporada de personas y gentes como diferentes” [“Alterity, Otherness, means the socially constructed and subjectively embodied classification of people as different”]

For all those interested in exploring these concepts of “identity and otherness”, the author includes various references for further enquiry. This is a particularly useful feature of this work: throughout the book, the author maintains a close dialogue with a huge variety of authors, inside and outside the social sciences. She also makes a substantial effort to go beyond social anthropology and engage with interdisciplinary literature and that from the life sciences. The incorporation of her fieldwork experiences and her use of literary works, especially Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), as a narrative thread also add to the book’s transdisciplinary nature.

It is precisely that wide-ranging approach that made me love this book, although perhaps this has something to do with my own interdisciplinary background and the fact that I experienced a transition from my original training in the biological sciences to what I am now doing, as an anthropologist, in terms of ethnographic fieldwork. Eugenia manages to integrate a vast variety of voices, which I consider vital to understanding the processes outlined, such as migration and identity, in a scholarly examination that provides a major contribution to our understanding of this topic ​in a postcolonial context​. Given the above, I consider it a must-read for everyone who reads Spanish and is particularly interested in the aforementioned topics.

A longer Spanish summary of the book has been written by Patricia Fernández Martín and the references below are books and papers published in English, Spanish and French for further information on this important subject.

Here ends the first post on this matter. Now is your time to suggest and propose other authors and works in the comments below. We are really looking forward to bringing light to more hidden gems.

Further reading

Augé, M. (1998). A Sense for the Other: The Timeliness and Relevance of Anthropology. Stanford University Press.

Bringa, T. (1995). Being Muslim the Bosnian way: Identity and Community in a Central Bosnian Village. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Calhoun, C. (1994). Social Theory and the Politics of Identity. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Krotz, E. (1994). Alteridad y pregunta antropológica. Alteridades 4 (8). 5-11.

Lévi-Strauss, C. (2007). L’Identité: séminaire interdisciplinaire. Presses Universitaires de France-PUF.

Smith, A. (1986). The Ethnic Origins of Nations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Velasco, H.M. (1993). “Iguales y diferentes. Categorías proverbiales de la conceptualización del otro”, en VVAA eds. Antropología sin fronteras. Ensayos en honor a Carmelo Lisón. Madrid: CIS.

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