The Restless Anthropologist: New Fieldsites, New Visions

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The Restless Anthropologist, published by the University of Chicago Press (2012), has its origins in a session, “Should I Stay or Should I Go? The Challenges–and Pleasures–of Switching Field Sites,” presented at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (2007) with some of the eventual book’s contributors.

The book was list as one of 12 “Core Anthropology Titles for 2012” by YBP Library Services.

A follow-up set of essays appeared in a special issue of the journal, Anthropology and Humanism (2014), titled “The Restless Anthropologist: Crossing Borders to New Fieldsites,” (vol. 39, #1), edited by Alma Gottlieb.

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Advance praise for The Restless Anthropologist:

The Restless Anthropologist is a rich, powerful, and compulsively readable collection of essays by anthropologists who look back at the multiple relationships between their serial fieldwork experiences and their lives. Illustrating the dense interweaving of the personal and the professional that is the hallmark of anthropology as a vocation, these essays are at once affectively deep reflections, and clear-eyed assessments, of lives often lived ‘between here and there.’ Alma Gottlieb’s idea to stimulate these articles and bring together this collection was inspired.”
-Sherry Ortner, MacArthur “Genius” Award recipient, and author of Not Hollywood: Independent Film at the Twilight of the American Dream

“Curiosity is a major anthropological virtue, and new field work is a wonderful way of keeping it alive and well. The eight lively and wise contributors to this book portray the delights of facing a new set of intellectual and personal challenges, and are equally clear about the varied domestic and institutional constraints they encounter along the way to a second (or third, or fourth . . .) field. Read it, and you will see how anthropologists can enjoy long, productive careers!”
-Ulf Hannerz, author of Anthropology’s World: Life in a Twenty-First Century Discipline

“These delightful accounts of fieldwork are both intellectual reflections and personal memoirs. They teach us about the state of the discipline now and earlier, and what it was like for fieldworkers when the theoretical paradigm lurched sideways, and they reveal the personal courage and choices of some of our leading scholars. The Restless Anthropologist lets us see past the polished monographs into the complex lives which have led to their production. It offers thoughtful commentary not only on the specific challenge of changing fieldsites, but on the endlessly fascinating experience of anthropological fieldwork in general.”
-Tanya Luhrmann, author of When God Talks Back

“One of the hallmarks for recent career trajectories in anthropology has been the development of new research projects in new sites; at times these draw upon the same theoretical concerns that motivated the first research, and at times they represent wholly new departures. The Restless Anthropologist provides an engaging and appropriately heterogeneous set of accounts of the genesis, development, and afterlives of such second projects. It is a pleasure to read—informative about both the field and individual scholars who have figured centrally within it—and very good to think with.”
—Donald Brenneis, past president, American Anthropological Association

“While the past fifteen years of critical reflection about alternative modes of scaling-up anthropological research practice converged around the distinctive vulnerabilities of early-career anthropologists, this volume offers seven ethnographically substantive autobiographical essays by later-career anthropologists about the demands and opportunities inherent in continental-scale shifts in fieldsites. Continuities among projects are evident in these essays, which also illustrate the occasionally liberatory effects of life cycle constraints: creative lateral thinking and the simultaneity of personal and disciplinary reinvention are manifest throughout. This collection will provoke and comfort early-career and later-career anthropologists while offering science studies scholars food for thought.”
—Rena Lederman, author of What Gifts Engender

Selected reviews of The Restless Anthropologist:

“The volume’s essays . . . remind us that fieldwork is not just a fundamental aspect of the discipline of anthropology – it is also foundational to the career of the anthropologist. . . . [A] reflexive . . . tour de force, Gottlieb’s work is . . . a heartfelt testament to the undeniable role of the self in the anthropologist’s narrative.”
-Roger Norum, Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford

“While anthropologists are the intended audience for the book, the narratives are both nourishing and thought provoking for others in related disciplines as well. . . . Gottlieb demonstrates a keen editorial skill in bringing together this masterful tale of midcareer fieldsite change. . . . From reading The Restless Anthropologist and the short bios that accompany it, as well as encountering the measured prose and rhetoric of highly skilled ethnographers, I have a sense of awe and gratitude that such a book has been written.”
-Joseph Daubenmire, Anthropology & Humanism

“[A] wonderful collection of essays . . . The strength of this collection is that the contributors reveal how anthropologists face many personal challenges in their struggle to combine life and work: they have come up against institutional prejudices based on the area-studies focus in many universities; they have struggled, sometimes valiantly, to master new languages; and they have read pages of history, ethnography, and theory to prepare for fieldwork in a new place. These essays show . . . why there is no one best way to develop a comparative perspective in anthropology and how fieldwork, wherever it takes place, is our life-blood.”
-James Taggart, Current Anthropology

“The volume is an immensely enjoyable read and is a welcome addition to the emerging literature on fieldwork and ethnographic writing. It will be of interest to anthropologists at any stage of their careers, especially to midcareer anthropologists who are contemplating the next step in their scholarly trajectory. It would be a particularly valuable text for students in ethnographic methods courses, and even to nonanthropologists who seek a better understanding of what anthropologists do and what distinguishes their research from that of other social scientists.”
-Michelle Johnson, American Ethnologist

“What begins with the question of ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ goes beyond the individual decisions implicated in changing the place of one’s fieldwork and moving on to a new site or community to study. The book takes the reader into the wider territory of changing ethnographic practice, as it explores the topography of fieldwork under the conditions of transnational entanglements, mobile research subjects and global urbanism. . . the self-reflective, personal tone of the essays effectively foregrounds the importance of biographical serendipity, affect and emotional capital in guiding study interests and fieldwork choices – something that is often invisible amid the imperative for methodological research and strategic career planning. The contributors powerfully show how childhood memories, love, family or friendships can inspire the fieldwork experience, as much as they can in a long-term engagement with a particular field.”
–Tina Schilbach, Social Anthropology

The Restless Anthropologist reminds us of the centrality of ethnographic practice as the essential ground for anthropological theory . . . Once the consciousness of theoretical grounding in the field experience is restored, and site-shift recognised as ‘a way of keeping our anthropological awareness sharp’ (42), the next step to undertake is to think about what prevents us doing so, and how to overcome such constraints. This is the intellectual and political challenge that the book under review invites us to take up.”
-Dario di Rosa, Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

Description of The Restless Anthropologist from the back cover:

“What does a move from a village in the West African rain forest to a West African community in a European city entail? What about a shift from a Greek sheep-herding community to working with evictees and housing activists in Rome and Bangkok? In The Restless Anthropologist, Alma Gottlieb brings together eight eminent scholars to recount the riveting personal and intellectual dynamics of uprooting one’s life—and decades of work—to embrace a new fieldsite.

Addressing questions of life-course, research methods, institutional support, professional networks, ethnographic models, and disciplinary paradigm shifts, the contributing writers of The Restless Anthropologist discuss the ways their earlier and later projects compare on both scholarly and personal levels, describing the circumstances of their choices and the motivations that have emboldened them to proceed, to become novices all over again. In doing so, they question some of the central expectations of their discipline, reimagining the space of the anthropological fieldsite at the heart of their scholarly lives.”

The Restless Anthropologist on Amazon

The Restless Anthropologist on the University of Chicago Press website