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Beyond the Words

Resonance gathers together forty years of anthropological study by a researcher and writer with one of the broadest fieldwork résumés in anthropology: Unni Wikan. In its twelve essays—four of which are brand new—Resonance covers encounters with transvestites in Oman, childbirth in Bhutan, poverty in Cairo, and honor killings in Scandinavia, with visits to several other locales and subjects in between. Including a comprehensive preface and introduction that brings the whole work into focus, Resonance surveys an astonishing career of anthropological inquiry that demonstrates the possibility for a common humanity, a way of knowing others on their own terms.
Deploying Clifford Geertz’s concept of “experience-near” observations —and driven by an ambition to work beyond Geertz’s own limitations—Wikan strives for an anthropology that sees, describes, and understands the human condition in the models and concepts of the people being observed. She highlights the fundamentals of an explicitly comparative, person-centered, and empathic approach to fieldwork, pushing anthropology to shift from the specialist discourses of academic experts to a grasp of what the Balinese call keneh— the heart, thought, and feeling of the real people of the world. By deploying this strategy across such a range of sites and communities, she provides a powerful argument that ever-deeper insight can be attained despite our differences.

384 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology


“Whether an anthropologist, a student of immigration law or security studies, or a policy maker, Wikan’s essays will provide readers with a striking yet compassionate framework for understanding how people across time and place deal with global contemporary concerns.”

Jia Hui Lee | LSE Review of Books

“Frankly, some of these pieces are hard to put down.” 

O. Pi-Sunyer | Choice

“Unni Wikan has spent more time in sustained fieldwork in more societies than any other anthropologist whom I know, and these essays are the connective tissue among her most substantial work. They demonstrate her theoretical acuity in defining an approach that always places human experience first. As a result, she develops attractive, balanced, pragmatic views of culture, relativism, and the tendency in cultural anthropology, at least, to emphasize difference over the coherence of human experience in whichever culture and society it is engaged. They are exemplars and a test, as well, of just that approach which understands that common humanity is to be found anywhere, though complicated by distinctive cultural orientations to the expression of personhood.”

George Marcus, University of California, Irvine

Resonance charts a compelling theoretical trajectory and a singular and engaging life in anthropology. It is a crisp contribution to discussions about methodology, and it provides a wealth of information about a wide range of people in very different cultural contexts. Written in a style that will appeal to both professional anthropologists and students who are just beginning to learn about anthropology, it addresses issues—such as empathy and ethical engagement, shame, gender, immigration, and the limits of understanding—that are vital and timely. I feel enlightened and invigorated to have read it.”

Don Kulick, University of Chicago

Table of Contents

Preface: A Way in the World

1 Beyond the Words: The Power of Resonance
2 Toward an Anthropology of Lived Experience

3 The Self in a World of Urgency and Necessity
4 Against the Self—For a Person-Oriented Approach

5 Resilience in the Megacity: Cultural Competence among Cairo’s Poor

6 Man Becomes Woman: The Xanith as a Key to Gender Roles
7 Shame and Honor: A Contestable Pair

8 The Nun’s Story: Reflections on an Age-Old Postmodern Dilemma
9 In the Middle Way: Childbirth and Rebirth in Bhutan

10 “My Son a Terrorist? He Was Such a Gentle Boy . . .”
11 On Evil and Empathy: Remembering Ghazala Khan

Epilogue: Resonance and Beyond

Appendix: On Writing

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