Orin Starn (Editor). Writing Culture and the Life of Anthropology. 280 pp., illus., bibl., index. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2015. $94.95 (cloth), $25.95 (paperback)
The essays in this volume reflect on the landmark 1986 Writing Culture and are short, sharp, and satisfying. Like many commemorative volumes, each essay provides a bit of reflection: where were you when you first read Writing Culture? While this has the unsurprising effect of turning the 1986 work into a metonym for the “reflexive turn” in anthropology, the essays are not overly nostalgic and instead focus on, as the title spotlights, the “Life of Anthropology.” As such, Writing Culture and the Life of Anthropology is useful to those who stayed up late to finish the book in 1986 as well as those of us who became scholars long afterward, for whom the lessons of the original Writing Culture have become inextricably embedded in anthropology, history, and other humanistic social sciences.
Peter Mandler. Return from the Natives: How Margaret Mead Won the Second World War and Lost the Cold War. 384 pp., illus., bibl., index. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. $45 (cloth)
Ruben Flores. Backroads Pragmatists: Mexico’s Melting Pot and Civil Rights in the United States. 360 pp., illus., index. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. $45 (cloth), $45 (e-book)
These two ambitious recent books offer models for historians of social science to assess their subjects’ influence. Narrowing their scope to key individuals in order to trace their paths carefully, Mandler and Flores paint vivid pictures of social scientists pursuing agendas for cultural renewal through political channels. While their conclusions are ultimately ambivalent, both authors have given us carefully researched volumes on the influence, and lack of influence, of anthropologists and other social scientists from the interwar period to the early 1950s. Anyone interested in anthropology’s relationship to the state should read these books.