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International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

logo2017Pronounced by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1994, The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is observed on August 9 each year to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population. Making up 5% of the world’s population there are an estimated 370 million indigenous people living across 90 countries. They speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures.

Despite their cultural differences, indigenous peoples from around the world share common problems related to preservation of their unique cultures and protection of their rights to traditional lands and natural resources that have always been violated. This day promotes the recognition that special measures are required to protect their rights and maintain their distinct cultures and way of life. For more information on background, events and resources please visit

In marking this year’s observance, Berghahn is pleased to feature a selection of books of related interest and offer a 25% discount on all Indigenous Studies titles. For the next 30 days use discount code IP17 at checkout.

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Portrait of a Storyteller

The following is a post by Stephen Most, author of Stories Make the World: Reflections on Storytelling and the Art of the Documentary.

Two portraits of the young man I once was, one oil-painted, the other shaped in clay, watch over my study. More than half a century after they were made I portrayed the painter, Pedro Azabache, and the sculptor, Eduardo Calderón, in the opening chapters of Stories Make the World.

My friendships with them began unexpectedly and unforgettably. As a college student I received a grant I hadn’t applied for to go to a country I knew nothing about where languages I did not understand were spoken. I had not even studied anthropology, the field in which I was supposed to do summer research. However, I did know the destination: a pueblo named Moche.

The only book I could find about Moche mentioned a descendant of Mochica Indians who had studied painting in Lima. When I met him, Pedro Azabache led a school of fine arts in Trujillo. Seen in retrospect, my request, uttered in barely coherent Spanish, was absurd. I told him I wanted to live at his home in Moche and write about his life. The maestro replied, “Encantado.”

My friendship with Eduardo Calderón, who taught wood and ceramic sculpture in Azabache’s school of fine arts, also began encantado, with enchantment. Calderón invited me to his adobe-walled home to make the bust that now rests on my cabinet. Soon after I got there, after he had plopped clay on a small round table and after his wife, María, served us a wooden bowl filled with chicha, a corn liquor, Calderón asked, “Do you know that I am a brujo?” I did know that word, having read, in John Gillin’s Moche, A Peruvian Coastal Community, about brujeria, which means both sorcery and its antidote, a way of healing physical and psychological maladies. On the radio a cumbia was playing as Calderón, gliding into a corner of his open-air studio, pulled the head and wings of a pelican skin over his shoulders and started dancing. Soon we were wearing the bird in turn as we danced to the catchy beat.

“Esteban Most” by Pedro Azabache

“Esteban Most” by Pedro Azabache

That summer, one of Azabache’s students who spoke English, José Li Ning, helped me translate the artist’s journals. A sentence I puzzled over, learning the subjunctive, was something Azabache’s father had said to him: “I hope my son knows to make good use of his time.” Those wise words applied, I felt, to me. Li Ning also came to the first mesa, or all-night healing ceremony, I attended. As Calderón presided over a ritual the pre-Incaic Mochica sculpted on pottery a thousand years ago, I realized that I, the unlikely recipient of a grant to do ethnology, was making good use of my time.

After that summer, wanting better to know my Peruvian friends and their world, I returned to the Trujillo region, starting with a two-year stint in the Peace Corps. Calderón invited me to be the godfather of his daughter Josefina, which made us compadres, friends with family bonds. Years later, his granddaughter Rosi Liliana became my second goddaughter.

Decades after that, while writing the reflections on storytelling and the art of the documentary that comprise Stories Make the World, I realized: both Azabache and Calderón were storytellers. Both combined a visual medium with narrative in different forms and with different techniques than are used in documentary making. And we all moved within a current flowing from cave painting ceremonies tens of thousands of years ago and surely from visual and verbal representations of the world made long before those. I had defined myself in terms of the specific medium in which I worked, whether as a playwright, a screenwriter, or an author. Only while writing Stories Make the World did I grasp a larger identity that potentially connects every human being, for we all tell stories; our lives are shaped by them and by the stories others tell.

Wanting to share memories of Azabache and Calderón with my goddaughters and other Peruvian friends, I asked Li Ning to translate the first two chapters of my book. He and his son, a professor of English, did so. Better yet, Li Ning found a magazine that will publish the Spanish version of those chapters. I’m glad my portraits of the men who portrayed me many years ago, whose friendship enriched my life, will be widely seen in their country before long.


See an earlier blog post from Stephen Most here, and learn more about the book Stories Make the World: Reflections on Storytelling and the Art of the Documentary here. To stream and download films in Stories Make the World, go to


World Breastfeeding Week 2017


Celebrating it’s 25th year in 2017, World Breastfeeding Week is held yearly from 1st to 7th of August in more than 120 countries. Being organized by WABA, WHO and UNICEF, the goal is to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life which yields tremendous health benefits, providing critical nutrients, protection from deadly diseases and fostering growth. To learn more please visit

In marking this year’s observance, Berghahn is pleased to feature and offer a 25% discount, valid through September 7th, 2017, on selection of books of related interest. Simply use discount code FRS17 at checkout.

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Why do so many American Parents Struggle with Nighttime Breastfeeding and Sleep?

by Cecília Tomori

For World Breastfeeding Week, we’re delighted to offer FREE access to a chapter from Nighttime Breastfeeding for a limited time. Click here to access this chapter, titled Embodied Cultural Dilemmas: An Anthropological Approach to the Study of Nighttime Breastfeeding and Sleep.

Nighttime Breastfeeding addresses the central question: why do so many American parents struggle with nighttime breastfeeding and sleep? I set out to answer this question, which emerged from my preliminary fieldwork, using the classic anthropological technique of participant observation. I spent many months immersed in fieldwork, and then many more surrounded by all the materials I had collected – piles of fieldnotes to interview recordings, brochures, photos, and, most importantly, memories of being with families who have graciously let me into their lives. I revisited key moments over and over again – recalling certain phrases, pauses, and gestures, which I could examine through the lenses offered by my anthropological training. Continue Reading »

Introducing Contention: The Multidisciplinary Journal of Social Protest

In 2011 a global wave of protest changed the way in which people saw contention. January saw two revolutions: first, in Tunisia culminating in the overthrow of then president Ben Ali; and second in Egypt with protests that would end the Mubarak regime within eighteen days. This wave of protest spread to Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain changing the course of history for each country forever.

But protest would not be confined to the Middle East. Later that year the Iberian Peninsula ignited with protest and popular mass movements soon followed. The same could be seen in Italy and Greece. What had spread to Southern Europe would soon cross the Atlantic with the rise of Occupy Wall Street: first, in New York then across Northern America and finally, by 2012, across the globe as a worldwide occupy movement.

In the academic community, a fervent interest in these new protests and the general question of Contention would awaken across disciplines and in October of that year many of us came together at the University of Kent for the first international and interdisciplinary conference on social protest. Attendees ranged from across the social sciences, humanities and arts, as well as a substantial contingent of activists, revolutionaries and NGOs.

This enthusiasm led to the very first issue of Contention: The Multidisciplinary Journal of Social Protest, on Theory, Action and Impact in Social Protest. This issue was merely a collection of abstracts of the almost 200 papers presented at the conference but generated considerable excitement among our colleagues.

This became the springboard for two distinct ventures, first the creation of the Interdisciplinary Network for Social Protest Research which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year. Second, of course, was Contention which had expanded into a fully-fledged academic journal by 2013.

This year marks a similarly important step for Contention, with the move to a new publisher and to a new phase in the journal’s history. We are privileged to count among our editors a distinguished and international advisory board, as well as scholars of the highest calibre from across disciplines. The journal now attracts submissions of the highest quality and prides itself on a careful and inclusive review process.

So what’s next for Contention? Over the next five years we will aim to establish the journal as a world leading resource for social protest across disciplines. In conjunction with our partners at INSPR, we will strengthen our ties with academics and practitioners across the globe. In partnership with our publisher at Berghahn we will bring the journal to new audiences and even greater impact.

We look forward to your help along the way!

Benjamin Abrams and Giovanni A Travaglino


Promoting ‘self-reliance’ for refugees: what does it really mean?

The following is a post by Naohiko Omata, author of The Myth of Self-Reliance: Economic Lives Inside a Liberian Refugee Camp.

Promotion of ‘self-reliance’ for refugees has occupied a central seat in the policy arena of the international refugee regime in recent years. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) broadly defines self-reliance as ‘the social and economic ability of an individual, a household or a community to meet essential needs in a sustainable manner’. Its guiding philosophy can be summarised as: refugees have the skills, capacity and agency to stand on their own and be able to sustain themselves without depending on external humanitarian aid. This concept has been universally embraced by policy-makers and aid agencies and has now become an increasingly visible part in refugee assistance and protection programmes worldwide.

But on the ground, what does it really mean for refugees to attain self-reliance?

While many policies have rhetorically committed to the importance of ‘helping refugees help themselves’, some fundamental questions remain unanswered.

First, do refugees have enabling conditions to achieve self-reliance? Currently, many refugees in the Global South are unable to fully exercise their right to work and to move freely due to regulations by their host governments. These impediments can severely constrain refugees’ capacity to construct meaningful livelihoods and limit their access to commercial markets. Under these restrictions, is it sensible to assume that refugees can attain self-reliance regardless of how industrious and ingenious they are?

Next, how do we determine whether refugees have achieved self-reliance? Despite its extensive promotion, there are to date no universally agreed systematic and rigorous criteria for measuring refugees’ self-reliance. Instead of using objective benchmarks, UNHCR often perceives refugees as self-reliant when they live without external assistance. Is the situation in which refugees living without aid a plausible indicator of ‘meeting their basic needs in a sustainable manner’, as defined by UNHCR?

Most importantly, for whom is refugees’ self-reliance being promoted? In theory, nurturing refugees’ self-reliance should entail a strategic shift from traditional relief aid to development-oriented support and the provision of enabling conditions for refugees to establish gainful livelihoods. Yet this is not happening in the field. Meanwhile, UNHCR and donor states usually start decreasing assistance for refugees while promoting refugees’ self-reliance. Is refugees’ self-reliance meant to empower refugees’ economic capacities or to justify cutting down aid for refugee populations?

My authored book, The Myth of Self-Reliance, has explored these important but unsolved questions through a study of Buduburam refugee camp in Ghana. This Liberian refugee camp has been commended by UNHCR as an exemplary ‘self-reliant’ model in which refugees were sustaining themselves through robust businesses with little donor support. The UN refugee agency even boasted that the organization had facilitated their economic success by gradually withdrawing its assistance over the period of exile.

The book challenges the reputation of Buduburam refugee camp as a successful model for self-reliance and sheds light on considerable economic inequality between refugee households. Both qualitative and quantitative data reveal that a key livelihood resource for refugees in Buduburam was not their commercial activities but their access to overseas remittances, which had nothing to do with UNHCR’s initiatives to foster refugees’ self-reliance by withdrawing aid. While refugees who were receiving remittances were able to satisfy their basic day-to-day needs, those who had no connections to the diaspora were deeply impoverished.

There is increasing support for the idea that refugees are active and capable players with ingenuity and resilience. I agree wholeheartedly with this view in principle. However, it is irresponsible to assume that this can entirely replace the need for humanitarian aid and protection, in the absence of an enabling environment and adequate resources. Over-emphasis on the resilience, agency and capacity of refugees can obscure internal differentiations in their economic capacities, and universal celebration of refugees’ self-reliance can even undermine refugee protection and welfare. While we should certainly acknowledge and respect refugees’ capabilities and resourcefulness in the face of adversity, we should not dump all responsibilities on the shoulders of refugees alone.

Given the daunting scale of refugees globally, it is undeniable that we need to pioneer new ways to support and enable their socio-economic independence in the long-term. However, making refugee self-reliance a reality necessitates a strong commitment and investment from not only refugee but host governments, the donor community, development agencies, UNHCR, and other relief organizations.



Learn more about The Myth of Self-Reliance: Economic Lives Inside a Liberian Refugee Camp here and read the Introduction for free online.


We’re delighted to offer a selection of latest releases from our core subjects of AnthropologyApplied AnthropologyFilm Studies, Gender Studies, History, and Media Studies, along with our New in Paperback titles.


Ethnographies of Lack and Desire in Contemporary China
Edited by Susanne Bregnbæk and Mikkel Bunkenborg

Volume 2, Studies in Social Analysis

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Recreating universities to help revive democracy

The following is a post by Davydd J. Greenwood, Goldwin Smith Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, Cornell University

The following are some management verities that abound in current university administrations:

  • Good universities require highly-paid leaders hired by Boards of Trustees through executive search services.
  • Good universities have large administrative staffs, often outnumbering the faculty.
  • Good university leaders must impose accountability and quality control to make their university rise in the rankings.
  • The cost of higher education will always go up.

All these verities are false as a single example can show. The Mondragón University in the Basque Country with 4,000 students and 4 colleges operating 8 campus locations throughout the Basque Country has a central administrative staff of 3 senior administrators and their secretaries. Highly ranked and successful, it operates daily through collaborative governance including the students, faculty, and staff who “run” the university. If this is possible, then having more managers than workers, having vast administrative overheads, and governing from the apex by imposed authority, are not laws of nature. Mondragón University shows that a successful university business model can be unlike any of our currently over-administered and radically inefficient universities. In science, an exception to the rule demonstrates that the rule is false.

Most explanations of the decline and fall of public higher education blame the corporatization of our institutions and implementation of business models for the problems. First-hand knowledge of innovative private sector organizations show they share more features with Mondragón University than with our current universities.

Successful businesses do not resemble our current universities. These institutions are poorly organized, over-staffed with administrators, and suffer from huge pay disparities and runaway costs. Successful businesses generally are team-based matrix organizations whose cross-disciplinary, cross-functional teams focus on products or key processes. Each team has experts from all relevant stakeholder/functional areas in the organization. The business leaders are coordinators and process champions, not authoritarian bosses. Salary differentials are generally modest. In these well-run organizations, the people who produce the “value” for the organization play a role in structuring and managing operations.

This contrasts sharply with the administrative bloat in universities, the authoritarianism of “parachuted in” academic leaders, and salaries for senior academic administrators that often are 40-50 times higher than those of the secretarial staff and groundskeepers. The power apex is remote from daily work processes and thus leaders cannot make competent management decisions. Nor can they understand why their decisions fail to produce the desired results. Failure instead is blamed on the faculty and the students. Ultimately, these policies prevent working and middle class students from having a high-quality education and gaining the consequent social mobility and civic awareness it can produce.

We are reaching the nadir in this race to the bottom. The only way forward is to create higher education anew through the democratic practices of participatory democracy, as in the Mondragón University. These practices are the core of Action Research. They require all the relevant stakeholders to collaborate in establishing the mission, structures, and practices of the institution. Together they must enact these missions and keep constant evaluation processes going to see how well they are accomplishing the goals they agreed on, making the necessary adjustments to improve on a continuing basis.

The “freedom to teach” and the “freedom to learn” essential to Bildung involves the ongoing recreation and reinforcement of universities that respect and practice academic freedom, academic integrity, and participatory democracy in every organizational dimension. These recreated universities would be schools for democracy and organized to produce Neue-Bildung for the university stakeholders and for society at large.

Critique and wringing of hands is easy; action research to create democratic universities is not. Where a powerful few currently dominate, they will react to any threat to their power and money and fight back. Changing universities into such organizations requires radical moves, the first being understanding that such change is possible. We have laid out the analysis and needed actions in our book, Creating a New Public University and Reviving Democracy: Action Research in Higher Education.

The current quagmires created by the neo-liberals in universities (and most other institutions) offers some hope. Most of the stakeholders, regardless of their politics, are aware that the current university system is broken. What matters now is to have concrete plans for a way out of the quagmire and to be ready for an arduous campaign to recreate universities, an essential element in the rebirth of democracy itself.



Learn more about Davydd J. Greenwood’s new book Creating a New Public University and Reviving Democracy: Action Research in Higher Education here.

Book Launch for Stories Make the World

The following is a post about the book launch for Stories Make the World: Reflections on Storytelling and the Art of the Documentary by Stephen Most.

It’s odd to see the result of years of work contained within a small object, whether it is a book, a DVD, or a phone on which films are streaming. Stories Make the World contains, in a sense, ideas I care about, a variety of subjects that interest me, and many of the films I’ve worked on.

It was odd as well to see a room enclose people from almost every aspect of my life. That happened at the party celebrating the launch of Stories Make the World. If my life were a book, many of its chapters appeared in my living room one Sunday afternoon. Convening beneath balloons were my brother, a cousin, and their wives, my wife, our son and his girlfriend, friends who live on my block, friends whose children grew up with my children, other friends I hadn’t seen in years, and colleagues I have worked with over the years.

That gathering of people I’ve known over a long span of time in disparate situations offered a sense of my life’s unity. But it was an illusion: a snapshot at a moment in time belies the experience of living. As Kierkegaard wrote in his journals, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” Living forwards, it can be impossible to tell what direction one will take and whether pleasure or distress, success or failure will result. That applies to documentary films, almost every one of which is a high-risk project. It applies, of course, to a book from conception to publication and beyond. And it’s true for everyone’s life. The present moment is pregnant with the future. The outcomes and their connection with what came before become evident only in retrospect.

Stories Make the World

Looking around the room, I saw the youngest member of my family, two-year-old Nina, resting in her mother’s arms. I wondered, who will she be? What will the world be like when she is a woman? Across the room from Nina and her mother Katie stood Douglas Sharon, an explorer in Perú who, when we first met in our early twenties, was discovering ancient cities that Andean jungle had covered. His friendship with the shaman Eduardo Calderón inspired a career change: Douglas became an anthropologist.

I caught the eye of Claire Schoen. When we met, I was a playwright working with a comedic theater company and she was a documentary filmmaker. Living with her, I entered the community of independent media professionals in the Bay Area. Members of that community listened as I read passages from Stories Make the World: Judy Irving who, when I met her, was making Dark Circle, a mind-opening film about the nuclear age, with Chris Beaver and Ruth Landy; Ruth, who produced international media for the World Health Organization after Dark Circle premiered; Justine Shapiro, who apprenticed with Judy and Chris, then went on to make Promises, the Emmy-winning, Academy Award-nominated film about Israeli and Palestinian children; Gina Leibrecht, who has edited two films I’ve worked on: A Land Between Rivers and Wilder than Wild; and the director of those films, Kevin White, who arrived late, bringing a bottle of bubbly.

At that moment in time in that place, which seemed to encompass innumerable stories in my life and theirs, I released into the world a small object that I hope will be fruitful.



See an earlier blog post from Stephen Most here, and learn more about the book Stories Make the World: Reflections on Storytelling and the Art of the Documentary here. To stream and download films in Stories Make the World, go to


Happy Bastille Day

paris-1293750_1920Celebrated on July, 14, Bastille Day is the French national day and one of the most important bank holidays in France. The day commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille on the 14th July 1789, a medieval fortress and prison which was a symbol of tyrannical Bourbon authority and had held many political dissidents, and symbolizes the end of absolute monarchy and the birth of sovereign Nation.

The following year, the Fête de la Fédération was held in Paris and across the nation by a populace that largely believed the French Revolution was over. As it turned out, they were mistaken and by 1791 there was little in the way of national unity to celebrate. The holiday wasn’t picked up again until 1878 when it was a one-time official feast to honor the French Republic, which was followed by an unofficial, popular celebration of the day in 1879, which in turn led to a call to make it an official holiday in 1880 complete with a military parade which has been an annual fixture ever since.

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