Sherry B. Ortner has emphasized “bridge making between theoretical and methodological divisions within anthro­pology.”

When I’m working on other projects, as a diversion I like to read about the great anthropologists of our time.

I recently came across Fifty Key Anthropologists (2011). The blurb (I have added italics to the title) at the Toronto Public Library website for the book notes:

Fifty Key Anthropologists surveys the life and work of some of the most influential figures in anthropology. The entries, written by an international range of expert contributors, represent the diversity of thought within the subject, incorporating both classic theorists and more recent anthropological thinkers. Names discussed include:

Clifford Geertz
Bronislaw Malinowski
Zora Neale Hurston
Sherry B. Ortner
Claude Lévi-Strauss
Rodney Needham
Mary Douglas
Marcel Mauss

“This accessible A-Z guide contains helpful cross-referencing, a timeline of key dates and schools of thought, and suggestions for further reading. It will be of interest to students of anthropology and related subjects wanting a succinct overview of the ideas and impact of key anthropologists who have helped to shape the discipline. ”

[End of text]

Fifty Key Anthropologists (2011), pp. 173-174

The introduction (pp. 173-174) to the entry about Sherry B. Ortner reads :

Sherry B. Ortner (1941-)

“Even at the apex of professional accomplishment as Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles (2004-Present), Sherry Ortner continues aspiring to ‘define directions at certain moments in the discipline.’ Throughout her career Ortner has made a habit of challenging convention and starting conversations to critically engage the human condition theoretically and socially. Whether it is attempting to get at the nature of symbolic action through Sherpa rituals or playing a major role in the beginning of feminist anthropology, Ortner seeks to produce ‘pieces that make a difference.’

“Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1941, Ortner traces her interest in anthropology to her father’s ‘magic suitcase’ containing exotic items brought home from his extensive travels. Ortner graduated from Weequahic High School in 1958 and went on to Bryn Mawr College. In an introductory anthropology course, childhood curiosity was met by tantalizing images of cultural otherness and the romance of conducting research in faraway places. The image of Margaret Mead and the Pacific Islands led her to the University of Chicago for graduate school. Initially she worked with David Schneider but found him overly critical and eventually found a mentor in Clifford Geertz. Geertz’s work on religion and the interest in Buddhism within anthropology at the time led Ortner to Nepal where she studied Sherpa religious practices. After graduating in 1970 Ortner took a position at Sarah Lawrence College and embarked on a dis­tinguished career as a professional anthropologist, holding positions as Professor of Anthropology (1977-95), Department Chair (1986-89), and Sylvia L. Thrupp Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies (1992-94) at the University of Michigan; Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley (1994-96); and Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University (1996-2005, Department Chair 2003-4).

“To her contemporaries Ortner may be a ‘conversation starter,’ as she describes her multiple seminal works. However, within an historical context commentators note an emphasis on bridge making between theoretical and methodological divisions within anthro­pology. Rather than feeding crises Ortner’s efforts at creatively com­bining competing viewpoints and her foreshadowing of important moments in anthropology are apparent in her earliest work. ‘On Key Symbols’ (1973) reflects a turn from ‘ethnoscience’ toward an informant-centered elaboration of symbols, but also maintains a firm footing in the structural elements of cultural analysis. This mixed approach guides Sherpas through their Rituals (1978), Ortner’s first major ethnographic work. Sherpas asserts that some symbols used by societies are of particular importance, and if understood they can contain the understanding of the whole culture. Ortner uses an interpretive framework to argue for an analysis that privileges local categories and illustrates the ways in which Buddhist ritual is con­nected with daily Sherpa social life. Sherpas moves beyond standard interpretive anthropology to account for the relationship between anthropological categories and structural inequalities embedded in local knowledge/experience. Ortner privileges textual understandings among villagers and people disenfranchised by kin relations, as well as the reinforcement of social stratification through status, foreshadow­ing the developing concern over representation and agency that would occupy 1980s and 1990s anthropology.

[End of excerpt]


A resource of interest is the study entitled: Buddhism between Tibet and China (2009).

Updates: Also with regard to research related to cultural practices: A Nov. 29, 2014 Toronto Star article is entitled: “Give to others – and save yourself?”

The article mentions two books: Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success (2013) and Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending (2013). The article also quotes an author whose books include The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy But Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make you Happy, But Does (2013).

A resource of interest is the study entitled: Buddhism Between Tibet and China (2009).

Also of value is a study entitled: Buddhist Warfare (2010), which I have highlighted in a previous post:

Buddhist Warfare (2010) highlights connections between Buddhisms and violence

A Sept. 30, 2015 New York Times editorial is entitled: “Slipping Backward in Nepal.”

A Dec. 19, 2015 Guardian article is entitled: On strike at 8,848 metres: “Sherpa and the story of an Everest revolution: Jennifer Peedom set out to make a documentary about the untold role the Sherpas play in helping wealthy western climbers conquer Mount Everest, but when an avalanche hit during her shoot, she ended up with an even bigger story.”

A Feb. 27, 2015 CBC The Current article is entitled: “Mt. Everest guide calls for better working conditions for Sherpas.”

A March 5, 2015 CBC The Current article is entitled: “Checking-In on Sherpas, immigration limbo, tax-free tampons & more.”

A caption for a photo at the latter link reads: “It has been nearly a year since 16 Sherpas were killed in a devastating avalanche on Mount Everest. And now, with a new climbing season on the horizon, many Sherpas say the risks they’re being asked to take on the trek to the summit are just too high. ”


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