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New York City Ethnography


for Members

New York City Ethnography

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Wenner-Gren Foundation

Presented By

Presented by the Anthropology Section


A panel of ethnographers present their pathbreaking contemporary research on New York City. Melissa Checker, Russell Sharman and Paul Stoller will discuss the shifting ground of anthropological writing and the intersection of ethnography and public anthropology

A reception will precede the meeting at 6:00 pm


Melissa Checker

City University of New York, Queens College

Melissa Checker is an Assistant Professor of Urban Studies at CUNY, Queens College. Her research focuses on environmental justice activism and issues of urban sustainability in the United States. More recently she has added environmental gentrification in New York City and the global struggle for climate justice to her areas of study. Her publications include Polluted Promises: Environmental Racism and the Search for Justice in a Southern Town (NYU Press, 2005), and the edited volume, Local Actions: Cultural Activism, Power and Public Life (with Maggie Fishman, Columbia University Press, 2004) in addition to a number of academic and journalistic articles.

Russell Sharman

Brooklyn College, CUNY

Russell Leigh Sharman received his PhD in cultural anthropology from Oxford University in 1999, and is now an associate professor at Brooklyn College. His first book, The Tenants of East Harlem was described by the Oral History Review as "simply excellent." His latest work, Nightshift NYC, was published by the University of California Press last Fall. The New York Times wrote “Probably no book has ever examined the nature of nighttime work in the city — and of the often forgotten, faceless people who do it — in as great depth and descriptive power as Nightshift NYC.” He has published and presented numerous essays on urban life, culture and aesthetics, and received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Whiting Foundation and others. He also writes plays, movies, and television shows and has worked as a production assistant on a civil war zombie vampire movie.

Paul Stoller

West Chester University

Paul Stoller teaches anthropology at West Chester University of Pennsylvania and at Temple University. From 1976 to 1990 he conducted ethnographic research on the religious traditions of the Songhay people of the Republic of Niger. From 1992 to the present he has conducted research among West African street vendors and art traders in New York City. Stoller is the author of many books and essays on African religions, the anthropology of the senses and recent African immigration to North America. His recent books include: Money Has No Smell: The Africanization of New York City, which in 2002 won the American Anthropological Association’s Robert B. Textor Prize for excellence in anticipatory anthropology, Jaguar: A Story of Africans in America, 1999, a novel; Sensuous Scholarship, (1997), a collection of essays; and The Cinematic Griot: The Ethnography of Jean Rouch (1992), a biography. In April of 2004 Beacon Press published latest book, Stranger in the Village of the Sick: A Memoir of Cancer, Sorcery and Healing. His second novel, Gallery Bundu: A Story of an African Past was published in 2005 by The University of Chicago Press. Stoller has received many fellowships and grants to support his ongoing research, including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in 1994. In 1978 Stoller earned a Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.


Ethnographer as Muckraker: Investigatory Anthropology in NYC

Melissa Checker,City University of New York, Queens College

American anthropologists have a long history of reaching out to audiences beyond the academy by publishing their research results in journalistic venues. Over the past year, I have taken this tradition in a slightly different direction, using journalism, itself as an ethnographic strategy for my research on environmental gentrification in New York City. Assuming this hybrid role has in many ways facilitated my ethnographic research. But, it has also brought unanticipated opportunities to investigate and publicize certain environmental offenses for the first time. Needless to say, this research approach raises a host of questions about ethnographic methodologies, the role of the ethnographer, and the implications of a contemporary public anthropology.

Ethnography on the Darkside: Illuminating the Nightshift

Russell Sharman, Brooklyn College, CUNY

NIGHTSHIFT NYC is an ethnography of nightshift workers throughout New York City. But it is also a challenge to dayshift New Yorkers to confront the nightly realities of laborers in the incessant service economy. Using this project as a backdrop, this talk will highlight the power inherent in ethnographic method and writing to encourage public engagement with contemporary social, political and economic issues.

The Business of Social Relations: Aging and Social Resilience among West African Immigrants in New York City

Paul Stoller, West Chester

After more than 15 years of fieldwork among West African immigrants in New York, I have observed many changes in the community. The results of this most recent research suggests that West African immigrants, many of whom are now middle-aged, face a set of seemingly intractable social problems—low incomes, sub-standard living conditions, health concerns, high costs of living, and an ever-increasing set of transnational family obligations--with pragmatic resolve. Indeed, the West African immigrants I know in New York City are socially resilient. In this paper, I argue that this social resilience, which devolves from the robustness of their social networks, provides them the social, economic, and psychological wherewithal to confront the considerable difficulties of living as immigrants in New York City.

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