Local Actions: Cultural Activism, Power, and Public Life in America

Local Actions: Cultural Activism, Power, and Public Life in America

Local Actions: Cultural Activism, Power, and Public Life in America

Local Actions: Cultural Activism, Power, and Public Life in America


Activism is alive and well in the United States, according to Melissa Checker and Maggie Fishman. It exists on large and small scales and thrives in unexpected places. Finding activism in backyards, art classes, and urban areas branded as "ghettos," these anthropologists explore the many routes people take to work toward social change.

Ten absorbing studies present activist groups across the country--from transgender activists in New York City, to South Asian teenagers in Silicon Valley, to evangelical Christians and Palestinian Americans. Each one examines a social change effort as it unfolds on the ground. Through their anthropological approach these portraits of American society suggest the inherent possibilities in identity-based organizing and offer crucial in-depth perspectives on such hotly debated topics as multiculturalism and the culture wars, the environment, racism, public education, Native American rights, and the Christian right.

Moving far beyond the walls of academia, the contributors address the complex issues that arise when researchers have stakes in the subjects they study. Scholars can play multiple roles in the activist struggles they recount, and these essays illustrate how ethnographic research itself can become a tool for activism.


In their introduction to this groundbreaking collection of ethnographic studies of “local actions” in contemporary America, editors Melissa Checker and Maggie Fishman invoke the crisis of collective identity that many Americans experienced after September 11, 2001. the crisis they identify—the tension between unity and diversity in the U.S.— escalated in the early months of 2003 as America moved toward and entered into war. For many American researchers, both in and outside of the academy, these events also provoked us to reexamine the purpose of our own practices. How can our work help us better grasp, analytically, the complex transformations of everyday life around us and their theoretical as well as political significance? Is it possible to produce ethnography that simultaneously expands the intellectual scope of the field while also entering productively back into the lives of those we study and providing interventions into the broader public sphere(s) that we share with our subjects?

While these kinds of concerns may be newly underscored at this historical moment, clearly they are not new for the authors represented here. Nor are they entirely new for the field of anthropology, which for many years has developed in tandem with a left-liberal politics in American intellectual life. This preface will discuss some of the anthropological precedents and genealogies that have led to the kinds of research agendas, models, and practices presented in this volume. the emerging generation of ethnographers writing in this volume launched their research in the 1990s, hoping both to understand and sometimes contribute to the efforts . . .

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