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New volume, Fieldwork Identities in the Caribbean, ed. by Erin Taylor

By Paul Ryer, new chapter/edited volume No Comments »

Thanks to Anna Pertierra for alerting us to Fieldwork Identities in the Caribbean, Caribbean Studies Press, ed. by Erin Taylor (2010).

In addition to Anna’s own previously posted article, “Anthropology That Warms Your Heart,” this volume, introduced by Diane Austin-Broos, includes Cuba-related articles by Elise Andaya – “Fieldwork Relations: Reflections on Identity and Ethnographic Methodology in Havana, Cuba” and Andrea Queeley – The Passing of a Black Yanqui: Fieldnotes from a Wannabe Santiaguera”.


Anna Pertierra, an anthropologist that warms your heart

bibliography, By Paul Ryer, Consumption & material culture, daily life, new article No Comments »

Impressive as the varied, proliferating scholarship on contemporary Cuba is, it is rare that I’ve found a piece as much of a page-turner, as provocative, personally risky, and so true to the experience of doing ethnography as this article, “Anthropology that warms your heart: on being a bride in the field,” by Anna Cristina Pertierra.  (Anthropology Matters Journal 2007, vol. 9 (1)).  As well as getting us thinking and talking about local (Cuban) entanglements, it could make an interesting starting point for a class on methods and ethics.  Thanks to Anna Cristina for writing and sharing this piece, which I find hard to classify; in some ways, in the mode of Behar’s Vulnerable Observer, but in other ways, not at all… The article is to be reprinted in a forthcoming Caribbean Studies Press volume (with other Cuba-related pieces as well), Field Identities in the Caribbean, ed. by Erin Taylor.

Other writings by Anna Pertierra include: “Creating order through struggle  in revolutionary Cuba.”In Anthropology and the Individual: A Material Culture Perspective, (Daniel Miller, ed) Macmillan 2010. “Private pleasures: Watching videos in post-Soviet Cuba,” International Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol 12, no. 2, pp. 113-130. This article traces circuits of distribution and consumption of videocassette recorders (VCRs) and videocassettes in Cuba, which until April 2008 were not available for retail sale, and were usually sourced through black market or informal means. Inventar: Recent Struggles and Inventions in Housing in Two Cuban Cities,” by Patricio del Real and Anna Cristina Pertierra, in Buildings & Landscapes, vol. 15 (Fall, 2008).  And “En Casa: Women and Households in Post-Soviet Cuba,” in the Journal of Latin American Studies (2008), 40:743-767. This paper argues that the household has become a renewed space of significance for Cuban women in the post-Soviet period. It draws from existing scholarship and ethnographic fieldwork conducted with women in the city of Santiago de Cuba to discuss the effect of post-Soviet crisis and reform upon women’s domestic practices, the management of domestic economies, and longstanding gender ideals that link women to the domestic sphere.

Video: Rafael Hernández at the University of Chicago, Oct. 7, 2009

By Paul Ryer, Seminars & talks, Video - lecture and discussion 1 Comment »

The_Cuban_TransitionHere is a clickable link to a speech given recently by Temas editor Rafael Hernández, at the University of Chicago. As you probably know, Hernández is a senior research fellow at the Centro de Investigación de la Cultura Cubana Juan Marinello in Havana and is the author or editor of numerous books.  The title of this talk, given in English, is “The Cuban Transition: Imagined and Actual.”

Where are they now?

By Paul Ryer, Notes & Queries 2 Comments »

Does anyone know how to reach:

Audrey Charlton (Columbia U Ph.D., studied Jamaican and Haitian communities in central Cuba)

Dale Bretches (UCSD Ph.D., studied economic reforms of the socialist system)

David Forrest (UCL Ph.D., studied masculinity, gender & identity in Havana)

Please add updates/feel free to add more names here or in comments, thanks.  –PR

Update:  Thanks, Matthew, for the info about Audrey Charlton.  Also, does anyone know the whereabouts of Canadian medical anthropologist Tracey Spack, who completed a Cuba-based Ph.D., “Medicine in the special period : treatment-seeking behaviors in post-Soviet Cuba,”  in 2000 or 2001?

Ariana Hernández Reguant, Mis Recuerdos del Muro

Blogs, By Paul Ryer No Comments »

Check out these two blog postings on the Berlin wall circa 1989, by our colleague Ariana Hernández Reguant: one at penultimasdias.com, and the other at lapizynube.blogspot.com.

The Quality of Home Runs by Tom Carter

By Paul Ryer, new book, Sport No Comments »


Update: I am thrilled to report that The Quality of Home Runs has won the 2009 North American Society for the Sociology of Sport Book Award, as the best new book of the year.  Congratulations, Tom!  –PR

Here, again, is Tom Carter’s recently-published book on Cuban baseball,  The Quality of Home Runs: The Passion, Politics, and Language of Cuban Baseball, Duke Univ. Press, 2008.

The re-post is for these full-text links to two reviews of the book: the first is from the Latin American Review of Books, and the second from Times Higher Education.  As always, comments or updates with info about additional reviews would be much appreciated.

Primary Healthcare in Cuba (a book and more)

By Paul Ryer, Health, new book No Comments »

Somehow, despite the relatively small community of anthropologists working on some aspect of contemporary Cuba, this book has not received proper recognition.  Whether this was a subfield-derived oversight, a question of timing or some other factor, Primary Health Care in Cuba: The Other Revolution, by Linda Whiteford and Laurence Branch, Rowman & Littlefield 2008, is now available on paperback.   With only 117 pages of text, the book provides a succinct overview of the Cuban health system from a critical medical anthropology perspective.  Although clearly not as ethnographically rich as the work of P. Sean Brotherton and other specialists, and although a number of topics (such as the Cuban response to HIV/AIDS, or to the public health elements of state responses to “natural” disasters) are not given the space they deserve, this book would be accessible for an undergraduate course or course segment on contemporary Cuba and its distinctive health system.  While it is appropriately academic rather than polemic, the text paints an image of the Cuban health system sharply more positive than Katherine Hirschfeld’s, and it is not surprising that Hirschfeld’s review–like her book, presented as ethnographically authoritative–is scathing in its critique of the book’s lack of political critique.  Controversially–and to my mind in a rather tacked-on manner, given the scope of the volume–she also points to the authors’ omission of political dissidence as a major gap in their overview of a health care system.

Who was Maurice Halperin?

Anthropological institutions, By Paul Ryer, History 3 Comments »

Robin Moore once suggested to me that a history of anthropology in Cuba–from its 19th century roots through the Revolution, as practiced by Cuban and international scholars alike–would be an extraordinary study, and I do see how this would be a fascinating, multi-faceted project.  In any case, one crucial moment for such a history is surely provided by the case of Oscar Lewis and his team of “anthropologists.”  I put “anthropologists” in quotes because whether or not they were spies, the Lewises were certainly more acting as oral historians than anthropologists in their Cuban project; methodologically their team was far, far from an ethnographic approach.

More recently, I came across this obscure article, by one Maurice Halperin, who apparently was a disaffected O.S.S. (i.e. C.I.A.) officer who lived and taught in Havana from 1962-1968, and who seemingly–as described in his article–had a personal role in the events surrounding the Oscar & Ruth Lewis affair.  Regardless of one’s read of that event, and despite the clear biases of the author (who seems so anti-revolutionary that one simply must wonder just how “disaffected” he really was with the U.S. intelligence apparatus even if he did teach at la Universidad de La Habana!) it might be interesting to add this perspective to the far more pro-Revolutionary voices of Douglas Butterworth and Ruth Lewis themselves.  But to give Halperin ANY credibility, I think we need to know more about his scholarship.  So, who was this Maurice Halperin?  Has anyone heard of him, or know Return to Havana or anything else he’s written?  What was his field?  What did he teach in Havana?  I know some of us have met Cubans who worked with the Lewises, have you ever meet anyone in Cuba who knew Halperin?

Feria Internacional del Libro dedicated to María del Carmen Barcia

By Paul Ryer, Conferences & CFPs, Notes & Queries, Universidad de La Habana 1 Comment »

Ed. note (Paul Ryer): I was fortunate to take a class with María del Carmen Barcia, a professor of history at the University of Havana, and am thrilled to see that she is one of two scholars to whom this year’s feria del libro is dedicated.  In addition to the scholarship for which she is being recognized here, I can add that Prof. Barcia is a fabulous teacher, with a nuanced yet rigorous approach to historical materials, and although she has high expectations of students in the classroom, she is also personally warm and without the inflated ego of so many successful academics.  So well deserved…  ¡Felicidades, Profesora!

La 19ª   Feria Internacional del Libro, Cuba 2010, se realizará del 11 al 21 de febrero en La Habana bajo el lema Leer es crecer. Estará dedicada a  los autores María del Carmen Barcia, Premio Nacional de Ciencias Sociales 2003, y Reynaldo González Zamora, Premio Nacional de Literatura 2003. En esta edición, el País Invitado de Honor será Rusia….

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What do you think about Julia Sweig’s Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know?

By Paul Ryer, Notes & Queries, Seminars & talks, Syllabi & pedagogy No Comments »

Sweig cover photoRecently, the Cuban Research Institute posted an announcement for a forthcoming book presentation (full text here) of Julia Sweig’s new book, Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford, 2009.  On first inspection, the book seems accessible to undergraduates and fairly balanced, albeit from a North American perspective.  It is structured in a question & response format which betrays the journalistic underpinnings of the approach, and political (or politicised) topics predominate.

My question for colleagues is: what do you think of the book?  I ask because, for years I have used Jules Benjamin’s The United States and the Origins of the Cuban Revolution: An Empire of Liberty in an Age of National Liberation (Princeton, 1992) to help frame the events and politics of the early revolutionary years, but it is now almost 20 years old.  Although I’ve been looking, still have not found a text that comes close to Benjamin for lucidity, detail, dialogism, and an awareness of wider structural forces/context.  (Indeed, IMO Benjamin’s book should be required reading not just in Cuban studies, but for anyone (e.g. politicians) who has trouble understanding nationalistic responses to projections of U.S. power anywhere).  In any case, I am afraid Sweig may be sufficiently accessible to students, and cover both the early and more recent events of the Revolution, but not nearly as well grounded as Benjamin.  Does anyone have an opinion about either of these texts, or have a suggestion about comparable others worth teaching?

“Three Bags Full” by Hermer & May, 1941

By Paul Ryer, Consumption & material culture, History, Syllabi & pedagogy, Tourism No Comments »

Given that many of us earn our keep, at least in part, by teaching Anglophone undergraduate students about Cuba, I thought it would be of interest to share teaching successes.  So, please, if you have a good pedagogical strategy or reading you’re willing to share, post or send it to me to post.

Personally, I have had great luck with this short reading: “Three Bags Full,” by Consuelo Hermer & Marjorie May, Random House, NY, 1941, ch. 2.  (Unfortunately, had to lower the scan quality a bit to fit into ethnocuba’s media library; it is also available under the title “What to Wear” in the out of print book Havana: Tales of the City, ed. by Miller & Clark, 1996).

Taken from a 1941 travel guide for North American tourists, I’ve found that students–aside from the occasional one who takes the reading as a literal prescription of current Cuban fashion–not only are relieved to read something on the lighter side, but that ultimately the piece leads them to raise their own questions about the nature of US influence on pre-revolutionary Cuban culture.  For many undergraduates, then, this article moves indigestible concepts like “hegemony,” “colonialism” and “imperialism” into realms of couture, daily life, tourism, etc, in a way that follows the old dictum: “show, don’t tell.”   If you do try it, let me know how it works with your own students.


By Paul Ryer, Journals No Comments »

Please join us in congratulating Nadine Fernandez, who has recently received tenure at Empire State College.  While the outmoded notion of “being there first” is both uncomfortable and factually suspect, as many of us know, Nadine has  certainly been a trailblazer for ethnographic work in post-Soviet Cuba.  For instance, when I began to plan to work in Cuba, my then-adviser R.T. Smith was initially highly skeptical.  He did not think it would be possible to do substantive research within the Republic, and only when I was able to say: “But Mr. Smith, a UC Berkeley graduate student has just come back from two years of fieldwork in Havana,” his attitude shifted just enough to proceed.  Perhaps others have similar stories, but in any case, it is certain that Nadine has also been a consistently generous, patient, and unpretentious colleague in the years since, and her tenure is welcome and well-deserved news indeed.  Hip Hip, Hooray for Nadine!

Also, look for Nadine’s book, Revolutionizing Romance: Interracial Couples in Contemporary Cuba, due to be published by Rutgers University Press in early 2010!

A literary geography of Oriente

Blogs, By Paul Ryer, Space & Place 1 Comment »

Here is something interesting from Kristina Wirtz, passed along via Ivor and Grete.  It’s an ongoing literary/cultural studies project, part of a University of Essex-based attempt to rethink the “American Tropics” in terms of a literary geography of six places, including Oriente, for which Peter Hulme provides an annotated bibliography.

Cuba and Miami: Religious Ties

By Paul Ryer, greater Cuba, Miami, new chapter/edited volume, Religion No Comments »

Stepick_LThe just-released book Churches and Carity in the Immigrant City: Religion, Immigration, and Civic Engagement in Miami, edited by Alex Stepick, Terry Rey, and Sarah J. Mahler.  Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 2009, contains two articles pertaining to Cuba and its migrants: “Unidos en la Fe: Transnational Civic Social Engagement between Two Cuban Catholic Parishes” by Katrin Hansing, and “So Close and Yet So Far Away: Comparing Civic Social Capital in Two Cuban Congregations” by Sarah J. Mahler.

afrocubaweb, “The Discourse on Racism in Anti-Castro Publications, 2008-2009: The Obama Factor”

Blogs, By Paul Ryer, Race No Comments »

Thanks to Ariana for pointing out afrocubaweb‘s collection of recent writings and responses, from a wide range of perspectives, “The Discourse on Racism in Anti-Castro Publications, 2008-2009: The Obama Factor.”  Until reading this, I had never heard that Encuentro de la cultura cubana and the Afro-Cuban alliance, which publishes Islas, are among the groups which have received funding from the U.S.-government funded National Endowment for Democracy.  Perhaps partly because it’s based in Madrid, Encuentro in particular has always seemed to present interesting, independent perspectives, so while IMO still something to read regularly, this is food for thought.

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