Lila Abu-Lughod’s Writing Women’s Worlds Chapters1-3

I agree with the other posts that this book was rather enjoyable. Her choice of storytelling instead of a more analytic and critical ethnography book makes the material very approachable. One of the other things I noticed regarding her methods was how she mentions herself quite frequently whether to let the reader know the stories were in answer to her questions, when she uncomfortable, how she integrated into the Bedouin’s lives and also just talking about how she got people to talk about these issues.  This was very interesting to me, seeing her life as an Anthropologist. The visit she describes of the more “modern” woman and her husband’s visit and the subsequent dinner at their mansion made me think of the dramatic difference in lives. The Anthropologist’s life in America and her life in the Bedouin’s camp. I wonder how long it took for her to feel more comfortable in their tents than in a fine home.

One of the interesting parts of this ethnography no one else has mentioned yet is the impact of WW2 on the Bedouin communities. I knew of course that the British and Germans fought in N. Africa but I had never thought to think about how this affected the citizens outside the urban areas. WW1 is more often spoken about regarding these matters, I think. The stories of the constant migration of camps and the difference in materials available was very interesting. Even more educational however was the realization that the county was left littered with bombs and scrap metal. I wonder how desperate and hopeful someone would have to be to dig bombs out of the ground and burn them for money.The story of Mignim’s son was enlightening on this matter, English Bedouin relations and also the difference in perspective of individuals, mother and son. The way the English officer was seen by Migdim and her son was very interesting. I would assume that if my boy had just been injured by a bomb in our country left by other, I probably wouldn’t like their soldiers. Of course, I understand the gratitude of saving his life by Migdim’s and her family’s response was different. I can’t quite put my finger on what though. The stories depth however lied in the two very different tellings. Her son being concerned with his father and the Englishman and his father. His mother barely mentioned whereas to Migdim the only thing of importance was her son, his story was about the virtue of the British. I still do not completely understand why. 

Writing Women’s Worlds: Chapters 1&3 Response

I really enjoyed the stories throughout these 2 chapters. This seems like a book I would have picked up to read for enjoyment rather than a class assignment! however I wish that the author, Lila Abu-Lughad, would have expanded on some of the stories and cultural references. Sometimes she would mention something offhand without explaining what it was and I felt like I was missing out on something that everyone in the stories where understanding. But this was only a small annoyance and did not keep me from understanding the entire story.

I found the stories about Shock the most interesting. Especially because this emotional feeling will have very serious physical effects on people in the culture. This is not something we have or even find acceptable in our culture. When parents lose a child I have never heard of them not being able to conceive again. or emotional shock keeping a woman from giving birth. Especially the story of the women who claimed that shock had stopped the fetus at 4 months, and later was brought back 13 years later as a cause to shock. I wonder if there has been any studies on how emotions can effect someone physically?

Another aspect of the same story I found very peculiar was the mixture of superstition and religion. All of the different practices women used to conceive. I don’t believe that any of these are a part of Islam but these women have been passing this information down to each other for years and no one thinks it’s sinful.

Writing Women’s Worlds- Chapters 1 and 3

I was pleasantly surprised by the story method used in Abu-Lughod’s book. I’ll freely admit that I’m usually a skimmer if a reading is over 40 pages, but I instantly fell into this book. The way it was written makes it easy to understand, and the stories make one feel like they were right there in the room also.

Chapter 1 was quite an interesting chapter to me. It honestly seemed like every other story was one where Migdim was cursing about her sons and how moronic they were. The story about the parallel-cousin marriage and how Migdim really did not want to marry those certain guys was really revealing to me. The way she used manipulation to ensure she was at least somewhat happy throughout her life really helped me understand some of the dynamics of their culture. In the end, her manipulation worked, but to me, it’s sad it even had to resort to that in the first place. In the end, chapter 1 made me think about how it seemed like her sons were just living for the money and the women, and her daughters and daughters-in-law really cared about Migdim herself.

The stories of reproduction from chapter 3 were both exciting and heartbreaking. They really revealed the thoughts on reproduction, their superstitions and cures for ailments, and how valued children are in their society. The stories of the ones who had trouble getting pregnant or had miscarriages were slightly heartbreaking to me. Wanting to take away your daughter because the couple is having problems having children just seems so selfish and odd to me. The list of different ways to “unblock” a woman did have me cracking up some just purely due to the long list and serious thoughts behind it.

I throughly enjoyed this reading, and am looking forward to reading the rest.

The Horns of the Mediterranean Dilemma- Hannah M

I thought Herzfeld made some really good points in this article, even though it was difficult to follow at some points. Overall, Herzfeld concluded that the Mediterranean does qualify as a cultural unit, but he argued on how exactly we should define the geographical borders of the area. He gathered a lot of research from other anthropologists and examined their arguments on the Mediterranean as a cultural unit. He found weaknesses and some strengths in these arguments, importantly that much of the ethnographic research on the Mediterranean as a cultural unit is influenced by stereotypes and that weakens the foundation of these anthropological arguments. He pointed out that the inclusion of these stereotypes in research is perpetuating these stereotypes further and makes the research biased, whereas anthropological research and conclusions are meant to be objective. He made the same arguments for making generalizations about Mediterranean culture. He highlighted that these generalizations “(have) banished
the societies of the “sea in the middle of the earth” to the world’s political and cultural periphery.”

Furthermore, I thought it interesting that he argued that it is a weakness to use the term “Mediterranean Anthropology” because it is perpetuating a mindset that is determined to view the area as one entity and “threatens comparative analysis” aka the term is threatening to anthropologists ability to make objective, global comparisons.

I felt that the entire aim of his discussion was “to show what deep roots the Mediterranean stereotype appears to have put down in anthropological thought.”

His discourse raised the question can we/ should we base the Mediterranean cultural unit on purely ethnographic fact, which he abundantly proved is almost inherently flawed by biases and stereotypes, or on looser cultural observations?

Abu-Lughod’s Writing Women’s Worlds: Introduction

I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable Lila Abu-Lughod’s introduction to Writing Women’s World was. Usually, I am that reader who skips over introductions-finding them tedious without good reason. After reading about the unique connection she made with the Ali Bedouin community in her preface, I was interested as to why she chose to write this ethnography using storytelling.

While in the introduction Abu-Lughod very clearly explains why storytelling became the technique she uses, before she discusses the use of the word culture. It was that part of the introduction I find most interesting, because as an anthropologist I don’t tend to think of the word culture being accompanied by any particularly demeaning ideology- for instance say the words civilize and race do. Abu-Lughod with her own points and the perspectives borrowed from others, challenged me to access my understanding of the usage of the word culture. She explains that using this word, whether consciously or unconsciously, can cause anthropologist to make generalization that lock non-Western groups into a category referred to as “other”, leaving readers to put themselves into the category “self”. These two categories can be problematic, because it doesn’t address the fact that everyone’s experience within their culture is unique- some not conforming in any way to generalizations made. Somewhat instinctively, the reader is also less likely to recognize similarities between “self” and “other” because the dialogue has been set up in a way where both sides are put on opposite ends.

After reading the preface and introduction, I am looking forward to continuing Writing Women’s World. Specifically focusing on how Abu-Lughod’s decision to use storytelling did or did not steer her away from making generalizations- as she criticizes doing so in her introduction.

The Horns of a Mediterraneanist Dilemma

The article “The Horns of a Mediterraneanist Dilemma” by Michael Herzfeld was an interesting discussion on the homogeneity of the Mediterranean area.  He uses symbols that are enforced by the existing stereotypes to maintain his argument that previous research does not support the homogeneous theory of the Mediterranean.  The use of research done by previous scholars is prominent in this article.  He discusses the study of the ram horns and billy goats by Anton Blok to show that, though Blok tried making the argument that this is a Mediterranean phenomenon, it really is not because it is shown in other areas of the world, including the island of Crete.  He also states that Blok’s translation of certain texts could be indicative of the lack of understanding for the “Mediterranean Unit.”

Another argument that Herzfeld makes in the article is that of the “evil eye.”  He states that while the evil eye persists in many parts of the Mediterranean, it does not always mean the same thing in every region.  He states that Anthony Galt’s analysis of the evil eye phenomenon relies specifically on speculative ethnography.  The theory on the use of the evil eye to determine the homogeneity of the region uses both ethnographic stories and archaeology to undermine the actual meanings behind the evil eye in all of the regions because their view is being clouded by the presumption that the Mediterranean can be considered a homogeneous unit.

The stereotyping of the Mediterranean has endured even through today.  The outside world’s ideas of the Mediterranean man and woman has helped to secure these roles in their society.  The idea of the ram being equivalent to the manliness and the billy goat more equivalent to a passivity still persists today.  The ram being strong and “manly” and the billy goat being more weak and “effeminate” equates to how the gender roles are still prominent in many parts of the Mediterranean.  This stereotyping by outsiders does not help the collective ideals of the community but actually hinders it because they are not able to make their own culture since it is so dependent on the stereotyping of the rest of the world.

I think that Herzfeld is making his argument against the idea of the Mediterranean unit being homogeneous because of his use of these two examples.  He is stating that trying to say that the Mediterranean is a single culture can hinder future research in the region because it clouds over the fact that all of the countries, cities, towns, villages, etc. have their own ways of thinking and their own customs.  He makes this clear with the the evil eye discussion and even more clear with the ram/billy goat discussion because the ideas in the Mediterranean are not wholly the same.

I would agree with Herzfold’s arguments because knowing the different regions of the Mediterranean Sea and the histories of each of the countries, they are significantly different from each other.  Greece is different from Italy which is different from Spain which is different from Tunisia.  To say that all of these countries have the same culture and therefore could be considered a single homogeneous unit could hinder their own cultural identity.

Istanbul

The author, from the very beginning, lets you know that he is and has always been different. It seems that he spent a lot of time in his own special place and thoughts. It is strange how he goes about describing the experience he had with seeing himself in a picture. thinking that it was someone else that could possible be his twin. Also, why are the old Ottoman mansions being burnt to the ground just to be replaced by new buildings? Those building are apart of history and should be preserved as a museum or a historical building of some sort. The city may be in ruins but it can still be resurrected if given some time. Orhan also speaks of how the only colorful pictures there are of Istanbul are done by outsiders or people that no longer live there. It is sad that he lives in this once beautiful place and he has never seen it in its true and living beauty. He sees the world in black and white which allows a person to see past the vibrant colors and actually focus on the details of the city, buildings, and people.