[URBANTH-L] REV: Benson on Foner, _American Arrivals: Anthropology Engages the New Immigration_

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Mon Nov 7 12:57:55 EST 2005

[a new book review from The Anthropology Review Database]

 Foner, Nancy (ed.)
2003 American Arrivals: Anthropology Engages the New Immigration. Advanced
Seminar Series. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.

 Reviewed for ARD by Janet E. Benson <janet at ksu.edu>,
Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, Kansas State University,
Manhattan, Kansas, USA

 A product of the School of American Research's advanced seminar on
"Anthropology and Contemporary Immigration", held in October 2001, American
Arrivals presents an overview of anthropologists' attempts to understand
international migration and growing cultural diversity in the US. The
authors present a case for the central role of ethnography in studying
immigration, one of the most important US social issues, and one of the most
important global issues today. Though not attempting an exhaustive review of
the literature, the editor does bring together a broad range of
anthropological concerns and highlights contributions that anthropologists
can make to this area of research.
     Unlike many edited volumes, American Arrivals contains high-quality
work by well-known anthropologists (Caroline Brettell, Leo Chavez, Nancy
Foner, Nina Glick Schiller, Jennifer Hirsch, Patricia Pessar, Richard
Shweder, Alex Stepick, Carol Dutton Stepick, and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco).
They attempt to place anthropologists' engagement with migration (what Foner
calls "migration anthropology" ) in historical and theoretical perspective
while suggesting future research and activist agendas. Each chapter takes a
particular theme: globalization, gender, transnational migration, education,
urban contexts, medical concerns, and the ethical and legal issues posed by
incommensurable values.
     Sociologists often give the impression that they have a prior claim on
the subject or are the only social scientists qualified to research it. In
her introductory essay, Foner goes to some lengths to argue that
anthropology has a long history of interest in immigration to the United
States (e.g. Boas' refugee research) and rural-to-urban migration (e.g.
British social anthropologists in Africa). She also points out that the
first major work on transnationalism was done by anthropologists (Basch,
Glick Schiller and Szanton Blanc, 1994). However, even today, domestic
anthropological research is often viewed as "inauthentic" or marginal and
confers less status than research conducted abroad. This is unfortunate,
because the best insights often come from experienced anthropologists who
apply the lessons of foreign research to fieldwork with immigrant groups in
the United States. It is even more unfortunate in light of urgent social
needs, including resettlement of the recent Hurricane Katrina victims.
Firsthand, in-depth, accurate information on displaced people is essential
for policy-makers, and this is something that anthropologists are
particularly qualified to provide. At the same time, for both intellectual
and practical reasons, anthropologists must be willing to take a broader
theoretical and comparative stance than they have up to now. This implies
more collaborative research in the future, either with other anthropologists
or on interdisciplinary teams. I would make an even stronger argument than
Foner regarding this point.
     The following chapters elaborate some of Foner's arguments.
Suarez-Orozco offers a global perspective on large-scale immigration, while
Pessar examines work on migrant women from a feminist perspective. Nina
Glick Schiller's essay is particularly rich in its discussion of theory and
methodology. In addition to arguing that ethnography is the most appropriate
methodology for migration studies, she reviews the concept of transnational
migration itself and discusses how it has evolved. For example, she notes
that not all migrants are equally "transnational," that is, embedded in more
than one locale, and that individuals may publicly identify with only one
location. Regarding epistemology, she counters criticisms of anthropological
methods by analyzing the differences between ethnographic and survey
approaches, arguing that anthropologists use constantly evolving formative
theory while the nature of their data differs fundamentally from that used
by sociologists. She further warns against "methodological nationalism" (p.
112) or nation-state bias in contrast to a social network approach used by
researchers focusing on transnationalism. Alex and Carol Stepick follow up
on her comments, after reporting how discrimination leads to complex
identity changes among immigrant children, by illustrating the importance of
direct observation. They argue cogently that ethnographic methods underlie
good survey methods (and in fact their own work epitomizes the very best
research of this type). Brettell discusses the city as context, illustrating
how variation in structure and ethos conditions migrant adaptations. Chavez
and Hirsch critique medical anthropology approaches in their respective
chapters, arguing that culture is only one factor affecting migrant health.
An overemphasis on culture as an explanatory device masks structural
inequalities that carry much greater determining force. Finally, Shweder
raises questions about the scope and limits of tolerance in an increasingly
multicultural society.
     American Arrivals does not cover refugee issues, practically a field in
itself, nor does it discuss the recent impact of immigration on rural areas
throughout the US. However, even though it is somewhat uneven in coverage,
this book still presents an excellent introduction to the topic as well as a
good review for those familiar with the field. I highly recommend it.

Works Cited
     Basch, Linda; Nina Glick Schiller and Christina Szanton Blanc.1994
Nations Unbound. Langhome, PA: Gordon and Breach.

To cite this review, the American Anthropological Association recommends the
following style:

Benson, Janet E.
2005 Review of American Arrivals: Anthropology Engages the New Immigration.
Anthropology Review Database. October 24. Electronic document,
http://wings.buffalo.edu/ARD/cgi/showme.cgi?keycode=2269, accessed October
7, 2005.

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