Being Alive by Tim Ingold

As summer is reawakening many of us from our winter slumber, we are drawn to the outdoors for a well-earned breath of fresh air. Reading Being Alive is a perfect complement to an awakening to the living world; it is a literary breath of fresh air that, by increasing our awareness of the relational processes through which life and meaning emerge and can help us learn through full engagement in the phenomena of our world. Ingold eloquently describes an ontology of a continually emerging, relational world, then presents an epistemology pertinent to such a world. To really know, we must fully immerse ourselves in full sensory experience of the moving materials and mutually enacted moments that make up this world. Ingold encourages academic researchers to let go of an outdated obsession with scientific objectivity that sees many of us attempt to abstract ourselves from the things we are trying to learn about in order to not affect them. Such an abstraction obstructs our tangible perception of the world we are researching, one in which we are inescapably enmeshed as co-generative participants. Ingold then suggests ways of describing the knowledge formed through direct engagement in the world. Proposing art as a method resonant enough with the world’s free-flowing nature to accurately depict it, Being Alive inspires us to discover and enact any other method(s) that allow us to wield the world in ways that evoke it meaningfully.

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Every anthropologist needs to immerse him or herself into fieldwork and to be aware of all that happens without judgement. A brief but powerful life story of an Indian man at the time of the Buddha of Shakyamuni, Siddhartha is a book that plunges the reader into the experience of the many different phenomena that emerge and re-occur during life. Accompanying Siddhartha along his life path sheds light on a particularly attentive, patient, and simultaneously detached yet engaged way of life. Having diffracted this light into my own life has helped me engage the world as a divinely beautiful flow of phenomena, indistinguishable from the whole they are all part of, from which I can learn to love and accept everyone and everything. Such an experience of life has helped me as a person and an anthropologist.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

This book is a wonderful piece of experimental journalism that, drawing on photos, videos, interviews, and participant observation, evokes the lived experiences of the Merry Pranksters (a group of wild, free-living hippies) and shows how their lives pioneered and engendered in important ways the hippy movement in the early to mid 1960s. In addition to being an entertaining story from which one can find inspiration to liberate one’s true personality unaltered by mainstream socio-cultural filters, this book is an unintentional example of how anthropological methods can depict human lives in such tangible ways that readers can find important meaning applicable to their own lives.

Healing Roots by Julie Laplante

Laplante does an excellent job of explaining and applying phenomenological approaches in anthropology to her explorations of the processes through which scientists collect the traditional medicinal plant A. Afra and transform it into a pharmaceutical drug. Laplante engages A. Afra, Xhosa healer-diviners, Rastafarian bossiedokters, pharmacologists, and the environments in which these beings encounter one another through full sensory participation of her body with these beings and the materials and rhythms of their environments of encounter. Laplante’s engagement is in and of itself direct knowledge of a biomedical chemical’s relational construction through time.

Community Cookbook: Food from the Fort Collins Soul by Madison Brandt

Reading this book is a perfect opportunity to witness creative, innovative anthropology, and get ideas for great meals to make this summer. Bypassing tiresome academic jargon and form in favour of eloquent storytelling and evocative photography, Brandt creates an accessible ethnography in the form of a community cookbook. She weaves together diverse people’s personal recipes and reflections on food in such a way that allows the reader to feel into these cooks’ gastronomic experiences and the meanings that emerge. In addition to being an engaging expression of innovative anthropology, Brandt’s cookbook is intended to contribute to the wellbeing of her mountain town’s community. All the proceeds from sales of the cookbook go to Friends of Happy Heart Farm, a local organism that provides low-income families with food shares from Happy Heart Farm, a community supporting agriculture farm, at accessible discount prices. You can learn more the farm here.

Image Credit:  Ari Bakker via flickr

About The Author

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University of Ottawa, MA Candidate, Anthropology

I have been breathing, eating, sensing, and enacting many other basic but endearing physiological processes since I was born in the Spring of 1991. In the Summer of 2003 I was introduced to canoe-camping by my brother in the Goutte d’Eau region of the Outaouais Valley in Québec, Canada. Years of teenage adventures in this diversely forested, lake-filled, rocky land afforded me with a direct engagement with nature through which I developed passion for nomadic life deeply enmeshed within local ecosystems. At the age of 18, I became a camp counsellor specialized in canoe expeditions. During the last two of my five years guiding canoe adventures, I began teaching and practicing anthropology to and with teenage clients. These experiences helped me dip my paddle in the stream of anthropology, preparing myself for the challenging rapids and falls of a master’s thesis fieldwork expedition among Dukha reindeer herders in their Taiga homeland of northernmost Mongolia. Participating in the life of endearing, resilient Dukha people I was drawn into the roots of what it is and means to be alive. I now live the wild and character-forming experience of writing a thesis about a people who changed my life for the better. Every day I thank the World for Everything, and smile.