This video features my colleague Carolyn Nordstrom, and is part of the series “What Would You Fight For” that highlights Notre Dame professors in television commercials played during Notre Dame football games.
Carolyn is the author of numerous books that examine globalization, war, illegal economies, and the men, women and children caught up in those endeavors. Her most recent book is Global Outlaws: Crime, Money, and Power in the Contemporary World. One of her best known is A Different Kind of War Story, where she writes, “This is a book about war, and about the remarkable creativity average people bring to the fore in surviving violence and rebuilding humane worlds.”
Carolyn has inspired me through her commitment to ethnography and the insight it provides into people’s lives. This type of ethnography is crucial to neuroanthropology. Here’s a blurb from a grant I once wrote:
This book is about how I imagine ethnography. We can see more in people’s words and actions that we do at present. I think of Oliver Sacks, the neurobiologist, who uses case studies to reveal a different perspective on how life plays itself out. Just like Giovanni challenged me with his words, I want to challenge other anthropologists to ask, Why? Why have we ceded so much ground to biologists and psychologists?
Good ethnographers time and again raise the everyday aspects of life, as Nordstrom (2004) does in presenting a child soldier’s answer to her question of why he was fighting: “I forgot,” he replied. As she notes, particular life histories, personalities and local sociocultural traditions shape the actions of ground soldiers. Forgetting, like wanting, does too. So how are we to understand that?
My answer is through ethnography that draws on both traditional and novel ways to examine how people act and interact with the world.