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Title: Body, time, and the others : African-American anthropology and the rewriting of ethnographic conventions in the ethnographies by Zora Neale Hurston and Katherine Dunham
Author: Volpi, Serena Isolina
ISNI:       0000 0004 5351 4638
Awarding Body: Brunel University
Current Institution: Brunel University
Date of Award: 2014
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This research looks at the ethnographies Mules and Men (1935) and Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (1938) by Zora Neale Hurston focusing on representations of Time and the anthropologist’s body. Hurston was an African-American anthropologist, folklorist, and novelist who conducted research particularly between the end of the 1920s and the mid-1930s. At first, her fieldwork and writings dealt with African-American communities in Florida and Hoodoo practice in Louisiana, but she consequently expanded her field of anthropological interests to Jamaica and Haiti, which she visited between 1936 and 1937. The temporal and bodily factors in Hurston’s works are taken into consideration as coordinates of differentiation between the ethnographer and the objects of her research. In her ethnographies, the representation of the anthropologist’s body is analysed as an attempt at reducing temporal distance in ethnographical writings paralleled by the performative experience of fieldwork exemplified by Hurston’s storytelling: body, voice, and the dialogic representation of fieldwork relationships do not guarantee a portrayal of the anthropological subject on more egalitarian terms, but cast light on the influence of the anthropologist both in the practice and writing of ethnography. These elements are analysed in reference to the visualistic tradition of American anthropology as ways of organising difference and ascribing the anthropological ‘Others’ to a temporal frame characterised by bodily and cultural features perceived as ‘primitive’ and, therefore, distant from modernity. Representations and definitions of ‘primitiveness’ and ‘modernity’ not only shaped both twentieth-century American anthropology and the modernist arts (Harlem Renaissance), but also were pivotal for the creation of a modern African-American identity in its relation to African history and other black people involved in the African diaspora. In the same years in which Hurston visited Jamaica and Haiti, another African-American woman anthropologist and dancer, Katherine Dunham, conducted fieldwork in the Caribbean and started to look at it as a source of inspiration for the emerging African-American dance as recorded in her ethnographical and autobiographical account Island Possessed (1969). Therefore, Hurston’s and Dunham’s representations of Haiti are examined as points of intersection for the different discourses which both widened and complicated their understanding of what being ‘African’ and ‘American’ could mean.
Supervisor: Mondal, A. Sponsor: Brunel University (Isambard Research Scholarship) ; Allan & Nesta Ferguson Charitable Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Caribbean ; Haiti ; Cultural anthropology ; 1930s ; Harlem renaissance