Cover page

The Blackwell Companions to Anthropology offers a series of comprehensive syntheses of the traditional subdisciplines, primary subjects, and geographic areas of inquiry for the field. Taken together, the series represents both a contemporary survey of anthropology and a cutting-edge guide to the emerging research and intellectual trends in the field as a whole.

  1. A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology, edited by Alessandro Duranti
  2. A Companion to the Anthropology of Politics, edited by David Nugent and Joan Vincent
  3. A Companion to the Anthropology of American Indians, edited by Thomas Biolsi
  4. A Companion to Psychological Anthropology, edited by Conerly Casey and Robert B. Edgerton
  5. A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan, edited by Jennifer Robertson
  6. A Companion to Latin American Anthropology, edited by Deborah Poole
  7. A Companion to Biological Anthropology, edited by Clark Larsen (hardback only)
  8. A Companion to the Anthropology of India, edited by Isabelle Clark-Decès
  9. A Companion to Medical Anthropology, edited by Merrill Singer and Pamela I. Erickson
  10. A Companion to Cognitive Anthropology, edited by David B. Kronenfeld, Giovanni Bennardo, Victor de Munck, and Michael D. Fischer
  11. A Companion to Cultural Resource Management, edited by Thomas King
  12. A Companion to the Anthropology of Education, edited by Bradley A.U. Levinson and Mica Pollack
  13. A Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment, edited by Frances E. Mascia-Lees
  14. A Companion to Paleopathology, edited by Anne L. Grauer
  15. A Companion to Folklore, edited by Regina F. Bendix and Galit Hasan-Rokem
  16. A Companion to Forensic Anthropology, edited by Dennis Dirkmaat
  17. A Companion to the Anthropology of Europe, edited by Ullrich Kockel, Máiréad Nic Craith, and Jonas Frykman
  18. A Companion to Border Studies, edited by Thomas M. Wilson and Hastings Donnan
  19. A Companion to Rock Art, edited by Jo McDonald and Peter Veth
  20. A Companion to Moral Anthropology, edited by Didier Fassin
  21. A Companion to Gender Prehistory, edited by Diane Bolger
  22. A Companion to Organizational Anthropology, edited by D. Douglas Caulkins and Ann T. Jordan
  23. A Companion to Paleoanthropology, edited by David R. Begun
  24. A Companion to Chinese Archaeology, edited by Anne P. Underhill
  25. A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion, edited by Janice Boddy and Michael Lambek
  26. A Companion to Urban Anthropology, edited by Donald M. Nonini


  1. A Companion to Oral History, edited by Mark Tebeau
  2. A Companion to Dental Anthropology, edited by Joel D. Irish and G. Richard Scott
Title page


In the course of completing this book, I have incurred many debts, personal and professional. It is impossible to thank everyone who has contributed to bringing this book to fruition, but certain people have played a major role in the process. First, there are the contributors of the 28 concept essays in this book who have worked brilliantly to reconceptualize an urban anthropology for the twenty-first century, as articulated in the original scholarship manifested here. Reading their work has been an extraordinary education, both pleasurable and exciting. I will always be thankful for the privilege. I am confident that the readers will enjoy and learn much from their work as well.

I have other debts to acknowledge. In late 2008 at the American Anthropological Association's Annual Meeting, Wiley Blackwell's Rosalie Robertson, Senior Commissioning Editor, listened very thoughtfully and then with increasing enthusiasm as I proposed the fundamental framework for this book, and since then has been supportive every step of the way, with patience, great good humor, and faith in the project. Jen Bray, Project Editor in Anthropology for Wiley Blackwell in Boston, also provided assistance and encouragement at a time when it was very much needed. In September 2012, when I wondered whether or not a work involving 28 authors on a vast array of topics in urban anthropology would ever see the light of day, Rosalie and Jen came to my aid with suggestions that were invaluable, and gave me the boost that pushed me to find the last few contributors, complete the editing process, and present the manuscript to Wiley Blackwell in July 2013. The encouragement of both was crucial. I also wish to thank Ben Thatcher, Project Editor for the Social Sciences in Wiley Blackwell's Oxford office, Sarah Dancy and Tessa Hanford for helping with the final steps toward publishing the book, and Allison Kostka, Wiley Blackwell's Senior Editorial Assistant, who helped me in numerous ways in an earlier stage of the work.

Malena Rousseau, Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has played an invaluable role, acting as an assistant editor in the later stages of the editing process. I could not have acted as efficiently, with as much intellectual insight, or in as good spirits, without her assistance and enthusiasm.

Finally, I would be remiss not to acknowledge Sandy Smith-Nonini. Her magnificent patience and indulgence toward my protracted “present absence” were often tested as I worked to bring this book to fruition in my study. I am grateful beyond words for her efforts in extracting me from it while reminding me of why the work mattered – up to a point! Her presence and understanding have made it all worthwhile.

Don Nonini

Durham, North Carolina

Notes on Contributors

Stephan Barthel is an affiliated researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and at the Department of History at Stockholm University. He does research on environmental issues in metropolitan landscapes. Recent publications include “The potential of ‘Urban Green Commons’ in the resilience building of cities,” Ecological Economics, 86, 156–166 (with J. Colding, 2013), “Food and green space in cities: A resilience lens on gardens and urban environmental movements,” Urban Studies, (with J. Parker and H. Ernstson, 2013), and “Civic greening and environmental learning in public-access community gardens in Berlin,” Landscape and Urban Planning, 109, 18–30 (with P. Bendt and J. Colding, 2013).

Julian Brash is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Montclair State University, and the author of Bloomberg's New York: Class and Governance in the Luxury City (2011). His research focuses on the role imaginaries, identities, and affect play in urban development, governance, and political economy.

Maribel Casas-Cortés is a cultural anthropologist who has written on precarity, feminist movements, and migration, and is currently a post-doctoral researcher under an NSF fellowship on European borders.

John Clarke is Professor of Social Policy at the Open University, UK. His most recent book (with Janet Newman) is Publics, Politics and Power (2009) and he is the co-author of Disputing Citizenship (with Kathy Coll, Evelina Dagnino, and Catherine Neveu) to be published 2014.

Sebastian Cobarrubias is an economic geographer who has written on social movements and the politics of mapping. He is currently Assistant Professor at the Global Studies Department of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

Hilary Cunningham (Scharper) is a novelist and Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Toronto. Her publications and research explore boundary making as a multifaceted encounter with “nature.” She is author of “Bordering on the Environmental: Permeabilities, Ecology and Geopolitical Boundaries” in The Blackwell Companion to Border Studies (2012).

Lindsay DuBois is an anthropologist teaching at Dalhousie University. She conducts research on the relationship between culture, history, and political economy in Argentina. This work includes The Politics of the Past in an Argentine Working Class Neighbourhood (2005), about the lasting impact of repression and neoliberal restructuring on everyday life. She has worked with activist pensioners in Buenos Aires and is currently developing research on Argentine social welfare policies around child poverty.

Eveline Dürr is a Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. She received her Ph.D. and venia legendi (Habilitation) from the University of Freiburg, Germany and was an Associate Professor at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. She conducted fieldwork in Mexico, the United States, New Zealand, and Germany. Her research projects include perceptions of the environment, garbage, slum tourism, ecotourism and urban spatiality, and the historical trajectories that have formed such present conditions.

Nina Glick Schiller is Emeritus Professor at the University of New Hampshire and Manchester University and Founding Director of the Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures, Manchester. Among her recent publications are Migration, Development, and Transnationalization (2010), Locating Migration: Rescaling Cities and Migrants (2011), Cosmopolitan Sociability (2011), and Beyond Methodological Nationalism: Research Methodologies for Cross-Border Studies (2012).

Jonathan Friedman is Directeur d'études at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at University of California, San Diego. He has done research on the anthropology of global systems and processes, on Marxist theory in anthropology, the study of crises, social and cultural movements as products of global systemic crisis. He has conducted research on Southeast Asia, Hawaii, Europe, and Central Africa.

Thomas Blom Hansen is the Reliance-Dhirubhai Ambani Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies at Stanford University. He is the author of The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India (1999), Wages of Violence: Naming and Identity in Postcolonial Bombay (2001), and Melancholia of Freedom: Social Life in an Indian Township in South Africa (2012).

Josiah McC. Heyman is Professor of Anthropology and Chair of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Texas, El Paso. He focuses on borders, states, power, and engaged social sciences. He has participated in community initiatives addressing public policies and human rights at the US–Mexico border.

Rivke Jaffe is an Assistant Professor at the Centre for Urban Studies at the University of Amsterdam. She previously held teaching and research positions at Leiden University, the University of the West Indies, and the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV). Her research focuses primarily on intersections of the urban and the political, specifically on the spatialization of power, difference, and inequality within cities. Her current research, in Jamaica, studies the public–private security assemblages through which urban populations and spaces are governed.

Don Kalb is Professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Central European University, Budapest, and Senior Researcher at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. He specializes in anthropological political economy, in particular questions of class and the politics of globalization. He is the founding Editor of Focaal – Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology. His books include Expanding Class (1997), Critical Junctions (ed. 2005), Headlines of Nation, Subtexts of Class: Working Class Populism and the Return of the Repressed in Neoliberal Europe (ed. 2011).

Denise Lawrence-Zúñiga, Professor of Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona's College of Environmental Design, is a sociocultural anthropologist whose research focuses on the mutually reinforcing relations people establish with the built environment and natural landscapes. Her research on changes in house form in Portugal and, more recently, on southern California preservationist homeowners focuses on the role of materiality in constructing identity and lifestyles, while linking local behaviors to broader social and design movements.

Sian Lazar is Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of El Alto, Rebel City: Self and Citizenship in Andean Bolivia (2008) and editor of The Anthropology of Citizenship: A Reader (2013). She works on citizenship and collective politics and her current research focuses on public-sector trade unionists in Argentina.

Setha M. Low is Professor of Anthropology, Geography, Critical Psychology and Women's Studies, and Director of the Public Space Research Group at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Recent books include: Politics of Public Space (2005), Rethinking Urban Parks: Public Space and Cultural Diversity (2005), and Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America (2004). Her current research is on private governance in New York City and she is completing Spatializing Culture: An Anthropological Theory of Space and Place.

Catherine Lutz is the Thomas J. Watson, Jr. Family Chair of Anthropology and International Studies at Brown University. Her books include Unnatural Emotions (1988), Reading National Geographic (1993), Homefront: A Military City and the American 20th Century (2002), The Bases of Empire (2009), Carjacked (2009), and Breaking Ranks (2010). She is the recipient of numerous awards for her work on a range of issues from the US military and its basing system to car cultures and the car economy.

José Guilherme Cantor Magnani is Doctor of Human Sciences, University of São Paulo and Full Professor at the Anthropology Department of the same university; author of Festa no Pedaço (1984) and Da Periferia ao Centro (2012); co-editor of Na Metrópole: textos de Antropologia Urbana (2008). He is Coordinator of the Center of Urban Anthropology, at the University of São Paulo .

Jeff Maskovsky teaches urban studies at Queens College, and anthropology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. His research and writing focus on urban poverty, grassroots activism, and political economic change in the United States.

Gary W. McDonogh is Professor in Growth and Structure of Cities at Bryn Mawr College. Having worked extensively in Barcelona (Good Families of Barcelona 1986), the American South (Black and Catholic in Savannah 1992), and Hong Kong (Global Hong Kong 2005), he is currently completing a collaborative project with Cindy Wong on global Chinatowns.

Donald M. Nonini is Professor of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has engaged in research on political economy and citizenship among ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia, on US local politics, and recently on moral logics among local food and farming activists in the United States. His most recent book, “Getting by” among Chinese in Malaysia: An Historical Ethnography of Class and State Formation, will be published by Cornell University Press in 2014.

Michal Osterweil teaches in the Curriculum in Global Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she also received her Ph.D. in anthropology. She is an active member of the UNC Chapel Hill Social Movements Working Group, as well as various transnational collaborations. She is a founding member of Turbulence, a journal of social movements and networks, and has authored numerous articles on the global justice movement and social movements, focusing on their knowledge practices.

Deborah Pellow, Professor of Anthropology in The Maxwell School at Syracuse University, is an Africanist whose work is grounded in the roles and relationships enacted by individuals in the urban arena and plural society, under conditions of social change. Her current research focuses on the Dagomba of northern Ghana to explore the phenomenon of the educated elite who live in the urban south and influence their uneducated northern followers regarding Dagomba power structures.

John Pickles is an economic geographer working on post-socialist Europe, global production networks, borders, and mapping. He is the Earl N. Phillips Distinguished Professor of International Studies in the Department of Geography at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Robert Rotenberg is Vincent de Paul Professor of Anthropology at DePaul University in Chicago. His publications include “On the Sublime in Nature in Cities.” In Peggy Barlett (ed.), Urban Place: Reconnections with the Natural World (2005), and “Landscape Architecture and Cultural Anthropology.” Le:Notre: Consortium of European Schools of Landscape Architecture. Neighboring Disciplines Series (2009).

Stephen Bede Scharper is Associate Professor with the School of the Environment and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. He is co-editor of The Natural City: Re-envisioning the Built Environment (2012) and author of For Earth's Sake: Toward a Compassionate Ecology (2013).

Linda J. Seligmann is Professor of Anthropology at George Mason University. Her publications include Peruvian Street Lives: Culture, Power and Economy among Market Women of Cuzco (2004), an edited volume, Women Traders in Cross-Cultural Perspective: Mediating Identities, Marketing Wars (2001), and Between Reform and Revolution: Political Struggles in the Peruvian Andes, 1969–91 (1995).

Alan Smart is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Calgary. He has conducted research in Hong Kong, China, and Canada. He is the author of The Shek Kip Mei Myth: Squatters, Fires and Colonial Rule in Hong Kong, 1950–1963 (2006), and numerous articles.

Ida Susser, Professor of Anthropology at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York, recently published an updated edition of Norman Street: Poverty and Politics in an Urban Neighborhood (2012) and, among other works, editored or co-edited The Castells Reader on Cities and Social Theory (2002), Wounded Cities (2003), and Cultural Diversity In the United States: A Critical Reader (2001).

Pnina Werbner is Professor Emerita of Anthropology, Keele University. She is the author of The Manchester Migration Trilogy: The Migration Process (1990/2002), Imagined Diasporas (2002), and Pilgrims of Love (2003); and editor of Anthropology and the New Cosmopolitanism (2008), and The Political Aesthetics of Global Protest: The Arab Spring Uprisings and Beyond (2013).

Brett Williams is Professor of Anthropology at American University. She has conducted research in Washington, DC for the last 25 years. She is the author of John Henry (1983), Upscaling Downtown (1988), and Debt for Sale (2005), and many articles on gentrification and displacement, health inequalities, environmental justice, and credit and debt.

Ara Wilson is Associate Professor of Women's Studies and Cultural Anthropology at Duke University where she directed the program in the study of sexualities from 2006–2012. The author of a 2004 ethnography, The Intimate Economies of Bangkok: Tomboys, Tycoons, and Avon Ladies in the Global City, she is completing a book manuscript, “Sexual Latitudes: The Erotic Life of Globalization,” and is conducting research on medical tourism to Bangkok and Singapore.

Thomas M. Wilson is Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Department of Anthropology of Binghamton University, State University of New York. He is a co-founder of the Centre for International Borders Research at the Queen's University of Belfast, where he is an Honorary Professor in the School of Sociology. He has done ethnographic research in the borderlands of Ireland, the United Kingdom, Hungary, and Canada, and is the co-editor of Wiley-Blackwell's Companion to Border Studies (2012).

Filippo M. Zerilli is Associate Professor at the University of Cagliari. His research interests include the history of anthropology, postsocialism, ethnography of law and rights. His publications include Il lato oscuro dell'etnologia (1998) and La ricerca antropologica in Romania (ed., 2003).


Donald M. Nonini

It is customary to begin any introduction to a major reader in cultural anthropology with a required ritual genuflection in the direction of the importance of ethnography. In order to observe good form, I invite the reader to envision my making that bow of deep respect and deference: now. But then I must go on to immediately remind you that ethnography is not so much a solution to the theoretical questions posed by anthropology – whether these are connected to globalization, identity, social interactions, or whatever – as it is a critical tool and a set of methodologies which must be problematized and reformulated even as we put it to work.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the anthropology of cities and in urban ethnography. One cannot productively just “hang out” in large cities, as if the city, or even a “neighborhood,” were an amplified replication of Malinowski's Trobriand village, and expect to do theoretically meaningful and ethically engaged research on the lives of urban people, their cultural practices, or social relationships. Before one can even begin an ethnographic research project in an urban area, one must confront frankly positional and reflexive issues: where does the anthropologist stand and rest, and how does she conceive of her relationship to those she seeks to study? Are they, for example, nearby or citywide; do they have a publicly enunciable identity and are thus readily located, or are they stigmatized by the majority and spatially marginalized in fugitive spaces; can they be contacted readily or is their very location and willingness to be contacted the first order of concern; are they residing in relatively stable ways in the city, or are they in constant motion between one city and another, perhaps thousands of miles away and across state borders?

Much of the intellectually challenging work of urban anthropology is to incorporate aspects of critically important social and cultural processes into the research design, when they apply at different scales of analysis, so that it becomes productive when one successfully seeks to know the conditions under which one knows what one knows about such urban subjects – persons engaged in culturally meaningful actions in social conditions of unequal power. Questions of epistemology, reflexivity, and scale abound. For instance, I found it impossible to execute a research design on citizenship among Chinese Malaysians in a city of now 100,000 people in northwestern Malaysia where I have done ethnography from 1978–2007, until over time I became able to understand what the concept “Chinese society” meant for the city's residents and the tensions around its meanings for elites versus non-elites; to reconfigure my ethnographic methods for delimiting “it”; to ascertain my ethical stance with respect to it given that it served as the object of oppressive state policies; and from these findings, to come to a critique of the theoretical assumptions of the anthropological literature on “overseas Chinese” political organization from the 1960s onward (Nonini in press). This literature conceived of “overseas Chinese” as first and foremost quintessential “sojourners” who treated the postcolonial nation-states of Southeast Asia and their indigenous peoples as no more than the sites and objects of exploitation on their paths of capital accumulation and transnational movement into and out of the region, including their imagined “return” to China. What then was “Chinese society” in Malaysia – a spatialized “social structure” of political nomads and exploitative middleman minorities, a geographic imaginary promoted by Chinese Malaysian elites as a form of class rule, a theoretical concept grounded in a body of anthropological knowledge that I had previously accepted uncritically, or something else entirely? In what sense did “Chinese society” in Malaysia exist, when ethnic Chinese citizens were under constant attack as “disloyal” or even “criminal” by Malaysian state officials, and how under these circumstances was I to be accountable to my informants by challenging a body of anthropological knowledge complicit with such state mythologies and oppressions?

This example, with its constant tensions for the urban anthropologist between empirical referents to concepts, the cultural politics around these concepts arising from ethnographic research over time in an unstable setting grounded in social and political antagonisms, and the continuing processes of analytical abstraction and reflection, including self-reflexivity and quandaries of positionality, is by no means unique. To the contrary, I would argue that such tensions are at the heart of the ethnographic work that most urban anthropologists find themselves engaged in today. It is time for urban anthropologists to frankly acknowledge such tensions, and come to terms with them intellectually and ethically if, that is, urban anthropology is to survive as a discipline into the twenty-first century. The bringing together of these essays in the Companion represents my response to the dilemmas these tensions pose to our intellectual, ethical, and political work.