While teaching lecture courses at the University of California, Berkeley, Laura Nader taught generations of students to raise their anthropological antennae. This article uses an autoethnographic approach to describe the author’s exposure to anthropology at Berkeley in the nineteen-nineties, gesturing towards the way undergraduate lecture courses play an important but largely underrecognized role in fostering public anthropology. Nader’s lecture courses were particularly effective at this because their focus on pushing students to question dogma and analyze controlling processes offered students a sense of how anthropology could foster critical public discourse. Nader stressed the importance of asking good questions designed to challenge assumptions, finding the right methods to answer those questions, and paying attention to pathways of power. While always questioning received wisdom, ideological assumptions, and Western categories of knowledge, Nader continued to stress the importance of developing straightforward, highly-accessible concepts that captured the attention of students—like Harmony Ideology, trustanoia, controlling processes, and the vertical slice.
Syndemic theory proposes that social phenomena play critical roles in the production and spreading of epidemics and that a syndemic is the result of multiple, adversely interacting epidemics. As currently framed, only the co-occurrence of multiple biological epidemics constitutes a syndemic – social phenomena are treated as risk factors but not epidemics in their own right. I argue that social phenomena such as direct violence (e.g. interpersonal violence, genocide, ethnic cleansing, colonialism, and imperialism) and structural violence (e.g. poverty, racism, historical trauma, and political disenfranchisement) are widespread and adversely affect health in many Indigenous communities, thus meeting the definition of an epidemic. As such, I propose that syndemic theory must be reconceptualized to consider biological and social epidemics, with both types framed as treatable and preventable. Wider acceptance of this frame across disciplines facilitates creation of a collective action frame, which in turn allows us to demand accountability from policymakers – and to demand justice.
This article explores three elements of Laura Nader’s work through an ethnographic description and analysis of the author’s encounters with her over a thirty-year period. It reflects upon aspects of her ethnographic, political, and ethical commitments, how these elements manifest themselves in her written work, and how they have influenced the projects and careers of her students and colleagues over the past six decades. The piece concludes with an annotated list of aphorisms that have provided counsel, guidance, and inspiration to many anthropologists during the course of her career.
Drawing on Laura Nader’s concept of the vertical slice, this article reviews the hundreds of instances where the work of anthropologists, or anthropologists themselves appear in the leaked US State Department documents known as the “Manning Cables” published by WikiLeaks. The analysis of these documents shows anthropologists engaging with the US government in various ways, including in advisory capacities or bringing cultural or political knowledge from peripheral geographical regions to the core. Ethical, political, and disciplinary dimensions of these interactions are discussed, and Nader’s conception of the vertical slice is used to distinguish political dimensions of these anthropological engagements with state power.
In her 1973 article “up the anthropologist” Laura Nader called on anthropologists to engage in critical studies of the relationship between powerful institutions and the broader society, using a “vertical slice” approach. But Nader worried that participant observation was hard in the context of studying up, and yet it has been presented as definitive of anthropology’s methodology. This article discusses four methodological strategies for studying up in the light of this concern: insider ethnography; covert ethnography; remote ethnography; and adapted participant observation. The first two have intellectual or ethical liabilities. The last is increasingly normalized. Going forward, anthropologists studying up face two obstacles: first, the increasingly totalizing hold of corporate and government workplaces over their employees, even when they are not at work; and, second, university institutional review boards (irb s) concerned to avoid conflictual or critical research.