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The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People Paperback – 30 Apr 1987


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Product details

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA; New Ed edition (30 April 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195003225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195003222
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 1.9 x 13.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 255,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'The best ecology and anthropology ever written.' Whole Earth Review

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A PEOPLE whose material culture is a simple as that of the Nuer are highly dependent on their environment. Read the first page
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By S. Smith on 25 Sept. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Evans-Pritchard was one of the earliest professional anthropologists to study African cultures. "The Nuer" was one of his major monographs: it is a classic study, but continues to have relevance today. Before Evans-Pritchard, anthropology was largely descriptive but he was interested in ideas rather than facts. He improved standards of reporting observations, but more importantly sought to examine the relationship between social order and the symbols and values that support and promote order.

His book gives a perceptive and eloquent analysis of the pastoral Nuer people as they existed in the 1930s. They had no defined leaders and were highly individualistic but at the same time belonged to a community. This community maintained its social order through shared values and a complex lineage system. Evans-Pritchard described and analysed the critical importance cattle to the Nuer, both economically, as the main source of their livelihood, but more importantly socially, as the basis of relationships between individuals and families. He considered that all Nuer economic relations formed part of social relationships, and that the love of cattle was at the heart of both. Nuer opinion of a person was based on how many they owned; those without cattle were held in contempt. They raided the neighbouring Dinka people to steal cattle, and most disputes and feuds were based on cattle.

The book has an elegiac quality, as the Nuer society he described no longer exists. From the 1960s, external influences increased and the area they live in was at area of conflict. Despite this, and despite Evans-Pritchard's stance as an observer rather a participant (which gives an air of remoteness to his work), "The Nuer" is essential reading for anyone interested in social anthropology.
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By Andrew Thorne on 8 Jan. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Good book. Has come in useful more than once for my studies
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 0 reviews
41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Nuerific! 28 Feb. 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is one of the classics of ethnography - indeed, one of the works which defines what ethnography and anthropology are.
The Nuer is an account of a group of pastoralists living in the Sudan as Evans-Pritchard knew them when he did field work in er... uh... the late 30s early 40s. The first half of the book is a detailed and lively (for an academic) account of their way of life, the seasonal rhythms of the year, and their intense interest in cattle.
The second half of the book than deals with the main subject of the book: the social organization of the Nuer. E-P moves to a greater and greater level of abstraction, creating a more and more crystalline view of the patterns of kinship and marriage that underlie Nuer life. The main structure is the lineage system - a group of people all related from a common ancestor through an unbroken line of male succession.
This book is famous because of E-P's account of the lineage system. The concept of the lineage and descent became key in anthropology, and E-P's Nuer materials helped provide the perfect example of the lineage as theorized by Radcliffe-Brown, E-P's teacher.
As a result of this book, anthropologists spend the next two decades running around all over the world looking for lineage systems. As it turns out, this sort of system is not particularly widespread across the world - at least not in its pure form. Indeed, it turns out that E-P's formulation was too neat and clean and too crystalline. As one pundit put it, "not even the Nuer are like The Nuer". So one drawback of the book is the false clarity that it provided. This was useful in the forties and fifties, but meant that eventually the study of kinship and social organization would have to move out of the paradigm E-P had set up.
Another problem with the book is the fact that it takes place in a vacuum. It is easy not to notice that the Nuer are under the sway of British authority and had recently been bombed when E-P arrived. The colonial context of the book is supressed.
There are other critcisms that could be made of the book - it is now a half-century behing the times - but it stands up today as a good read and a fascinating argument. The fact that reactions to it have been so extreme - overwhelming enthusiasm, abiding hatred, quizzical puzzlement, cow obsession - point to the fact that a book doesn't have to be loved forever to be read forever. Like all classics, The Nuer both good to read and good to think.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A turning point is Social Anthropology 22 Sept. 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I disagree completely with the "reader from Washington" who wrote it is a boring book. Probably he/she didn't read more than the first two, more descriptive chapters. This book became "a classic" because it was a turning point in the history of Anthropology, specially because of its analysis of the political system of the Nuer.
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
An Enduring Classic 15 Jan. 2004
By Robert A. Bourgeois - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The Nuer is a challenging but supremely rewarding study of a people who, with minimal technology and living a way of life that is very primitive by the standards of Westerners, achieve a perfection of ecological harmony with their environment. Evans-Pritchard's (E-P) description of the Nuers' rich and multifaceted relationship with their cattle is unforgettable. E-P writes with elegance, brilliance, compassion, and respect for the proud and dignified Nuer who, because of this great monograph, are among the most famous people ever studied by anthropologists.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Very poor-quality digitization 21 Nov. 2012
By Kurt M. Weber - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This e-book has a number of flaws that make it absolutely worthless, except as a case study in how NOT to release a classic work in an electronic edition. The first problem you will notice is that the pages are oriented 90 degrees from proper. This may not be so much of an issue for those reading on a Kindle device (who can simply rotate the device appropriately), but for those of us reading it using the PC app that alone makes it useless, at least until Amazon decided to include a "rotate page" feature.

To make matters worse, instead of being OCRd text (which would make it highlightable, selectable, copy-and-pasteable, annotatable, etc.) each "page" of this e-book is simply a direct, unmanipulated image scan of the page of the original work, which in addition to making the file size much larger than it should be, renders the usual Kindle text tools (highlight for definitions, etc.) useless.

But the worst part? The "pages" in the book are cut off in the middle of the original source pages, often times literally in the middle of a line of text, so that the top half of a letter might be on one page while the bottom half is on the next.

Reading this e-book is simply not a pleasant experience. You probably do not want to buy it, unless you've had a bit too much to drink with your friends and you want something inordinately silly to laugh at. Even then, you can watch "literal movie trailer" parodies on YouTube for free.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Classic in Social Anthrpology 14 July 2012
By ernest schusky - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The complexity of Nuer relations with their environment, because of herding cattle, is detailed in the first chapters. (Nuer name thier cattle and can distinguish scores of them.) In the later chapters Evans-Pritchard takes us through how herding leads to patrilineal descent and the formation of lineages and clans. This social organization dictates whom a man will marry, how the bride price will be paid, and how most disputes are settled. The work helps us understand the nature of feuds, both their negative aspects and their positive ones. The social organization is further shaped by conflict with the Dinka, a neighboring tribe.
The analysis gave us a paradigm for how lineal organization works leading to important insights in North America as well as Africa where clan organization is common.
Both Nuer and Dinka are in today's news because of the conflict in southern Sudan. Their earlier "wars" are hardly more than quarrels by the standards of northern Sudan's brutality.
It's not uncommon to meet Nuer refugees in Tucson because of war's ravages.
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