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The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People [Paperback]

E. E. Evans-Pritchard
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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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 13.7 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 84,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"An excellent example of British social anthropology. Useful as a teaching tool for social organization."--Michele Gamburd, Portland State University"We used this as an ethnographic example of structural-functionalism for our introductory theory course. Very useful."--Margaret S. Johnson, University of Colorado"The best ecology and anthropology ever written." -- Whole Earth Review"Amazed that it went out of print briefly. I plan to use it again."--P. Shipton, Harvard University

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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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Front Cover | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic 25 Sep 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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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nuerific! 28 Feb 2002
By Alex Golub - 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.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A turning point is Social Anthropology 22 Sep 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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 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.
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the quintessential classic ethnography 11 Sep 2010
By GreenGirl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Although a bit slow at times, this serves as a great example of ethnography during the mid-twentieth century. Provides a detailed description of the Nuer culture and people. Good for introductory classes in cultural anthropology.
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