At Home in the World Paperback – 18 Sep 2000
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"Jackson has succeeded in the thoroughly anthropological enterprise of splicing together the wisdom of thinkers in Asian, Euro-American, and Judeo-Christian traditions with ordinary folk wisdom and wise statements of not-so-ordinary Walbiri. In his hands, all these strands converge on a timeless and highly contemporary, insistent, and essentially unanswerable question." - Paul Friedrich, American Ethnologist "Jackson provides qualitative ethnographic research and studies of 'home' with a model to be emulated. He casts his net wide and captures lived experience as well as words can harvest." - Paul Benson, Anthropology and Humanism "[An] important, exquisitely crafted book... notable for its innovative ethnography, philosophic acumen, and intricate portrayal of an aboriginal people." - Robert Desjarlais, American Anthropologist "[A] thoughtful study ... [A] kind of ethno-poetic essay about belonging and being uprooted in the contemporary world." - F. Allan Hanson, Cultural Survival Quarterly
From the Back Cover
"[An] important, exquisitely crafted book. . . notable for its innovative ethnography, philosophic acumen, and intricate portrayal of an aboriginal people."--Robert Desjarlais, "American Anthropologist
"Jackson provides qualitative ethnographic research and studies of 'home' with a model to be emulated. He casts his net wide and captures lived experience as well as words can harvest."--Paul Benson, "Anthropology and Humanism"
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This book describes the second year of a three year study of a group of Walbiri people of Australia. This particular group has had all of their usual nomadic places encroached on by civilization. In addition, the earlier unwittingly harmful effect of the Australian government's attempt to "civilize" the indigenous people is discussed.
Michael Jackson uses this study to focus on what is meant by "home" and "homelessness" on many levels, from the present world-wide migrations to his past personal choice of careers in escaping New Zealand (a place many of us would to go to).
In addition to being a very well-traveled and professionally accomplished scholar, Michael Jackson has also published fiction and poetry. Consequently this book is also a Thoreau-like attempt to fuse Art and Science.
The concepts of home and homelessness are mapped out for us to understand and apply to our own situations. But the only solutions to any problems arising there, lie in the compassion and human-heartedness that show throughout this author's writing.
Each chapter stars with an apt quotation. My favorite is a toss-up between a Roman proverb from Chapter 2: "ubi bene, ibi patria"-translated as-"Your home is where they treat you well", and a Walbiri saying from Chapter 4:"A house is a good thing. You can lock it up and go live anywhere you like"--Walter Pukatiwara.
It seemed to me that his radical adherence to bare-bones narrative flow - the book reads more like a travel novel than an ethnographic work - while admirable in its attempt to present the lived experience of this Aboriginal community, actually undermines his purpose by concealing more than it reveals. He uses Warlpiri terms, italicized, with no gloss or glossary; he introduces the fascinating kinship structure and then lets it drop without explaining to the non-Aboriginal reader what this might mean to their experience of social relations; he speaks extensively of the role of the Dreaming in their conceptions of home, without an introduction for the reader who does not know what the Dreaming is, or worse, already has some essentialized, stereotyped notion in mind.
In sum, he has made the first half of the hermeneutic journey to the experience of the other, perhaps more successfully than many other ethnographers; but he then fails to complete the return journey home by translating his find into a recognizable idiom.
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