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Rituals of the Full Moon

Caroline Humphrey, 27 February 1992

Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture 
by Chris Knight.
Yale, 581 pp., £40, October 1991, 0 300 04911 0
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... Most people, including most social anthropologists, have only a hazy idea about the origins of human culture. For decades the whole treacherous territory has been avoided, and anthropology has come to construct itself in such a way that the subject is indeed unknowable. But here is a book which calls discretion’s bluff. Chris Knight has come up with a new and startling theory: human culture originated with a sex strike by female primates, a revolutionary act of collective solidarity which transformed ‘females’ into women ...

Culture and Personality

Caroline Humphrey, 31 August 1989

Margaret Mead: A Life of Controversy 
by Phyllis Grosskurth.
Penguin, 96 pp., £3.99, May 1989, 0 14 008760 5
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Ruth Benedict: Stranger in the Land 
by Margaret Caffrey.
Texas, 432 pp., $24.95, February 1989, 0 292 74655 5
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... There is a popular vision of the anthropologist as figure-of-fun which an allegorical ‘Margaret Mead’ is coming to represent: the blunderer into tribal life, dupe of the primitives, the self-dramatiser, spinner of graceless and unlikely theories. Another version of the anthropologist is the philosopher of culture and society in all its variations, one who understands humanity in some broad, if rather intuitive and dreamy way: Ruth Benedict, though her work is deeply unfashionable today, has this kind of position ...

Sister Ape

Caroline Humphrey, 19 April 1990

The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science 
by Londa Schiebinger.
Harvard, 355 pp., £23.50, November 1989, 0 674 57623 3
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Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science 
by Donna Haraway.
Routledge, 486 pp., £40, January 1990, 0 415 90114 6
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... Most people, without thinking about it very much, elide sexual differences between men and women with gender, the cultural categories of masculinity and femininity. Surely, one might imagine, the more scientists discover about the former, the more refined and true will the latter become. These two books undermine that view. People are aware that non-Western cultures have different ideas about gender from our own, but no one is disturbed by that for a moment: their ideas, we say to ourselves, are based on ignorance and strange religions and values ...

Communism and Shamanism

Maurice Bloch, 15 September 1983

Karl Marx Collective: Economy, Society and Religion in a Siberian Collective Farm 
by Caroline Humphrey.
Cambridge, 522 pp., £30, July 1983, 0 521 24456 0
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... we catch glimpses of the reality, we are surprised to find it peopled by ordinary human beings. Caroline Humphrey’s book, Karl Marx Collective, tells us what we want to know: what is the relation between theory and practice, what is the relation of the state and the party to the local unit – in this case collective farms – how much are ...

The Good Old Days

Sheila Fitzpatrick: The Dacha-Owning Classes, 9 October 2003

Summerfolk 1710-2000: A History of the Dacha 
by Stephen Lovell.
Cornell, 259 pp., £18.95, April 2003, 0 8014 4071 8
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Socialist Spaces: Sites of Everyday Life in the Eastern Bloc 
edited by David Crowley and Susan Reid.
Berg, 261 pp., £15.99, November 2002, 1 85973 533 9
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Caviar with Champagne: Common Luxury and the Ideals of the Good Life in Stalin’s Russia 
by Jukka Gronow.
Berg, 179 pp., £15.99, October 2003, 1 85973 633 5
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The Unmaking of Soviet Life: Everyday Economies after Socialism 
by Caroline Humphrey.
Cornell, 265 pp., £13.95, May 2002, 0 8014 8773 0
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... to exist but remained largely out of reach. In her stimulating book The Unmaking of Soviet Life, Caroline Humphrey – one of the few anthropologists with substantial field experience in the old Soviet Union – explores changing attitudes to consumption. Consumer desire, she argues, was both aroused and frustrated in Soviet-type societies and ...

Black Bear Park

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Border Crossings, 2 February 2023

The Curtain and the Wall: A Modern Journey along Europe’s Cold War Border 
by Timothy Phillips.
Granta, 444 pp., £20, October 2022, 978 1 78378 576 6
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On the Edge: Life along the Russia-China Border 
by Franck Billé and Caroline Humphrey.
Harvard, 376 pp., £26.95, December 2021, 978 0 674 97948 2
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... stories made me feel’ in his account of his travels. This is not a risk for Franck Billé and Caroline Humphrey, academic anthropologists from Berkeley and Cambridge respectively, who, rejecting recent trends towards subjectivity in anthropology, stick to the disciplinary tradition of impersonality. Their subject, a welcome complement to ...

Sam, Caroline, Janet, Stella, Len, Helen and Bob

Susan Pedersen: Mass Observation, 21 September 2017

Seven Lives from Mass Observation: Britain in the Late 20th Century 
by James Hinton.
Oxford, 207 pp., £25, October 2016, 978 0 19 878713 6
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... Tom Harrisson, the Marxist poet Charles Madge and (briefly) the experimental filmmaker Humphrey Jennings. It attempted to create ‘an anthropology of ourselves’ by ‘observing’ ordinary Britons as they went about their ordinary lives – and by enlisting those same people as diarists and commentators. In the decade or so after its foundation ...

No Accident

Zachary Leader: Gore Vidal’s Golden Age, 21 June 2001

The Golden Age: A Novel 
by Gore Vidal.
Little, Brown, 467 pp., £17.99, October 2000, 0 316 85409 3
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... In the rewritten version, ‘it was, suddenly, as if he were once again with Blaise’s sister, Caroline, thirty years earlier, the two of them in that rare collusion, a mutual passion that had produced a highly unlovable love child, who had become a nun.’ Neither Caroline nor the unlovable love child appears in ...

Turning Turk

Robert Blake, 20 August 1981

The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain. Vol. 1: The 19th Century 
by Stephen Koss.
Hamish Hamilton, 455 pp., £20, May 1981, 0 241 10561 7
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... along. Professor Koss quotes the ‘Scotch Lieutenant called Lismahago’ who in Smollett’s Humphrey Clinker says that ‘he would always consider the liberty of the press as a national evil while it enabled the vilest reptile to soil the lustre of the most shining merit and furnished the most infamous incendiary with the means of disturbing the peace ...

Those Brogues

Marina Warner, 6 October 2016

... to be fitted for a pair of shoes at Peal & Co, a family firm famous for its clientele: Humphrey Bogart! Marlene Dietrich! Fred Astaire! The Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson! Each customer was measured, and the findings entered in a series of ledgers known as the ‘Feet Books’; the bespoke shoemakers then modelled wooden lasts to be used to make ...

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