Frederick K. Errington

I have been fortunate during the course of my career to have learned the pleasures of collaboration. To be sure, I have had individual accomplishments and engagements – both before and subsequent to the period of my collaborative work. For example, there have been well-received books and articles about the Duke of York Islanders of the East New Britain Province of Papua New Guinea (specifically, Karavar, with Cornell University Press in 1974); on Sumatrans (specifically, Manners and Meaning in West Sumatra, with Yale University Press in 1984); and on cowboys and townspeople in Montana (specifically, two articles published in 1987, one of which was republished in 1990, and one article published in 1990 – all on my “list of works”). In fact, I believe that few anthropologists have written extensively on as many ethnographic areas.  Moreover, I was elected to Phi Beta Kappa (in 1962); I earned generous fellowships from the N.I.M.H. (in 1968), from the Miner Crary Foundation (in 1972), from the A.C.L.S. (in 1987, 1991, and 2006), from Mount Holyoke College (in 1991), and from Trinity College (in 2000).  I was also was appointed 5-College Professor of Anthropology at Mount Holyoke College (between 1989-1992) and then earned two professorships at Trinity College, becoming Charles A. Dana Professor of  Anthropology (between 1992-2001) and, then, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology (between 2001-2009 and into the future as an Emeritus). Finally, I have evaluated grants for many agencies and manuscripts for several presses.

But, it is my collaborative work which has been most satisfying. It has confirmed for me what Durkheim meant by the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Since Deborah Gewertz and I began working together in 1983, we have made eleven joint field trips to several different regions in Papua New Guinea.  (There were, also, the trips I made to Papua New Guinea during 1968 and 1972 and, as well, to Sumatra during 1974 and  to Montana during several summers.) I helped finance our joint trips with the grants I previously mentioned: three from the A.C.L.S. (two small and one quite large), one from Mount Holyoke College, and one from Trinity College.  In addition, together with Deborah, I won a sustantial N.E.H. Interpretive Research Grant (in 1987-1988) and two generous N.S.F. Research Grants (in 1995-1996 and in 2006).

Based upon these trips, we co-authored numerous articles and six books. Three of these books (published in 1987, 1991, and 1999) are about the East Sepik region (where I joined Deborah in her work); one (published in 1995) is about the East New Britain region (where Deborah joined me in mine); and two (published in 2004 and in press) are about regions where neither of us had previously worked. Each of us found the cooperative work very productive: through challenging each other’s thinking and complementing each other’s capacities and trainings, the product of our collaboration has (certainly relative to our prior separate work) become increasingly enriched – thicker and more comprehensive.

Happily, we are not the only ones to think that our work has become enhanced through collaboration.  Although our earlier individual works were praised, our more recent writings achieved considerably more recognition.  Of particular note:  our 1987 book was called by one reviewer, “a complex and brilliant work”;  our 1991 book won second place in the annual Victor Turner competition (organized by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology to recognize achievements in ethnographic writing); our 1995 book was included in Westview’s prestigious series, entitled “Studies in the Ethnographic Imagination,” edited by Maurice Bloch, John Comaroff, and Pierre Bourdieu;  and our 2004 book was  published in the Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture series. (Deborah and I were the Lewis Henry Morgan Lecturers for 2002 at the University of Rochester.) We think it is fair to say that we are known not only for the lucidity of our collaborative writing but for the range of subjects we address. Thus, we have written in ways accessible and engaging to colleagues and students alike about such topics as power, gender, economic development, nationalisms, and aesthetic, social and nutritional change. We have been especially pleased to be told that our books “work” in the classroom because colleagues as well as their students find them both ethnographically grounded and theoretically engaged.

That we write clearly (which, in our view, incurs less the risk of subscribing to a hegemony of the “known” than the risk of being understood and, thereby, evaluated) brought us once an offer by Cambridge University Press to write any book we wanted for the general public; that we address a range of subjects brought us the (almost overwhelming) task of organizing the 1993 national meetings of the American Anthropological Association, for which we were responsible for evaluating over 3,000 abstracts in all fields of anthropology and, based on these evaluations, scheduling some 300 sessions. Also of note, we have had the honor of (jointly) giving the Keynote Address at the annual meetings of the Northeastern Anthropological Association (1995), of being elected Co-Conveners of the Melanesia Interest Group within the American Anthropological Association (2001-2003), of being appointed as Visiting Professors at the École des Hautes Études (summer of 2005), and of being Special Guests of the Social Theory Seminar at the University of Kentucky (2009).

– Frederick K. Errington, January, 2010


Deborah Gewertz

When I dropped out of Queens College to accompany my then-husband to his graduate program at Princeton University, I soon got bored doing cheap Zithromax I entered Princeton as a “special student” (women were not yet formally admitted) and was able to transfer a year’s worth of credits to Queens so as to complete my degree there in English Literature (1969).  After having a baby, I went back to school, part-time at first, working toward a Ph.D. in Anthropology — which I got in 1977 from the Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y.   I had decided to leave English Literature for Anthropology because I disliked much literary criticism and hadn’t the talent to become a novelist.  Moreover, I had come to embrace wholeheartedly the anthropological imagination – broad-ranging and, yet, grounded.  But, honestly, I also wanted to travel.


In graduate school, I focused my thinking on anthropological approaches to economic and political change, with an ethnographic concentration on the soon-to-be independent Territory of Papua New Guinea (about as far away from my Queens home as I could imagine).  Eventually, I did travel to Papua New Guinea for my Ph.D. research (with financial assistance from the East-West Center’s Population Institute, the National Geographic Society, and the Graduate Center).  My daughter loved it there.  My then-husband did not, a fact we could not overcome. And I finished the thesis research which eventually became (after an additional trip to Papua New Guinea during the summer of 1979) Sepik River Societies:  An Historical Ethnography of the Chambri and their Neighbors (Yale, 1983).  (This 1979 trip was supported by Wenner-Gren, Amherst College, and N.E.H.) Considered innovative in its deconstruction of ideas of “group” and “people,” Sepik River Societies examined regional integration among peoples of the East Sepik Province (peoples already famous because both Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson had worked with them).  My book (and probably the Mead and Bateson connection) proved a key factor in my earning tenure at Amherst College, where I was teaching (since 1977) and still teach.


Over the years, I earned other grants from Wenner-Gren (in1980-81 and 1995-96) and from Amherst College (nine in all).  In addition, together with my collaborator, Frederick Errington,  I won some large, collaborative grants from N.E.H. (in 1987-1988) and N.S.F. (in 1995-1996 and 2006).  And I earned a generous grant of combined monies from  A.C.L.S., S.S.R.C.  and N.E.H. (in 2000).  I used all of these grants to return to Papua New Guinea where, in the course of many field trips, I completed various projects located in several different regions. This research resulted in six major books (in addition to Sepik River Societies), two edited volumes, and forty-seven articles.  In addition, there is a third edited volume well underway; this is a Handbook of Sociocultural Anthropology, contracted with Berg, edited by James Carrier and myself.  With the exception of the Handbook, the books and edited collections have, most generally, “thickly” conveyed how and why people engage and contest with one another in cross-cutting, changing, and contingent manners:  whether or not as kin, as tribal affiliates, as comparably gendered, as co-religionists, as commonly cultured, as similarly socially classed – and, with this new project, as first and third world fellow consumers.  Six of the books and many of the articles were written with Frederick Errington,  my (present) husband and best critic.  All of the books were published by major presses:  one was runner-up for the Victor Turner Prize in ethnographic writing given by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology; one was included in Westview’s important series, “Studies in the Ethnographic Imagination” (edited by Maurice Bloch, John Comaroff, and Pierre Bourdieu); and one was published in the Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture series.  (My collaborator and I were the Lewis Henry Morgan Lecturers for 2002 at the University of Rochester.)


In addition to research and writing about anthropological issues, I have held editorial posts (with the American Ethnologist, the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Ethnos, and Oceania).  I have, as well, been Five-College Anniversary Lecturer (1990), Program Chair of the American Anthropological Association (1993), Keynote Speaker at the meetings of the Northeastern Anthropological Association (1995), Convener of the Melanesia Interest Group within the American New Roman;”>Anthropological Association (2001-2003), Distinguished Lecturer in honor of George and Mary Foster at Southern Methodist University (2006), and Special Guest of  the Social Theory Seminar at the University of Kentucky (2009).   I have been on the Review Boards for both Wenner-Gren and A.C.L.S. and have read many proposals for all major granting agencies dealing with anthropology.  I have held a visiting appointment at the Australian National University (1983-1984), at the École des Hautes Études (during the summer of 2005), and the University of Auckland (during 2006).


And I have taught mightily – and, perhaps, well.


– Deborah Gewertz, January, 2010