Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mother Superior Gets Published

. Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ann Dunham, mother of Barack Obama, was a cultural anthropologist who did her dissertation research in Indonesia (which is how young Barack ended up there). Now, 15 years after her death, Ms. Dunham's work is being published in book form for the first time, by Duke University Press.

There's some obvious cynicism about the book in some quarters, but it appears that Ms. Dunham's research may have been some of the first on microfinance. I haven't read the book (and since I'm not an anthropologist I'm not qualified to judge it's value anyway), but it sounds interesting:

The book runs about 300 pages and focuses on a blacksmithing village called Kajar, in the province of Yogyakarta on the island of Java. The work has been whittled down significantly from its original form, which ran more than a thousand pages and investigated the socioeconomics of several village-based handicrafts, including batik, pottery, and the making of puppets used in shadow theater. ...

Ms. Soetoro-Ng has come to see her mother as a pathbreaker as well. "Her work in microfinance was fairly pioneering, although I didn't realize that at the time. Now it has gained immense popularity, and there are a lot of people who see microfinance as an important facet of sustainable development." Dunham wanted to see that approach used widely, but she died before she had a chance to try. "That was her goal, to reach every corner of Indonesia, but also beyond," her daughter said. "I don't think you often found that coming from anthropologists, that kind of large-scale ambition coming from these programs. I think she was remarkable that way."

It may be somewhat ironic that the book is being published at a time when researchers are calling the effectiveness of microfinance into question, but even still the project is interesting. How it is received by the academic community remains to be seen.


Mother Superior Gets Published




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