An anthropologist as the President’s mother

The New York Times has an interesting piece about the work of anthropologist Ann Dunham Soetoro, most famous for being the mother of President Barack Obama.

The article is by Yale anthropologist Michael Dove who knew and worked with Obama’s mother before she died in 1995.

Dr. Soetoro‚Äôs most sustained academic effort was her 1,043-page dissertation, ‚ÄúPeasant Blacksmithing in Indonesia: Surviving Against All Odds,‚Äù completed in 1992 and based on 14 years of research. This was a classic, in-depth, on-the-ground anthropological study of a 1,200-year-old industry. Her principal field site was a cluster of hamlets, containing several hundred households, on an arid limestone plateau on Java‚Äôs south coast. There, village metalworkers produced dozens of different iron blades and tools for use in farming, carpentry and daily life…

There is a final lesson from her work that is worth remembering: No nation — even if it is our bitterest enemy — is incomprehensible. Anthropology shows that people who seem very different from us behave according to systems of logic, and that these systems can be grasped if we approach them with the sort of patience and respect that Dr. Soetoro practiced in her work.

Link to NYT piece ‘Dreams From His Mother’.

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