Reviewed by: Cheryl LaGuardia, Research Librarian, Widener Library, Harvard University
The Facebook page for the student-run journal The Unfamiliar states: “We are committed to publishing work that transcends common-sense understandings, and that promotes broader cross-cultural sensitivity and respect. The Unfamiliar aims to reflect upon wider issues through not only anthropological analysis, but via a number of creative interdisciplinary methods. We believe that anthropology should no longer be read and appreciated solely by anthropologists, but benefit broader audiences as well. The journal hopes to achieve this through informative and entertaining contributions broadening the horizons of anthropology and other fields of study, thus rendering the familiar Unfamiliar.”
The site currently offers three issues: Volume 2, numbers 1 and 2, and Volume 3, number 1 (where Volume 1 is this reviewer could not discover), and the journal is published twice a year.
An examination of the first available issue online, Volume 2, Number 1, 2012, found the article, “The Island of Crossed Destinies: Human and Other-Than-Human Perspectives in Afro-Cuban Divination,” which begins:
“This thesis focuses on the significance and articulation of divinatory practices in Cuba - a place where a number of different religious traditions (mainly of African and European origins) have come to coexist. Reflecting on the particularities of my ethnography, I concentrate on three such traditions: Ocha/Ifá, Palo Monte and Espiritismo. However, rather than engaging with them as different ‘traditions’ or assuming their syncretic character, I attempt to explore the way in which they constitute distinct but related perspectives on human destiny or, as my friends and informants put it, on people’s ‘path’ (camino). I try to illustrate the nature of these perspectives by bringing to the fore the ways in which different divinatory practices instantiate and embody the efficacy or ‘point of view’ of different ‘other-than-human’ beings – be they deities or the dead. Treating these relations as an exchange of perspectives between ‘humans’ and ‘other-than-human’ entities, I argue for the need to focus on ‘ontology’ and the indigenous understanding of these entities’ ‘nature’ in order to avoid both ‘reductionist’ and ‘constructivist’ renderings of divination; in other words, to avoid the theoretical limits of ‘syncretic’ or ‘purist’ readings of the (Afro-)Cuban spirit world and its efficacy.”
Interesting, certainly, to scholars of anthropology, but this reviewer is not sure such academic writing will forward the stated aim of the journal, or that it will be read and appreciated by broader audiences than anthropologists. That article appears in the section Experiences of Fieldwork, so one expects it to be scholarly. But other articles, such as “The Condition of Crisis and the Symptoms of Social Change: Five Flights of Thought on the Post of the Greek Post-Polity Era,” and “Accessing Knowledge in a Discontinuous World: a Brief Comment from Southern Chile” seem just as unlikely to draw the non-scholarly, non-anthropologist reader in. There is at least one embedded video, a number of photographs, and at least one poem to be found in the issues examined here, but the presentation of all material is in a very scholarly, and mostly anthropological, voice.
Librarians may want to make the journal known to graduate students in anthropology and cultural studies at their institutions.