I first met Gerald Sider in person at a UofT symposium (delightfully held in the then headquarters of the Communist Party of Canada) in the late 1980s. But I first read his amazing book about Newfoundland (Anthropology and History, Culture and Class: A Newfoundland Illustration) while an undergraduate at Simon Fraser University some years before that. The combined experience led me to head south to New York to study with Gerald at the City University of New York where I completed my doctorate.
The following overview of Gerald’s work comes from a piece I wrote for the Rutledge biographical dictionary of Anthropologists.
Gerald Sider focuses on the critique, elaboration, and explication of key concepts such as culture and class and their implications for peoples’ everyday life struggles. Linking field research with political activism and theorizing, Sider challenges anthropologists to conceptualize their commitments to those studied in ways that engenders a creative antagonism between those who ‘just want to get on with it’ and solve the world’s problems and others who remain locked in the ethereal worlds of text, theory, and reflection. Sider is able to span both domains and sidestep a binary either/or thereby creating a new way forward for anthropology.
Sider’s work is notable for the way he picks up a concept, elaborates upon it via close ethnographic description, and ultimately stretches it beyond its normal configuration. Whether he is critiquing the notion of resistance, the everyday, or exploring the implications of hegemony for fisherfolk in Newfoundland, his underlying concern revolves around issues of power within a capitalist social formation.
In Becoming History, for example, the concept of hegemony is a central link between production and of culture and appropriation of labour. Here hegemony is taken up and twisted in a way that reveals the ways in which a people actively participate in their own oppression while simultaneously creating a space of resistance. In doing this Sider avoids the pitfalls of a mechanical materialism. He carefully explicates the interconnections between the production of culture, the making of class, and the historical movements of appropriation that have resulted in the Newfoundland we know today.
Living Indian Histories artfully combines the sensibilities of experimental post-modernism –locating the researcher within the narrative flow—without undermining the impact of his political economic historical anthropology. Underlying his writing is a concern with making anthropology relevant, not for those in places of power, but relevant in ways that can contribute to a better world for all (exemplified by his co-editorship, with K. Dombrowski, of Nebraska Press’ Fourth World Rising series). Ultimately, Sider’s work is premised upon an optimism of the will which takes issue with the nihilism of late 20th century anthropology.
Living Indian Histories: The Lumbee and Tuscarora People in North Carolina (Second, revised edition of Lumbee Indian Histories: Race, Ethnicity and Indian Identity in the Southern United States. New York: Cambridge University Press 1993) University of North Carolina Press. 2003
Becoming History, Becoming Tomorrow: Making and breaking everyday life in rural Newfoundland. (Second, revised edition of Culture and Class in Anthropology and History New York: Cambridge 1986). Peterborough, Ont. Broadview Press Encore Editions. 2003.
edited with Gavin Smith. Between History and Histories: The production of silences and commemorations. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1997.
“Cleansing History: Lawrence, Massachusetts, the strike for four loaves of bread and no roses, and the anthropology of working class consciousness” Radical History Review 65, March 1996. (with responses by David Montgomery, Paul Buhle, Christine Stansell, Ardis Cameron, and reply).
Skin for Skin: Death and Life for Inuit and Innu. Duke University Press. 2014.
Race Becomes Tomorrow: North Carolina and the Shadow of Civil Rights. Duke University Press. 2015.