Gerald Sider

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.

Key Publications

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).

Recent Books

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.


A project on anthropology profiles

I have started a new project creating anthropology profiles.  What I have done is invite a range of anthropologists that I know to share one to three journal articles or book chapters that they have written.   The criteria that I have used is that these should be  pieces that the author feels either shows the nature and scope of their work particularly well or that they focuses on some aspect of the anthropologist’s work that they would like others to pay attention to.

I offered up two things in return for the cooperation of my colleagues and friends:  (1) I will read each piece that is shared with me and provide summaries posted on this blog, and (2) I shall start the ball rolling with some suggestions of my own.

I have selected two articles that speak to the nature of my current work over the last few years and something rather old that reflects a longstanding interest of mine but which I haven’t spent much time on of late.

Current work:
(1) Putting Words into Action: Negotiating Collaborative Research in Gitxaała.  Canadian Journal of Native Education. Volume 28, 2004, Numbers 1/2.  PDF link.

This is an article published in an excellent, but relatively obscure, Canadian journal who’s primary focus is aboriginal education issues.  My paper speaks to the matter of building respectful research relations and draws from my work on the north coast of BC.  There are also two videos that we have produced that connect well with this piece.

(2)  Dm sibilhaa’nm da laxyuubm gitxaała: Picking abalone in gitxaała territory.  Human Organization. 69(3) 2010.   PDF link.

This piece emerges out of my longstanding research on the north coast with Gitxaała Nation.  The origins of the article was an expert opinion written for a court case.  The published article was rewritten to fit a journal format.  The central point of the article is that the harvest of abalone was sustainable up until the point that relatively unrestrained dive fisheries began.  The impact on indigenous communities has been heavy as many elders speak to the absence of abalone in much the same way that one speaks with sorrow of those who have passed away.

Something old and ‘fun.’
“BETWEEN THE STATEROOM AND THE FOC’S’CLE: Everyday Forms of Class Struggle Aboard a Commercial Fishboat,”NEXUS: Vol. 8:1. PDF link.

This was written while a grad student -and- it shows it 😉  I share it as it talks about issues and themes that remain close to the heart if not actively written about today.