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Anthropology of Work Review


 Review by: Erika Kuever

The Anthropology of Work Review is the organ of the Society for the Anthropology of Work. The goal of the journal is “to facilitate development of ideas, data, and methods and to encourage debate in the anthropology of work in all its aspects” (AWR website). Although the journal accepts articles, reviews and notes from all the four fields of anthropology, applied anthropology, and other disciplines, it is composed primarily of contributions from socio-cultural anthropology. The journal ceased printing the biographical information of authors in 2002, but for the two years of data reviewed, seventy-five percent of feature authors were socio-cultural anthropologists, and fifteen percent were not academically affiliated. Contributions from a sociologist and political scientist made up the remaining ten percent. The journal also features a range of scholars in various stages of their academic careers. Editor Ann Kingsolver encourages articles authored by students and professional scholars across and outside of the discipline (SAW News). The inclusive nature of the journal may be related to its strong linkages to its sponsoring institution, the Society for the Anthropology of Work. SAW has a broad and international scope, as evidenced by their links with organized labor, and their journal reflects this. In a recent newsletter, Ann Kingsolver emphasized the global scope of the journal’s project, remarking “Just as the Society for the Anthropology of Work is an international organization, the Anthropology of Work Review is very much a transnational journal” (SAW News).

The Anthropology of Work Review, like most of the AAA journals, is published by the University of California Press. Its production, however, is quite spatially dispersed. Acting Editor Ann Kingsolver is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of South Carolina. Book Reviews Editor Carrie Lane Chet is Professor of American Studies at California State University, Fullerton. The AWR Editorial Board is composed of academics from across the United States, and will soon be comprised of scholars from around the world (Ann Kingsolver, personal communication, March 2, 2006). The Society for the Anthropology of Work has its own headquarters with the AAA in Arlington, Virginia. Although this is not exceptional in comparison to most modern journals, it should be distinguished from the production of journals over the last century and a half. Scholarly journals were originally designed to publish and promote the work of scholars tied to a particular institution, and were thus spatially delimited (Carrigan 1990). The last several decades have witnessed improvements in communication technology that have enabled the dispersal of editorial work, publishing, and production of content.

              The past five years of the Anthropology of Work Review have seen three different editors and several guest-editors charged with special editions. Although editorial responsibility is clearly linked to membership in the SAW, it does not appear to have an exclusionary effect on the journal’s content. Particular editors do affect content in certain expected ways. Guest edited issues have focused attention on specific regions (Taiwan and the Americas are two examples) and the influence of June Nash’s tenure as editor may help to explain the high percentage of South America-related contributions focused on Bolivia. This is not to say that academic patronage has a discriminatory effect on the spatial composition of the journal, but to suggest that submissions may emulate established work. The flexibility and geographic dispersion of editorship is more likely to have expanded the orientation of the journal and maintained its interest in publishing material that broadly explores work as purposefully economic activity in all of its many manifestations.

The Anthropology of Work Review is not a hugely influential publication. The journal is published three times a year and distributed to the just under 300 members of the SAW (Ann Kingsolver, personal communication, March 2, 2006). It is also distributed through library and individual subscriptions by the University of California Press, and through AnthroSource, making its readership quite difficult to accurately estimate. Compared to the approximately 13,000 subscriptions to American Anthropologist however, the review does not receive wide distribution. Figures are not available on the Social Sciences Citation Index to measure the impact of the journal and this further indicates its marginality. Nonetheless, the Anthropology of Work Review is widely known to international scholars of work. In the past year, manuscripts have been submitted from Canada, India, Israel, and the United States. These voluntary submissions, along with works solicited through SAW-sponsored panels at the AAA, are reviewed by full professors in anthropology with related fields of specialty. A “blind” review process, in which all identifying information is removed from the manuscript, helps to ensure an unbiased assessment. The acceptance rate for submissions is approximately eighty percent, and most manuscripts require some revision before publication. Acting Editor Ann Kingsolver cites as common reasons for rejection “not being situated in the anthropology of work, not contextualizing the work within a theoretical conversation, or not including methodological information” (personal communication, March 2, 2006). From submission to acceptance the review process currently takes an average of four months and there is no backlog of unreviewed manuscripts. The speed of this process allows the journal to publish timely and relevant work.

              As the theoretical and regional breadth of the editorial and review process of the Anthropology of Work Review clearly places no spatial constraints on its production, it is surprising that the journal itself demonstrates strong regional and disciplinary tendencies. This may be attributable to the role of the journal as the mouthpiece of the relatively small world of scholars in the anthropology of work. Special editions and notes honoring deceased scholars who made great contributions to the anthropology of work but are otherwise not widely known, illustrate this. Also of note is the recurrence of particular authors. Charles Menzies published features in both 2000 and 2002. George Gmelch, whose feature article on the culture of American professional baseball appeared in the winter 2000 edition, had his book on the same topic reviewed in the fall 2000 issue. It is clear from the spatial composition of the journal, however, that the study of work is not a dying field. The Anthropology of Work Review is a rather slender publication, rarely exceeding forty pages in length. Over the last five years, the feature section of the journal has remained relatively constant, while the book reviews section has increased somewhat. A list of books for review takes up the last several pages of the

Table 1: Spatial Composition of Anthropology of Work Review, 2000-2004

Features                          72% (227 pages)

Review Essays               8% (24 pages)

Reviews                           15% (46 pages)

Books for Review            5% (17 pages)


journal, and this section has seen substantial growth, tripling in the last five years. This is partly the result of the 2001 expansion of the review section to include coverage of visual materials, but it also demonstrates that the anthropology of work remains a productive field, though perhaps lacking the sort of institutional or financial support which could strengthen its publication.

In regional coverage, the journal shows some interesting spatial trends (see Table 2). North America and Asia are overwhelmingly well-represented. Many of the articles and reviewed materials are non-, or multi-regional, covering issues of migration and global phenomena. Many regions such as Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific, receive little coverage or none at all. Why does there appear to be more work in cyberspace than in Africa? This spatial

Table 2: Geographic Coverage of Anthropology of Work Review, 2000-2004



Review Essays


North America







non & multi-regional









Central America



South America







treatment of a work-oriented perspective raises important questions about the way in which particular phenomena are attended to in some regions rather than others. It is obviously not the perspective of the SAW or its publication that a category called “work” occurs only in specific contexts. Former SAW president David Hakken makes this point in an article on cyberspace entitled “Resocialing Work? The Future of the Labor Process” in the Spring 2000 issue. Hakken paraphrases Richard Lee’s “articulation of the special responsibility of work anthropology, perhaps as opposed to work sociology,” as the building of “awareness of how work can be done differently” and the obligation “to explore forms of work that transcend or at least are not strictly bound by the parameters of capitalist political economy” (2000: 8). There is obviously no concerted effort by writers and editors in the anthropology of work to define their subject as conceptually bounded within a capitalist production process. What regional coverage may instead illustrate is the role of the journal and the academic apparatus in the reproduction of spatial boundaries around theoretical orientations. It is important to note, however, that this temporally narrow sampling of publications necessarily limits any conclusions. The international and inter-disciplinary orientation of the Anthropology of Work Review is broader than a few years of its publication, and current trends promise the continued spatial expansion of its production and consumption

Sources Cited

 American Anthropological Association

2005  Anthropology of Work Review website. Electronic document,

http://www.aaanet.org/saw/awr/index.htm, accessed February 24, 2006.

American Anthropological Association

2005  Society for the Anthropology of Work website. Electronic document,

http://www.aaanet.org/saw/index.htm, accessed February 24, 2006.

Carrigan, Dennis P

The Political Economy of Scholarly Communication and the American System of Higher Education. The Journal of Academic Librarianship. 15(6): 332-337.

Hakken, David

Resocialing Work? The Future of the Labor Process. Anthropology of Work Review.    20(1): 8-10.

Kingsolver, Ann.

2005  A Message from Ann Kingsolver, the AWR’S Acting Editor, Electronic documents,  http://www.aaanet.org/saw/SAWAPR.doc, accessed February 27, 2006.