Temporal Changes in the Anthropology of Work Review, 1980-2005


By Erika Kuever

Posted May 2006


Anthropology is often disparaged as being driven by theoretical or paradigmatic trends that subtract from the objective truth and clarity of ethnographic work. This can be viewed as the negative result of the incentive structure of funding and of academic hiring, but it can also be seen positively, as a way in which anthropological thought faces continual challenges that eventually enrich the work that is produced. While it is relatively easy to acknowledge the effects of past trends which have since been incorporated into the anthropological canon, it is more difficult to be critical of the theoretical blinders of our own era. By looking back at the theories that informed past anthropological work we may better appreciate and critique current influences on the discipline. With this in mind, this project seeks to understand theoretical changes in anthropology through journal analysis.


Journals surveyed include Current Anthropology, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (formerly Man), Ethnology, American Ethnologist, and the Anthropology of Work Review, the subject of this paper. Our methodology is two-pronged: first, to tease out theoretical influences by tracking bibliographic citations, and second, to track changing trends in geographic foci. Citation analysis for the AWR proceeded through counting individual contributions by unique authors in journal articles. For comparative purposes, journals were surveyed from the start of their publication and in five year intervals. Citations and geographic coverage in the Anthropology of Work Review show very little in the way of theoretical change over the last twenty-five years. This paper will endeavor to understand what this means for the history of anthropology and of the journal.


The Anthropology of Work Review began in 1980 as the newsletter of the Society for the Anthropology of Work (founded 1977). The newsletter published short book reviews and commentaries as well as information about research in progress, publications of interest and other issues pertinent to the anthropology of work. By 1985, the review resembled a more traditional academic journal, though most of the content was still made up of book reviews, ethnographic poetry and calls for manuscripts and conference papers. The articles appearing this year were primarily composed of raw ethnographic data, with little in the way of bibliographic support. Issues from 1985, however, highlighted many trends that continued in the next twenty years of the Review. Of a total of forty-four citations, thirty-eight were unique and only three authors, none of them widely known in them field, were cited more than once. Geographically, North America and Asia were overwhelmingly represented, but scope was not limited to them (see Chart 1). From the very beginning the Anthropology of Work Review has charted its own course. Although contributors incorporate certain broad theoretical trends, the journal is not overwhelmed by theoretical fashions as some more mainstream journals have been. This cannot be entirely explained by the marginal place of the journal within the discipline. Affiliated with the AAA, the most significant institution in American anthropology, the AWR is not unconnected to the mainstream. What the seeming independence of the journal may instead indicate is a vision of anthropological publishing as multi-centric; able to maintain many lines of inquiry, and not limited by the confines of a shared canon.


The Anthropology of Work Review is not immune to trends in anthropology, but those that emerge seem to be internally-driven, and may not match broader directions. Citations from 1990 demonstrate a strong focus on organizational and corporate culture. The top two authors, one of


Table 1. Most cited authors in Anthropology of Work Review, 1990


Name                                                                             Number of citations

1. Joan Anderson                                                              6

2. G. Ames                                                                        5

3. A. Sapienza                                                                   3

3. E.H. Schein, E.H                                                           3

3. June Nash                                                                     3

3. R. Kilmann                                                                     3


whom is a nurse, are cited only in their own articles, a trend which is prominent in the AWR and often the primary source of multiple citations. Three of the four authors who tied for third place in 1990 wrote on organizational and corporate culture. This topic appears to have been very significant within the anthropology of work, but to have peaked around this time, which saw the publication of Kenneth Ehrensahl’s article “Have We Overplayed Organizational Culture?” Such self-reflexivity demonstrates the circumscribed world of the journal, and reflects its origin as a newsletter. Peer criticism and communication within the journal have remained important throughout its history.


June Nash appears in the top five in both 1990 and 1995. Consistently cited throughout the five years reviewed, Nash’s strong presence indicates both the significance of her work on Bolivian tin miners and the influence of her editorship of the journal. It also highlights the strong tradition of Marxist perspectives in the Anthropology of Work Review. While Marx and Engels are rarely cited in the original, they are often smuggled in through works which build upon Marxist theories of class and labor in an ethnographic context. Florence Babb and Laurel Bossen are cited             


Table 2. Most cited authors in Anthropology of Work Review, 1995


Name                                                                         Number of citations

1. Florence Babb                                                        9

2. Jane Collins                                                            9

3. Laurel Bossen                                                        7

4. June Nash                                                               6

5. Comitas, Lambros                                                  5


multiple times both in their own articles and throughout an issue on “multiple livelihoods,” a collection of ethnographic analyses of individuals, households, and communities. Babb, Bossen, and Jane Collins’ all have worked on rural women’s labor. Their influence may reflect the importance of feminist anthropology in this period.


The Anthropology of Work Review is a rather slender publication, featuring between three and six articles per issue. A topically-focused issue can severely skew the data for a year, during which time between two and four journals are published. The citations for 2000 illustrate this. Cohen, Harrell, Wolf, and Hu are all sinologists repeatedly cited in the fall issue on work and


Table 3: Most cited authors in Anthropology of Work Review, 2000  


Name                                                                   Number of citations

1. Linda Marie Small                                               9

2. Charles Menzies                                                  5

3. Myron Cohen                                                       4

4. David Hakken                                                      4

5. Tie between Stevan Harrell, Margery Wolf, E. M. Wood, Tai-Li Hu, and Frances Rothstein


gender in Taiwan. The data for this year shows several other patterns we are by now familiar with. All of the contributions from E.M. Wood are works on Marx. David Hakken, who edited the journal at the time, is cited in several pieces and in his own article. As in previous years, the majority of multiply cited authors, in this case Small, Menzies, and Rothstein, are cited primarily within their own works. Outside of this pattern the majority of authors are unique. In 2000, only eight of a total 272 authors were cited more than twice.


Greg Macleod’s heading of the list for 2005 is somewhat anomalous, but very much in keeping with the spirit of the Review. Contributors to the journal take as their influences not only anthropologists and social science theory, but work from other disciplines as well as independent material. An authority in community economic development, Macleod, along with


Table 4: Most cited authors in Anthropology of Work Review, 2005


Name                                                                   Number of citations

1. Greg Macleod                                                  9

2. Selma Sonntag                                                 5

3. Pierre Bourdieu                                                3

4. Rankin Macsween                                            3

5. multiple authors tied                                         2


Macsween, is cited only in Constance deRoche’s article on “progressive” work relations in Cape Breton. Selma Sonntag’s citations occur in her own work. The notable inclusion of Pierre Bourdieu in the top five demonstrates that the Anthropology of Work Review is hardly isolated from mainstream theoretical trends, but that contributors are merely selective of the tools they incorporate into the study of work. This strong showing in most of the journals surveyed for this period also illustrates the extraordinary influence of practice theory on the discipline. Bourdieu was one of only twelve authors cited more than once during 2005, making almost ninety-five percent of the 231 citations unique.


The Anthropology of Work Review makes no claim to be representative of the discipline, but it does indicate certain trends. Although the journal is circumscribed in its perspective and its publications, major theorists are not ignored. Sahlins, Geertz, Appadurai and others all appear, but they do not appear to be extremely influential. It should also be noted that articles in the AWR are structurally different from many of the standardized publications appearing in more mainstream journals. The Review has a tradition of publishing articles based strongly in first-hand ethnographic work, perhaps as a way of exposing this material to the community of scholars of work. The journal also continues to publish work from writers outside the field and outside of academia. Both of these factors mean that there is both less reliance on bibliographic evidence and less theoretical coherence because of the broad derivation of sources.


The strong emphasis on North America in the anthropology of work has remained consistent in the last twenty years of the Review. The great majority of published articles have focused on work in the United States and Canada (see Chart 1). Many of the non-regional articles have also discussed issues, such as organizational and corporate culture, which pertain largely to North America. The large number of contributions focusing on Asia, while partially the result of a special issue on Taiwan in 2000, has also been consistent. It is not within the scope of this paper to explore why labor has been a topic of analysis primarily in this two regions, but it is notable that no one region has been explicitly excluded. With reference to our broader journal analysis, it is also interesting to note that the only article in this survey on the Pacific/Polynesia


Chart 1: Geographical regions in Anthropology of Work Review, 1985-2005







N. America (20)






Asia (12)






Non or multi-regional (10)






Europe (6)






S. America (3)






C. America (3)






Cyberspace (3)






Africa (1)






Caribbean (1)






Pacific/Polynesia (1)






was a work on New Guinea which appeared in 1995. Again, we see that the AWR is not isolated from the broader discipline. In the 1990’s, scholars and editors in the anthropology of work were as affected as the rest of the discipline by the surge of interest in Polynesia stimulated by the Mead-Freeman controversy.


How can this data enhance our understanding of changes in anthropology over time? Bibliographic citations and geographic foci in the Anthropology of Work Review show very little in common with those of the more mainstream journals surveyed and they fail to engage with expectations of broad theoretical trends within the discipline. Perhaps the most important lesson is that anthropology maintains within itself several subdisciplines which do not necessarily share a common theoretical core. Negatively, this can be viewed as reflecting a discipline with little internal coherence which has been fragmented into numerous specialized subfields unable to communicate with each other. There is doubtless truth to this perspective, but it is more encouraging to see disparities in theoretical influence and change as a strength of a discipline which continues to build upon a body of knowledge based in first-hand ethnographic work, and which continues to incorporate theoretical developments which enrich these understandings.

Richard Wilk's Home Page | Theory Main Webpage




Use this table of contents to navigate to different

sections of the site


Associations & Organizations

Biographies of Anthropologists

Disciplines & Subdisciplines


Theory Through Time


Richard Wilk

Anthropology Department

Indiana University Bloomington

701 E. Kirkwood Ave. SB 242

Bloomington, IN 47405


This site  is generously sponsored by the IU Department of Anthropology and IU Campus Instructional Consulting and was designed by Cierra Olivia Thomas-Williams.