Publishing deadline turns up the summer heat for anthropology professor

Posted on May 18, 2016 by Jennifer McManamay

Ah, summer. Time to relax, maybe read a book. Or write one. Or two. Sweet Briar professor of anthropology Deborah Durham will be thoroughly immersed in the latter option.

Durham recently signed a contract with Indiana University Press, which will publish her edited volume — for now titled “Elusive Adulthood” — in fall 2017. She co-edited the book, an “anthropology of adulthood” in eight countries around the world, with Jacqueline Solway of Canada’s Trent University.

DDurham-3634-NewsHoriz Professor Deborah Durham is working on two books this summer.

Durham wrote the book’s first chapter, a broad introduction to the concept of adulthood. Solway and seven others authored chapters that “examine what adulthood means to people in specific ethnographic settings around the world,” according to the book’s prospectus. The countries examined are Botswana, Sri Lanka, Uganda, China, Sudan, Papua New Guinea, Japan and Russia.

“I know what I’ll be doing in May and June,” Durham joked, upon hearing from the publisher, noting she’ll be working with the authors on final revisions and revising the first-chapter “statement of the field.”

The book is a response to observations that adulthood — whatever it might mean in a given culture — is increasingly difficult to attain for many young people. And it’s not just a U.S. or Western issue, Durham notes.

“The general idea is to draw attention to complaints around the world that adulthood is elusive, to question what is at stake in those complaints, and to examine how we think about adulthood today, in light of the history of the concept in the West — where our analytical categories often come from — and in other societies around the world.”

This is not Durham’s first foray into the anthropology of adulthood and it’s not her only one. When she’s not editing “Elusive Adulthood” this summer, she’ll be working on chapters for another book, “Bricoleurs of the Future: Youth in a Developmental State.”

“It is about how people in Botswana talk about and recognize youth and maturity — ‘adulthood’ not being a local term,” says Durham, who speaks two of the languages of Botswana, the dominant Setswana and Otjiherero, a minority language.

Durham has been working on the Botswana project for a couple of years. In 2014, she was awarded a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend and a Fulbright Scholar Grant to support her field research in Botswana in the summer and fall of that year.

The work took her back to a place where she’d previously conducted research and reacquainted her with some of the youths she had gotten to know in the 1990s. It was her second NEH Summer Stipend and her third Fulbright.