Many contemporary readers—especially if they limit their attention to the ethnographic chapters—will find The Thrice Shy outdated, the style dull and stilted, the purpose somewhat elusive. As a result, one must remain alert to detect references either to blindness or onchocerciasis, save for fleeting descriptions of a blind informant, the precariousness of local terrain, the words of a child who describes assisting a blind adult, or passing comments on how blindness affects economic survival.
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To judge the book on these characteristics alone, however, is to miss what makes this a forgotten gem. More importantly, this is a ground-breaking work because Gwaltney embedded physical disability within a larger study of socioeconomic inequality, an approach that enabled him to wrestle with his own subjectivity. Gwaltney was blind almost from birth, and in every chapter one can detect his efforts to balance his determination to write a village study, focus on a set of interrelated social, economic, and health problems, while also reflecting on his own daily challenges of navigating local terrain.
Among my favorite sections of the book are those moments when Gwaltney places himself in the text, a radical move for this time period, certainly.
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Gwaltney, in contrast, began with things audible, and he describes how mapping the community through sound was for him a key component of participant-observation. In turn, we learn of his own need to adapt as he quickly realizes the uselessness of the walking sticks he has brought with him from the States and, in turn, of the dangers of going virtually anywhere—blind or not—in or outside a settlement where one encounters steep pathways and uneven ground at every turn. In these ways, he begins to embody the experiences of local inhabitants infected with onchocerciasis. Especially important is his discovery of how invaluable children are to assisting the blind, how much these same children enjoy such tasks, and how important they are as key informants for his research, and as assistants in daily life.
The Thrice Shy , then, is best understood as an unusual and provocative work for its time, perhaps even as an early experimental ethnography that anticipates both disability studies and the self-reflexive turn by several decades. Indeed, his committee seems to have recognized its ground-breaking effect: the study was awarded the Ansley Dissertation Award at Columbia, and after he completed his PhD, Gwaltney went on to lead an illustrious career as an anthropologist keenly sensitive to issues of social oppression.
The Thrice Shy was for me a remarkable find in the s. Assuming my memory is reliable, I recall how impossible it was to locate a copy from booksellers so that I could have one of my own, and so I continued to check it out of the Lowie Library long after my paper was due so I could hold onto it a bit longer. In closing, I thank you, Ivonne, for relinquishing your copy. And I thank Fred Dunn for encouraging me to write that paper. Cole in American Anthropologist , September , Lesley A. As a medical anthropologist by training, Professor Sharp is most concerned with critical analyses of the symbolics of the human body, where her research sites range from cosmopolitan medical centers within the United States to urban centers in sub-Saharan Africa.
Her current research focuses on scientists engaged in generating new, non-human sources of transplantable organs, including mechanical heart devices and xenotransplantation where animals, and more particularly swine, define potential sources of usable parts.
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This project is most concerned with how scientists imagine the promises and moral consequences of their work. This series is curated by Janelle S. If so, please let me know where to send them. To Mrs. Students are being introduced to Dr.
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