Book Review Dancing Skeletons Essay

731 Words Oct 1st, 2012 3 Pages
ANTH 100: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology Instructor: Dr. Anne J. Goldberg Student: Florencia Aguirre September 19th, 2012

Katherine A. Dettwyler - Dancing Skeletons: Life and death in West Africa (1994) Review

In 1995, Dancing Skeletons was given the Margaret Mead Award by the American Anthropological Association. It is presented to anthropologists whose work was able to interpret “anthropological data and principles in ways that make them meaningful and accessible to a broadly concerned public”[1], which I consider to be exactly what the book does. Concerned about the relation between nutrition education and child care, the physical anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler travels to Mali for the second time to
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While reading this book, I was oscillating between two contradictory thoughts. On one hand, I was astonished by the fact that we, western people, are proud of all the “progress” we have achieved whereas there are still people in the world that die because of malnutrition. On the other hand, I wondered whether intervention in those people’s life should be carried out. Dettwyler talks about the moral implications while conducting fieldwork, but she assumes that something should be done to improve Malian’s situation. But behind the idea of improving something, there is a set of values that indicate what is desirable and what is not. As Arturo Escobar argues, development discourse points out the Third World problems instead of letting Third World societies define its interests on their own basis[3]. This is what I consider Dettwyler does. So, basically, my dilemma was between placing myself within an ethnocentric perspective or strictly adhering to cultural relativism. Even though critical cultural relativism would tell me that I can not deny the simple fact that kids are dying, I keep wondering about all the different social and cultural changes that any type of outside intervention would produce on Malian’s society. By 2011, Mali’s total fertility rate was 6.35 children born per women. If intervention successfully takes place and child malnutrition is reduced (resulting, therefore, on the decrease of infant mortality) Mali’s population

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