The Genealogical Imagination

Two Studies of Life over Time

The Genealogical Imagination

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 4 illustrations Published: May 2021

Author: Michael Jackson

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Literature and Literary Studies > Creative Nonfiction

In The Genealogical Imagination Michael Jackson juxtaposes ethnographic and imaginative writing to explore intergenerational trauma and temporality. Drawing on over fifty years of fieldwork, Jackson recounts the 150-year history of a Sierra Leone family through its periods of prosperity and powerlessness, war and peace, jihad and migration. Jackson also offers a fictionalized narrative loosely based on his family history and fieldwork in Northeast Australia that traces how the trauma of wartime in one generation can reverberate into the next. In both stories Jackson reflects on different modes of being-in-time, demonstrating how genealogical time flows in stops and starts—linear at times, discontinuous at others—as current generations reckon with their relationships to their ancestors. Genealogy, Jackson demonstrates, becomes a powerful model for understanding our experience of being in the world, as nobody can escape kinship and the gravitational pull of the past. Unconventional and evocative, The Genealogical Imagination offers a nuanced account of how lives are lived while pushing the bounds of the forms that scholarship can take.


“Michael Jackson has long been a source of inspiration for those of us interested in pushing the boundaries of anthropological writing, providing us with regular and often much needed reminders of the high ethical stakes of such writerly experimentation. The Genealogical Imagination will be of immense interest to anthropologists, literary scholars, students and teachers of creative writing, and anyone interested in the expressive possibilities of writing as a means of exploring the ways in which humans exist in time.” — Stuart McLean, author of Fictionalizing Anthropology: Encounters and Fabulations at the Edges of the Human

“I already have the sense that The Genealogical Imagination will not leave me alone in the years to come—that I will be haunted by it and worked upon by it in the way I am worked over by the stories of my own forbears. The Genealogical Imagination is an anthropological tour de force. It will inhabit the imagination of generations of anthropologists to come.” — Lisa Stevenson, author of Life Beside Itself: Imagining Care in the Canadian Arctic


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Michael Jackson is Distinguished Professor of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University, and the author of numerous books, including Critique of Identity Thinking and The Varieties of Temporal Experience: Travels in Philosophical, Historical, and Ethnographic Time.

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Table of Contents Forthcoming
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1407-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1193-4