UCL Anthropology


Tasting Culture, Writing Rhythm, Dreaming Worlds: Where Anthropology and Literature Meet

16 December 2015, 5:30 pm–7:00 pm

Parallel Worlds

Event Information

Open to



IAS Common Ground room

Special seminar with Prof Alma Gottlieb & Prof Philip Graham, from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Hosted jointly by IAS/the African Studies Research Centre, CMII and the UCL Anthropology

Conducting ethnographic research promises the researcher the gift of new understandings of the world. Such understandings are not only conceptual: they can also be sensory. Reciprocally, new sensory revelations can themselves lead to new conceptual understandings. In this presentation, the speakers examine this theme as it emerged through two linked, co-authored memoirs of their lives with the Beng people of Côte d'Ivoire, Parallel Worlds (1994) and Braided Worlds (2012). Chronicling how they wrote these memoirs (and reading short excerpts from them), they chart the paths that led them to treat another cultural tradition not as an abstract location, but as a vibrant space in which people's means for interpreting and living in the world evolve through sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch, and the elusive art of imagining what another might be thinking. In so doing, the two speakers aim to make a case for how the collaborative process combining the writer's pen and the ethnographer's eye offers new insights, and new tools to narrate those insights.

Braided Worlds

Alma Gottlieb is a cultural anthropologist with interests in religion, children, gender, and diaspora. The author of five books about the Beng of Côte d'Ivoire (including Under the Kapok Tree; The Afterlife Is Where We Come from; and the Beng-English Dictionary with M. Lynne Murphy) she has also co-edited work on gender and family issues (Blood Magic: The Anthropology of Menstruation; A World of Babies), and edited The Restless Anthropologist. Her work has been translated into French, Portuguese, and German. Gottlieb teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has also held appointments at Princeton University, Brown University, École des Hautes Études, Catholic University of Leuven, and elsewhere.

Philip Graham is the author of seven books of fiction and nonfiction, including the story collections, The Art of the Knock and Interior Design, the novel, How to Read an Unwritten Language, and the travel memoir, The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon. Graham's work has appeared in The New Yorker, Washington Post Magazine, North American Review, Paris Review, McSweeney's, and elsewhere, and has been translated into Portuguese, Dutch, and Marathi, and reprinted in Germany and the UK. He teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he is a co-founder, and the current fiction editor, of the literary/arts magazine, Ninth Letter.

Together, Gottlieb and Graham are the co-authors of two memoirs of West Africa, Parallel Worlds (winner of the Victor Turner Award) and Braided Worlds.  They devote all profits from the sale of both books to the Beng Community Fund, the non-governmental organization they co-founded and co-direct, which spearheads locally appropriate development projects to benefit the Beng community.

Contact: Dr Hélène Neveu Kringelbach (h.neveu@ucl.ac.uk)