Ruth Behar and The Vulnerable Observer: After Twenty Years, What Next?

MacArthur Award winning writer and cultural anthropologist Ruth Behar will give a public talk The Vulnerable Observer: After Twenty Years, What Next? at the Center for Documentary Studies on April 8th at 7PM.

Wednesday April 8, 7:00 p.m.
Center for Documentary Studies
1317 West Pettigrew Street, Durham
Free and open to the Public
Reception and Book Signing to follow on CDS Porch

Twenty years ago, Behar’s book The Vulnerable Observer offered a new theory and practice for humanistic anthropology, blurred the lines between insider and outsider in social science research, and deeply impacted the work of documentary writers, photographers and filmmakers.  In a series of luminous essays, Behar discarded the notion of the detached participant-observer to champion ‘the vulnerable observer.’ Behar evoked a new ethnographic fieldworker who spells out his or her own emotional involvement in the story they are telling; who reflects on the observer as well as the observed. At Duke, Behar will look back at her seminal work in light of an altered academic landscape and enormous shifts in media and storytelling since her book was first published.

Ruth Behar was born in Havana, Cuba, and grew up in New York. She is the Victor Haim Perera Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. Her honors include a MacArthur “Genius” Award and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. A writer, a cultural anthropologist, and a modern nomad, she has lived and worked in Spain, Mexico, and Cuba. She is known for her humanistic approach to understanding identity, immigration, and the search for home in our global era. Reviewers say her writings “tug at the heart” and reveal an artistry that allows her “to capture and share intimate stories while preserving their tellers’ dignity.”

Behar’s books include The Presence of the Past in a Spanish VillageTranslated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story, New York Times Notable Book of the Year; The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your HeartAn Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba; and Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys. She is co-editor of Women Writing Culture, editor of Bridges to Cuba/Puentes a Cuba, and co-editor of The Portable Island: Cubans at Home in the World. Her personal documentary, Adio Kerida/Goodbye Dear Love: A Cuban Sephardic Journey, distributed by Women Make Movies, has been shown in festivals around the world.


Behar’s visit to Duke will also include a lunch conversation with Ruth Behar sponsored by the Franklin Humanities Institute and the Center for
Documentary Studies
on April 7 at noon at the Franklin Humanities Institute. For more information contact Christina Chia at

Co-sponsors for this event at Duke include: the Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts Program, the Center for Documentary Studies, the Franklin Humanities Institute, and the Dean of the Social Sciences, Arts & Sciences

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