Dolores Martinez

Dr Dolores (Lola) Martinez is a professor emeritus of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS University. During her extensive academic career she has focused on Japanese culture, including specific themes such as the diving women (ama) and fishermen of Mie Prefecture, the growth of local tourism, religion, gender, and mass media and film. She currently holds the position of Reviews Editor for the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Dr Dolores Martinez sitting at her desk in the small office in the basement of the RAI

Amy Tapsfield: So, here with Dr Lola Martinez, and in your office; where are we?

Dolores Martinez: In the basement at the Royal Anthropological Institute, and this is the office for the reviews. So we get books in for review and I have to find reviewers, and then I have to edit them, but that doesn’t happen at this office.

(We both chuckle as we look around at the cramped space, so filled with books that there isn’t room for much else.)

AT: So this isn’t really your bookshelf we’re looking at.

DM: No, my bookshelf is at home – my several bookshelves are at home! At home I have… three walls of books, in different rooms, so (laughter). My husband is also an anthropologist, explaining the many walls of books.

AT: Well this should be an interesting take on the bookshelves conversation. So, have you changed your bookshelf for this interview?

DM: I did try and make sure that I had cleared one section, so that you could see how hard I have to work when I am here! (We both laugh as LM motions to the empty shelf and multiple stacks of books which tower next to it.) So I guess the answer would be yes!

AT: So shifted the books from that shelf and onto the piles?

DM: Onto the piles of, these are potential reviewers, and then my assistant emails them to see if they’re interested. So I have to do a pretty intensive internet search of what people have written, and whether it would relate to the book that I’m looking at. And then I have to make sure they’re not on the back cover saying, “this is a great book”! (We both laugh.) Or in the acknowledgements saying, “My best friend, who helped me with this…” you know, and if all of that pans out, then we ask them. Sometimes it can take fourteen tries and sometimes it takes one.

AT: So how do you organize your books?

DM: Well at home, I’ve got my one wall bookcase of Japan and film related stuff, and then there’s a general social anthropology and sociology wall, which is just around the corner from a wall of things like biographies and reference books. And then fiction is on a separate shelf.

AT: Are they in different rooms? Is there one in the study, or…?

DM: Well there are two studies, and then sitting room is all the fiction. Because I used to commute so I would read fiction on the way home, so I wouldn’t murder my children when I got home. (Big laugh.) Decompressing after a day.

AT: Where do your books come from?

DM: From all sorts of places; some are still books I had as an undergraduate. So sometimes when I’m writing something, or editing something, I can turn around to the general anthropology shelf, pull out a book I’ve had since the 1970s, and find that I underlined exactly the phrase I’m thinking of. Others are, because I’m a Japan specialist I’ve either bought, or I’ve been asked to review, and so I own them, or people have sent them to me. Some of them are from my students, for example when they’ve got their PhDs published and they write the book, they send me a copy. Some we’ve inherited; my husband’s father was also an anthropologist, so we’ve got a backlog of old anthropology. If something is interesting, we buy it.

AT: So how do they leave? Do they ever leave?

DM: Not so far. No (laughter). The fiction I do try and weed out; the criteria being, would I read this again? But otherwise no.

AT: Do you ever lend?

DM: Well, I try not to lend my anthropology books because there’s a history of their not coming back. So, one student still owes me the book on the film course I taught on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and she has never returned it! Fiction: if it’s a piece of fiction that I really love no, but otherwise I give away fiction.

AT: And obviously we know where the books in this office come from and go to; these are all transitory?

DM: These are all transitory because publishers send them to us. And then we send them to other people to review and they get to keep them.

AT: Ok, first anthropology book?

DM: I was thinking about this, I thought you might ask about it, and it’s a kind of dead-heat between the sorts of things people were reading in the early 1970s, so I really don’t remember if it was The Coming of Age in Samoa or The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda, the first one by Margaret Mead, or whether it was La Vida by the anthropologist Oscar Lewis, because those were books that in the late 60s, early 70s were sold as non-fiction but to general audiences, and my mother liked reading ethnography anyway; she wasn’t an anthropologist. But a lot of Americans of my generation will say the first anthropology they read would’ve been among those three books. I can’t remember which is first – I suspect it may’ve been Margaret Mead.

AT: Was it one of those, or was it a different book that first inspired you to become an anthropologist?

DM: I know there has been a lot of controversy around The Coming of Age in Samoa, although Derek Freeman’s book critiquing it has then been critiqued by someone named Paul Shankman, so in my mind it’s been rehabilitated as it were! I think it was just generally the idea of how she was talking to people and people were talking to her. I think that, in terms of the critiques that have been made by Derek Freeman as well is interesting because he worked 50 years later, 50miles away, and he kind of thought that what he encountered two generations later in a group of Samoan women who were converts to Christianity, would be the same as what Margaret Mead had encountered in the 1920s, and for me it’s an interesting lesson in how anthropologists need to think more about history, which is something I’ve always done; as an undergraduate I combined anthropology and history as my degree. Anyway, so I think it may’ve been Margaret Mead, but it certainly would have been when I went onto university and did sociology the first year – American universities make you do general courses – and I read Nakane Chie and the idea that it would be another woman, indigenous anthropologist as well, on her Japanese society, which is problematic in all sorts of ways, but it really grabbed me, for the reasons that you could write about your own society, and write a book that seemed to reveal something interesting. And again it was another woman, which was a real contrast because none of my teachers at Chicago, where I was an undergraduate, were women. In anthropology – I had women teachers in other subjects. Just as I was leaving Nancy Munn arrived, and the Comaroff’s arrived, but up to that point they were all white men, and I thought ‘hmmm…’. So Nakane Chie was inspirational in that way. I only ever met her once – I tried to tell her this, but she was too grand for me.

AT: Controversial question: what’s your least favourite book, and why?

DM: That’s an interesting… what have I read in anthropology that I’ve just kind of said ‘no way’…? Oh, I can’t think of anything! Oh I know – Marketing The Menacing Foetus, by one of my favourite authors who works on Japan, but that one just, it didn’t do it for me; I wrote a very harsh review I must say. If you know Japan you know that there’s been a growing cult in having images of children that have either been miscarried or aborted. And, it’s by Helen Hardacre, who’s work I respect tremendously! But she tried to argue in that book that it was a kind of made-up media thing. And it just, in my experience of Japan, and knowing Japanese women, it seemed to me to be undermining women’s real grief by saying ‘oh, the media made it up, and look everybody’s jumped on the bandwagon’. So I thought she, for once in what is a great body of work by Helen Hardacre, I just thought that one was, no.

AT: So you’ve probably had multiple occasions of fieldwork in your long career; did you have any books with you in the field?

DM: Well when you work on Japan you always have several dictionaries! (We both laugh) And then it was wonderful in the last batch of fieldwork I just had the little electronic dictionary, and suddenly I didn’t need my huge Kenkyusha anymore! No, I didn’t take any ethnography to the field with me, but, because I was working on a topic that the Japanese had written about more than Westerners, that is fishermen and diving women, I did photocopy, at a time when Japanese universities gave you a limitless photocopying budget, various books in Japanese about ama, that is diving women. The most important being a book by a woman named Kyoko Segawa, just called Ama; she’d gone around to all these villages in Japan and interviewed women, and there was even a section on the village, where I was doing fieldwork, in the 1930s. But I read fiction, just so that I wouldn’t go crazy; I would buy very thick things, in Spanish or French so it would take me longer to read.

AT: So, this probably isn’t a question for this particular bookshelf that we’re in front of now, but where are the books that you have written, on your shelf?

DM: (Laughs) They’re just filed in with the Japan books, in alphabetical order, by author. Except the copies I’ve given to my husband and he’s filed haphazardly on another shelf. So they may appear twice in our household.

AT: We’ve already talked about this a little bit but non-anthropology books: what are some particular favourites?

DM: Well I’ve been recommending one recently that’s from 1986, it’s called Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature, by Deleuze and Guattari, it’s 89 pages and it’s where Latour picked up his idea for assembling and disassembling. But they use it in a way that I think is much more interesting, which is they’re looking at Kafka as a Jewish writer having to write in German when he’s more comfortable in Yiddish, and having to work as a clerk when he wants to be a writer, so very marginalised. And their argument is he takes the novel, which has become a genre that’s easy to assemble; disassembles it, deterialises it and reassembles it in a new creative, almost political and prophetic way. And, I think that’s what’s missing from Latour’s idea of assemblage; that, for him, assemblage is this kind of very automisation of processes in human societies, and he doesn’t allow for that space of creativity. And so I just think it’s a great book and I keep recommending it to people. I say, ‘it’s only 89 pages, it’s not as hard to read as other things by Deleuze and Guattari!’. And, I think it’s just brilliant, and my penultimate book which is called Assembling Japan, owes a great deal to have reading of it. Rather than to Latour (laughs). And the other one is a book by an American theologian who died very young, named Nancy Jay called Throughout Your Generations Forever, and she looks at the idea of blood sacrifice and patriarchy, and how those things work together within religion. Her argument being that if you can’t have children you make your children through blood sacrifice if you’re a man, so you make this strong, patriarchal relationship. And it’s interesting because it got picked up by a sociologist who wrote a book called Blood Sacrifice and The American Flag I think it is, and they argue that wars function in this way, to create the nation state. So people say, ‘well of course we love our country, my grandfather fought for it, my uncle died for it’, whatever, and that notion that people have spilt their blood to defend the country is what makes nationalism so powerful, particularly in the American context. And so, those are books I do often recommend to people that are not written by anthropologists at all.

AT: Very interesting. So, most underrated book?

DM: Well one I was always recommending to my students, maybe two I will say. One, to my students who worked on Japan, is David Plath’s Long Engagements, which he wrote in 1980, and he interviewed many people, then he selected four of those interviews at length, talking about their lives from the point of view of being 40, and middle-aged, and Japanese: two men, two women. You know, what they’d given up to be a father or a businessman, what dreams they had – how they saw themselves as mature human beings. And I always like to recommend it to students because it’s about being a good interviewer, that he listened and got these wonderful narratives out of people, but it’s also about how the person changes over time. Which we have to allow the Japanese to do (laughter) as they grow and change their ideas. I’ve always thought people haven’t paid enough attention to in Japanese studies. And the other one is generally for students thinking about phenomenology and experience and religion, which is Godfrey Lienhardt’s Divinity and Experience, which I think is one of the most beautiful anthropology books ever written, really. It’s very slender, and he really appears to have understood the way the African people he worked with experienced the divine. Either that or he wrote a wonderful fiction!

AT: How do you deal with your books? Do you ever write in them? put post-its? do you fold the corners?

DM: No, never fold the corners! My husband does – I hate it! (laughter) I used to underline things, yes, when I was an undergraduate, I put post-its in, and then, when I’d written whatever I’m going to write, I very carefully take them out. I will put notes on the post-its, like ‘IMPORTANT’.

AT: So, what non-book things are on your bookshelves?

DM: All sorts of things! Postcards that people send, little things the children have given me, and that they’re grown up and they’re embarrassed that I still keep. Photographs, you know, all sorts of different things.

AT: I suppose last question to close it out with: what of you is reflected in your bookshelf?

DM: Well I think if you look at my fiction bookshelf, and see how much science fiction I have there you begin to understand my long-term interest in mass media, particularly film and visual mass media. So that, in a way the bigger connect between my continuing interest in what I’m trying to write about in anthropology, you find a better understanding of that if you look at my fiction bookshelf.

AT: Look to your fiction section, for the personal comment.

DM: Yes, to explain why I went off the rails in the 1990s and started writing about film when we weren’t supposed to be interested in these things as anthropologists.

AT: Well, any other comment that you’d like to make? Do you think that your bookshelf is synonymous with anthropologists bookshelves in general, or do you think you do it differently?

DM: Well I try to be more organised than other anthropologists I know (laughter). What is unique about mine? Well, that I have to share it with another anthropologist, so the general one gets very messed up, in ways that I don’t like, I like to put my books in alphabetical order by subject, so sociology together and general anthropology together, and my husband keeps moving them.

AT: Are there any particular books that you’re never quite sure which section you want to put them in?

DM: No, but then I used to work as a librarian. (laughs) It was the way I paid for graduate school, I was trained as a cataloguer at the University of Chicago library, so I probably am unusual in that!

AT: Do you have any closing comments?

DM: No, well, it’s always fun to think about books, I made lists for myself in trying to anticipate what questions you might ask, and that was lots of fun.

AT: Well thank you very much.

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