In this episode, I talk with Dr. Leah Zani, a public anthropologist and poet based in California, about her truly wonderful book Bomb Children: Life in the Former Battlefields of Laos
(Duke University Press, 2019).
Her research takes place half a century after the CIA’s Secret War in Laos – the largest bombing campaign in history, which rendered Laos the most-bombed country in the world. Dr. Zani examines the long-term effects of air warfare by looking at how the explosive remnants of war build themselves into people’s everyday lives, and how people embody the extreme uncertainty of a peace haunted by war.
The book is striking in a thousand ways, but perhaps what stands out its being composed as ethnography interspersed with “fieldpoems”. Foregrounding the blurry line between war and peace, Bomb Children
is a patient and careful ethnography that looks at how people build lives in worlds that continue to explode.
In today’s conversation, I ask Dr. Zani about how to write ethnography about not-knowing, the unique analytic of parallelism she developed for her research, the recursive relationship between method and theory in anthropology, and what poetry can offer ethnographic analysis.
Dr. Zani received her PhD from University of California, Irvine in 2017 and is the poetry editor (!) at Anthropology and Humanism
. She can be found online here https://www.leahzani.com/
and on Twitter @leah_zani.
Lachlan Summers is a PhD candidate in cultural anthropology at UC Santa Cruz. He is based in Mexico City and he researches the city’s repeating earthquakes. He is a contributing editor at Cultural Anthropology, a member of the Emergent Futures CoLab (https://www.urgentemergent.org/), and can be found on Twitter @backup_sandwich. He and his friends were permanently fired from teaching at UC Santa Cruz for participating in the wildcat strike of 2019-2020, but he hopes we can all get our jobs back soon.