Public Release: 

New anthropological research on gender

Cameroon, Thailand, & Hong Kong

University of Chicago Press Journals

A June special issue of Current Anthropology (CA) presents three compelling studies that address women's lives in the contemporary world, specifically in Cameroon, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Taken as a set, the articles "consider women's lives as wholes, and they note the importance of key transitions in the course of women's lives to shaping the women's access to basic economic resources and social ties," notes CA Editor Ben Orlove. This research provides "a more nuanced account of the efforts of women to construct coherent and positive lives in difficult circumstances."

In "When the Future Decides," Jennifer Johnson-Hanks (University of California--Berkeley) discusses young women in Cameroon and their decision making-processes regarding how many children to have. Contrary to the models provided by demographers, Johnson-Hanks's research reveals that these young women view their life as random and unpredictable. She uses phenomenology and recent African history to explicate their opportunistic view of social action in contrast to the measured analysis of ends and means that demographers apply.

In her research about women who migrate from rural Thailand to Bangkok to work in the sex industry, Lisa Rende Taylor (The Asian Foundation) found that for women and their kin this work is not necessarily stigmatized and that participation in the sex industry is one option that women and their families consider and sometimes select. Using models from human behavioral ecology, Taylor in "Dangerous Trade-Offs," examines the causes such as birth order, education, and family wealth that effect whether women enter the industry.

Sally Merry (Wellesley College) and Rachel Stern (UC Berkeley) analyze the history of a successful 1994 women's movement in Hong Kong. Legally unable to inherit property from their fathers, rural indigenous women demanded that the Legislative Council extend inheritance rights to them. Key to the success of the movement was the public framing of the women's stories as examples of gender discrimination and human rights violations, rather than as private complaints with a traditional kinship system.


Sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Current Anthropology is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics. For more information, please see our website:

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