John Wood, Ph.D.

Professor of Anthropology

Contact Information

  • 251-6977
  • 217 Zageir Hall

Office Hours

  • Monday 10:45 am - 11:45 pm
  • Wednesday 10:45 am - 11:45 pm
  • Note: And by appointment.

I snuck into anthropology late. When I finished college, I got a job as a newspaper reporter and spent the next ten years writing stories about crime, politics, public policy, science, poverty, the environment, and even a few circuses. Along the way, my wife, Carol, a social worker, and I took off work in the mid 1980s and volunteered as teachers at a rural school in East Africa. We lived in a Luhya village near Mt. Elgon on the Kenya-Uganda border. We learned to carry water in buckets on our heads. We learned to plow fields with oxen. We learned how elders made decisions by consensus. We learned so much more than we ever taught. When I resumed newspaper work, I found myself wanting to return to Africa. So I quit my job and went back to school to become a cultural anthropologist. I still think of myself as a reporter, still want to gather stories about other people’s lives. Anthropology requires something called “field work.” I did mine with Gabra, who are camel-herding nomads in the arid borderlands of Northeast Africa. The photograph below shows bridewealth camels at a Gabra wedding. I’m one of the very few folks in Asheville who has owned, trained, and worked with camels. My work with Gabra began in 1991 and has continued over the years with grants and fellowships from Emory University, the Wenner-Grenn Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. More recently I have begun to study culture in my own backyard: Asheville, North Carolina. In this research I am exploring how senses of place shape and organize the way people understand themselves and others. This work is likely to take me back to Africa. I want to compare the ways people in South Africa and the southern United States use space and place to think and talk about race.


  • B.A., Warren Wilson College
  • Ph.D., Anthropology, Emory University
  • Post doctoral fellowship, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

Courses Taught

  • Death and Dying
  • Zen Anthropology
  • Cultures of Africa
  • Nomadism
  • Fieldwork Methods
  • Anthropology of Place
  • Men and Masculinities

Teaching and Research Interests

Symbolic anthropology, intersections of place, space, and identity, race and racism, nomadism and sedentism, Africa, Appalachia, urban anthropology

Recent Publications

  • The Names of Things, Ashland, Oregon: Ashland Creek Press, 2012
  • “Life damages you,” Journal of Anthropology and Humanism 36 (2), 2011
  • “Field relations, field betrayals,” in Being There: Learning to Live Cross-Culturally, Melvin Konner and Sarah Davis, eds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011
  • “Cold Patience,” Journal of Anthropology and Humanism 35 (1), 2010
  • “Roads to nowhere: nomadic understandings of place, space, and ethnicity,” in Changing Identifications and Alliances in Northeast Africa, Gunther Schlee and Elizabeth Watson, eds. London: Berghahn, 2009
  • When men are women: Manhood among Gabra nomads of East Africa. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000