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Peggy Reeves Sanday

with Minangkabau women near Payakumbuh, West Sumatra, Indonesia, 1985 

CV and Books

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BOOK 2002
Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy
Cornell University Press, 2002.


"Peggy Sanday has long been a dissenting voice in the debates about the universality of male dominance. This pioneering feminist anthropologist now gives substance to her arguments, redefining matriarchy and revealing the power of maternal symbols through an accessible ethnography of a famous matrilineal community." Lila Abu-Lughod. Anthropology and Women's Studies. Columbia University

"This fascinating, richly documented work is an invaluable contribution not only to anthropology but to a better understanding of human possibilities. It dispels the notion that society always has been and always will be male dominated. It shows that societies where women have power are not mirror images of patriarchy but societies where both women and men benefit from an ethos of peace and accommodation. The importance of these findings cannot be overemphasized in a world where relations based on domination rather than partnership threaten us, our children, and our future." Riane Eisler, Author of The Chalice and the Blade and The Power of Partnership

"The Minangkabau of Sumatra have long garnered academic and popular interest as a prominently matrilineal society; in fact, the largest and most stable in the world, according to Sanday (Univ. of Pennsylvania). In this important and useful ethnography, Sanday provides the closely observed, everyday details of how such a system works and considers the bases for Minangkabau cultural practices in founding origin myths and proverbs, conceptions of cosmological and village space, and key life cycle rituals. Sanday foregrounds this particular reading of Minangkabau culture in terms of the larger question of matriarchy. Her contribution lies in her sustained rejection of dualist models of gender and power--matriarchy as the mirror image of patriarchy--and in her sensitive treatment of how males uphold matrilineal adat (custom). Those in search of a thorough treatment of feminist and anthropological theories of gender and difference may be disappointed, while those looking for a clear and engaging treatment of gender in a matrilineal society will be rewarded. Likewise, those interested in the role of Islam may find this part of the book thin, but the inclusion of post-reformasi changes is welcome. Of interest to anthropologists, students of kinship, and area studies specialists; useful for undergraduate collections on cross-cultural gender issues." -- S. Ferzacca, University of Lethbridge, CHOICE, 2003.

To order, visit this site: Cornell University Press, 2002.

click on picture to read excerpt

For longer version of this report, visit www.asiasource.org/asip/sanday.cfm

Matriarchy and Islam Post 9/11: A Report from Indonesia
Published in Anthropology News, Vol. 43, No. 9, Dec. 2002, page 7.
by Peggy Reeves Sanday

One of my passions as an anthropologist is to write ethnography that speaks simultaneously to anthropology by building empirically grounded conceptual frameworks and to the public by exploding outmoded Western stereotypes. My recently published ethnography of the Minangkabau presents a conceptual framework for rethinking matriarchy and challenges the stereotype of Islam as universally subordinating women. Among the largest and most modern of Indonesia' s ethnic groups (four million in their home province West Sumatra and four million elsewhere) the Minangkabau are well known in Indonesia for their "matriarchal" social system and dedication to Islam.

The book, Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy (2002), focuses on a complex of customs called adat matriarchaat. These customs include matrilineal descent and women' s ceremonial roles. Adat matriarchaat is part of the pre-Islamic cultural tradition called adat Minangkabau. Because of the degree to which the Minangkabau tie adat to Islam in the modern period, I was challenged to explain how the supposedly patriarchal Islam came to be bound to a social system identified as matriarchal. [more-->]

  Report from Indonesia
October, 1998
by Peggy Reeves Sanday

what newspapers and TV don't tell you...
With a passion I had never heard in his voice, Hok, my Chinese hairdresser of many years said: "Oh Bu, write about how it's safe here, not like CNN says, people starving, looting, and robbing. We are losing tourism and investment due to the belief that the situation in Jakarta applies to all of Indonesia."

His plea was later echoed in the highland village where I have worked as an anthropologist studying the Minangkabau people nearly every year since l981. "Why does the Voice of America report that the situation in Indonesia is so bad?" one man asked.

I arrived in Padang, the capital city of the province of West Sumatra, Indonesia on July 17, some two months after the May riots in Jakarta brought President Suharto's 35-year regime to a grinding halt. [more -->]

Eggi's Village
Life Among the Minangkabau of Indonesia

an exhibition of ethnographic photos
taken over a period of 15 years in a West Sumatra village

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All pictures included on this page and any related pages are licensed under a Creative Commons License.
The pictures can be used only with attribution and for noncommercial purposes.

opened September 13, 1997
at the

University of Pennsylvania Museum
of Archaeology and Anthropology

The spirit of the circle
Music and Dance of West Sumatra

Photographic Exhibition
by Edy Utama

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All pictures included on this page and any related pages are licensed under a Creative Commons License.
The pictures can be used only with attribution and for noncommercial purposes.

BOOK 2007
Aboriginal Paintings of the Wolfe Creek Crater: Track of the Rainbow Serpent
Philadelphia: University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

To order, visit www.museum.upenn.edu/pblications


"Part research project, part personal journey, this work by Sanday (anthropology, Univ. of Pennsylvania) enlivens indigenous creation narratives of Wolfe Creek meteor crater in Australia's Western Desert. Sanday's father, American geologist Frank Reeves, documented the crater in 1947. The author's quest reminds readers that understanding Aboriginal culture, its creation stories, and image making are difficult tasks. Sanday located the crater's traditional owners and documented associated stories. Her journey expands on the work of famed anthropologists Tindale and the Berndts, who first studied indigenous cultures of the desert. The paintings Sanday commissioned from the crater stories' owners are vibrant records of Rainbow Serpent as it traveled the desert creating the crater and surrounding country. Her work shows that the landscape is a giant palimpsest forever etched with traces of ancestral activity." --CHOICE 2008. Recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates.

Track of the Rainbow Serpent
Exhibition of Australian Aboriginal Paintings of the Wolfe Creek Crater


Creative Commons License
All paintings and photographs included on this page and any related pages are licensed under a Creative Commons License.
The paintings and photographs can be used only with attribution and for noncommercial purposes.

Public Interest Anthropology

A Model for Public Interest Ethnography: The Conjunction of Theory, Practice, Action, and Change in a Globalizing World (2008)

Public Interest Anthropology: A Boasian Service-Learning Initiative, Michigan Journal of Service Learning, Vol. 10, No. 3, Summer 2004.

Public Interest Anthropology: A Model for Engaged Research (2004)

Public Interest Anthropology: A Model for Engaged Scholarship, 2003
Prepared for SAR Workshop, Chicago, Nov. 2003.

Research and Training Program Under Development at Penn

Defining Public Interest Anthropology. Opening Statement. AAA Symposium, Defining a Public Interest Anthropology. Dec. 3, l998. Philadelphia.

World Culture Initiative at University City High School in Philadelphia
A Public Interest Anthropology Course

Click here for more on Public Interest Anthropology at Penn


Revised Edition 2007
Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood and Privilege on Campus
New York: New York University Press.

Praise For The First Edition

"A powerful and important book."--Contemporary Psychology

"Sanday draws a chilling picture of fraternity society, its debasement of women and the way it creates a looking-glass world in which gang rape can be considered normal behavior and the pressure of group-think is powerful."--The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Very accessible...Sanday's book explores the vulnerability of college women, and of young men seeking to prove their manhood."--The Washington Post

"In her well-regarded text, Sanday points out how frequently athletes are involved in group sexual misconduct against women."--The New York Times

"An important book [that] should be read by everyone in higher education--faculty, administrators, and students." --Contemporary Sociology

Selected Articles