Introduction author providing the real life examples explains


Ethnography is a discipline which is trying to observe and explain human behavior. Nordstrom provides an in-depth analysis of one of the most enigmatic phenomena which is characteristic for humanity: people’s activity aimed at killing each other, i.e. war.

In her book “Shadows of War” Nordstrom observes various people’s lives and considers the war in terms of political, economical, social and cultural peculiarities of different societies. Specific approach of the author enables the reader see every facet of the multifaceted phenomenon, and observe the impact of war on particular individuals and the outcomes of war on global scale. What is more, Nordstrom reveals the line between war and peace and suggests that it is possible to predict violence in a state if to consider properly all “shadows” which constantly appear in all countries worldwide.

Nordstrom’s research methods

Nordstrom exploits the major ethnographic method, anthropological fieldwork. This research method presupposes “participant observation” which enables the anthropologist to get a closer look at the processes which take place in the society or community under consideration (Robbins 15). Thus, Nordstrom provides insights into every arena of war, which the author is considering. Nordstrom recreates the atmosphere which exists in countries where people suffer from military conflicts.

This approach enables the author to follow one of the anthropological concepts, relativism. Nordstrom provides myriads of examples from everyday life of people exposed to negative outcomes of war. These people are often engaged in illegal operations, but the author providing the real life examples explains that for many people illegal operations become the only way to survive (Nordstrom 197). Nordstrom provides long block quotes of people she interviewed. These quotes reveal the picture of the horrible world in which millions of people try to live.

It is important to state that the author follows one more principle of anthropology and considers many countries. Nordstrom’s universalism makes it possible to have a more complete picture of the processes which lead to war or peace on global scale. Apart from giving certain real life examples which explain many people’s behavior, Nordstrom also considers all actors taking part in the war, civilians, soldiers, political entities, big companies and other states.

This holistic approach enables Nordstrom to consider factors which influence war and peace, or the “time of not-peace-not war” (Nordstrom 171).

Nordstrom’s findings and results

It goes without saying that holistic approach of Nordstrom makes it possible to have the complete picture and draw quite precise conclusions. In the first place, it is necessary to point out that the majority of Nordstrom findings prove the accepted perception of war, as a phenomenon which is caused by many factors and should be considered from different perspectives on various levels. However, one of the most significant findings of the author is that “much of what undergirded the assaults took place along shadow channels” (Nordstrom 12). Moreover, the author suggests that if to consider these shadow channels properly it is possible to predict various cases of violence and even wars. For instance, Nordstrom point out that the start of war depends on the fact whether these shadow channels become powerful enough (12).

Thus, the author states that it was possible to predict September 11 attack, but the US intelligence failed to take into account numerous shadow channels which caused so many lives and nation’s grief (Nordstrom 12). The author provides examples from such countries as Afghanistan or Angola where the shadow channels led to long period of “not-peace-not war” which transformed in war (Nordstrom 171). Interestingly, these findings are based on the ethnographic observation of people living countries where war has become a norm. Average civilians’ words highlight many of the shadow channels which are the basis of the war. For instance, the talk of Angolan stuff illustrates that economic factors play crucial role in any conflict. The author reveals the simple truth that the war makes some people suffer, but others, at the same time make fortunes. Thus, Angolans point out that soldiers punish people for trading, but sell products themselves: “More goods than bullets go across the front lines” (Nordstrom 169).

It goes without saying that such real life examples back up Nordstrom’s findings about shadow channels and their influence on societies and their role in the balance between the war and the peace.

Nordstrom research in terms of ethnography

Admittedly, such a thorough analysis of one of the most disputable issues of people’s behavior contributes greatly to the overall study. Nordstrom’s ethnographic research not only draws certain conclusions as for causes and effects of the war and peace. The book should be also regarded as a good example of ethnographic approach to the problem. First, Shadows of War provides holistic analysis of human behavior. Nordstrom considers every level of society to understand possible reasons for emerging conflicts and cases of violence. It is necessary to note that there is certain focus on average civilians’ attitudes.

Admittedly, Nordstrom relies on the major research method of ethnography, fieldwork. Nevertheless, the results of the fieldwork are put in larger discourse of primary reasons of the war. This enables the anthropologist to obtain important findings which can become an effective tool in violence prevention. Thus, Nordstrom’s research provides a good example of possible implications of ethnographic findings. Apart from this Nordstrom pays much attention to her ethnographic observation. Her interviewees provide the author with precious information which explains human behavior in war time.

Reputedly, ethnography cannot take any assumption, e.g. it is good or bad, for granted (Robbins 16). Relativism is one of the most important principles for an anthropologist.

Nordstrom does not simply state that people are engaged in many illegal operations. She provides the setting which explains why people behave in this or that way. Nordstrom’s research reveals relativity of good or bad in war time. Such a close look at people’s lives is very important for ethnography on the whole.


In conclusion, it is possible to point out that Nordstrom book is a good example of an in-depth analysis of people’s behavior in terms of major concepts of anthropology. Nordstrom follows such principles of anthropology as holism, relativism and universalism. The book provides the results of ethnographic observation which enable the author to draw more general conclusions about the causes and effects of war. Thus, Nordstrom reveals the shadow channels which are often the basis of numerous conflicts.

The most important finding which Nordstrom articulates in the book is that it is possible to predict attacks or prevent the start of war if to consider properly and take into account the shadow channels. This finding makes the book one of those ethnographic books which suggest definite implication of ethnographic findings.

Works Cited

Nordstrom, Carolyn. Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004.

Robbins, Richard H. Cultural Anthropology: A Problem-Based Approach. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2008.


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