College of LAS « Illinois

Pro-Americanism, anti-Americanism, and the complexities between

Anthropology professors create book that explores attitudes toward the United States

Book image courtesy of University of Illinois Press.
Book image courtesy of University of Illinois Press.
These days it seems that anti-Americanism is a never-ending topic in international news, but a new book edited by anthropology professors Virginia Dominguez and Jane Desmond reveals that foreign perceptions of the United States are more complex and varied than some commentators would have you believe.

Global Perspectives on the United States: Pro-Americanism, Anti-Americanism, and the Discourses Between” strives to put together a sample of views on America from around the world. Dominguez said the book represents a wide spectrum of opinion and perspectives expressing views that are often surprising deviations from popular belief. 

Published by University of Illinois Press, the book features essays by experts on America in various academic fields from all over the world. Each essay is accompanied by a response—and then additional commentary on the response, called a "third look"—from other experts of varying disciplines and backgrounds.

“Many people in this country actually tend to think that everyone else in the world is very anti-American,” Dominguez said. “Actually, part of what we discovered working with colleagues in many different parts of the world who are experts on the U.S. is that it is true in some places, but there are places where the opposite is the case and I’m equally baffled by that.”

Dominguez said there are many people in the world who don’t fall in the binary of pro-American or anti-American, or who oppose U.S. government policy but aren’t necessarily negatively oriented toward American society. That complexity is something that Dominguez and Desmond very much wanted to capture in their book, hence the ending phrase in the book’s title, “The Discourses Between.”

Desmond said that she and Dominguez (who also contributed commentary to the book) were “interested in how these labels circulate in different countries and in different contexts. For example, discourses about pro- or anti-Americanism might surface in certain political discussions, and it caused us to ask, ‘What are the claims being made? Why is this type of speech or that type of action being labeled as pro-American or anti-American?’ That was part of the approach we asked our authors to take.”

Anthropology professors Jane Desmond, left, and Virginia Dominguez.
Anthropology professors Jane Desmond, left, and Virginia Dominguez.
For example, Dominguez said that attitudes in South Africa very much defy a clear duality.

“There are many people who think that people in South Africa really don’t look kindly on (America), especially black South Africans” Dominguez said. “But the interesting thing is that a whole lot of those folks, even during the Apartheid era, were especially interested and very warmly oriented towards African Americans. So there were group organizations that basically named themselves ‘Black Panthers.’ Those are often the same people who had very negative things to say about a whole lot of folks in the U.S. and may have never been in this country, but they had particular attachments to some segments of society. That’s not unusual.”

Desmond said the idea for the book’s commentative structure goes back many years to a series of conferences that The International Forum for U.S. Studies: A Center for the Transnational Study of the United States (which was founded at Illinois by Desmond and Dominguez in 1995) sponsored on topics related to the book.

“The dynamic discussion there was so galvanizing,” Desmond said. “We thought ‘How do we capture this?’ How do we put this on the page?’ That’s why there’s this commentary on commentary on commentary structure.”

“It’s a very relevant topic today,” she added. “It speaks across many disciplines, and it’s an interesting topic for a wide audience. We worked hard to ensure that the writing and topics are vigorous, clear, and inviting.”

Logan Weeter
6/21/2017

Related Topics

  • Anthropology
  • Social and behavioral science
  • Faculty research