Jessica Greenberg, Sarah Muir

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In recent years, disappointment has emerged as a prominent topic of anthropological inquiry and theorization. We explore this disciplinary interest in order to probe the conditions that have made it possible, the lines of inquiry it opens up, and the self-reflexive critiques it underscores. Running throughout the anthropological literature on disappointment is a pressing concern with the messy, unpredictable, and friction-laden dimensions of social life, dimensions that eschew easy categorization in terms of the heroic/abject, agentive/passive, macro/micro, righteous/wrong-headed, or progressive/reactionary. After exploring the conditions that underlie disappointment, we discuss comparison, poetics, and slog as three domains of its anthropological analysis, highlighting key methodological innovations, ethnographic genres, and research questions within each area. We close with reflections on disappointment within the discipline, focusing on the experience of field research, the moral optimism of the discipline, and the institutional conditions that shape knowledge production and professional life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)307-323
Number of pages17
JournalAnnual Review of Anthropology
StatePublished - Oct 24 2022


  • comparison
  • disappointment
  • disillusion
  • normativity
  • poetics
  • temporality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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