A strike pattern is a signature of violence carved into the land—bomb craters or fragments of explosives left behind, forgotten. In Strike Patterns, poet and anthropologist Leah Zani journeys to a Lao river community where people live alongside such relics of a secret war. As Zani uncovers this hidden legacy, she finds herself immersed in the lives of her hosts: Chantha, a daughter of war refugees who grapples with her place in a future Laos of imagined prosperity; Channarong, a bomb technician whose Thai origins allow him to stand apart from the battlefields he clears; and Bounmi, a young man who has inherited his bomb expertise from his father but now struggles to imagine a similar future for his unborn son. Wandering through their lives are the restless ghosts of kin and strangers.
From 1964 to 1973, the United States carried out a covert air war against Laos. Frequently overshadowed by the war with Vietnam, the Secret War was the longest and most intense air war in history. Much of Laos remains contaminated with dangerous left-over explosives. Combining rigorous observation with poetry, fiction, and memoir, Zani reflects on the power of building new lives in the ruins.
With sensitive and arresting prose, Zani reveals the layered realities that settle atop one another in Laos—from its French colonial history to today's authoritarian state—all blown open by the war. This excavation of postwar life's balance between the mundane, the terrifying, and the extraordinary propels Zani to confront her own explosive past.
Available to order at Stanford Press.
"Strike Patterns is a powerful and poetic observation of the remains of war. The book offers a poignant perspective on what scholarship and experience can yield in the hands of a writer unafraid of the boundaries between disciplines and across genres." —Kao Kalia Yang, author of Somewhere in the Unknown World
"In fields of still-live explosives, the U.S. bombing of Laos has not stopped. Through a series of vivid meditations, Zani brings us to their horrors, where children play with cluster bombs, and some prostheses are judged too 'advanced' for Laotians. The stories ring with the kind of truth that can only be brought to light through artistry." —Anna Tsing, co-editor of Feral Atlas
"Strike Patterns joins the best of anthropology of war books by centering the research in stories, and by acknowledging that while violence can transform societies, anthropology has an equal responsibility to shift patterns."
—Roxanne Varzi, author of Last Scene Underground
Half a century after the CIA's Secret War in Laos—the largest bombing campaign in history—explosive remnants of war continue to be part of people's everyday lives. In Bomb Children, Leah Zani offers a perceptive analysis of the long-term, often subtle, and unintended effects of massive air warfare. Zani traces the sociocultural impact of cluster submunitions—known in Laos as “bomb children”—through stories of explosives clearance technicians and others living and working in these old air strike zones. Zani presents her ethnography alongside poetry written in the field, crafting a startlingly beautiful analysis of state terror, authoritarian revival, rapid development, and ecological contamination. In so doing, she proposes that postwar zones are their own cultural and area studies, offering new ways to understand the parallel relationship between ongoing war violence and postwar revival.
Available to order at Duke University Press.
Read the introduction for free online!
“Bomb Children is nothing short of breathtaking. [...] In Zani's hands, fieldwork becomes a flexible toolkit, selectively and strategically deployed to grasp the object of military wasting in a revealing and ethically responsible way." — Joshua O. Reno, author of Waste Away: Working and Living with a North American Landfill
“Bomb Children is a riveting and reflexive account of war remains, military waste, and ‘development’ in contemporary Laos [...] that looks to the war damages that are not over and that remain viscerally present in the everyday of people's lives.” — Ann Laura Stoler, author of Duress: Imperial Durabilities in Our Times
"A thoroughly original work, Bomb Children is likely to become a useful reference for students and scholars alike, and indeed anyone interested in the social consequences of airstrikes. It is also an arresting personal account of the hazards of fieldwork in a highly monitored and dangerous country." — Erin Lin, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Ohio State University
2022 Strike Patterns: Notes from Postwar Laos. Stanford: Redwood Press.
2019 Bomb Children: Life in the Former Battlefields of Laos. Durham: Duke University Press.
Forthcoming "B for Bomb Ecologies." In Wastiary: A Bestiary of Waste.
Forthcoming "How to write fieldpoetry." In An Ethnographic Inventory: Field Devices for Anthropological Inquiries. Milton Park: Routledge.
2021 "Humanistic Anthropology: Ethnographic Poetry." In The SAGE Handbook of Cultural Anthropology, edited by Lene Pedersen and Lisa Cligget (chapter edited by David Syring). New York: SAGE Publications.
2022 "Haunted by a Secret War." SAPIENS Magazine, 5/10/2022.
2022 "Forensic Imaginary: Glen Canyon." Theorizing the Contemporary: Ecologies of War. Cultural Anthropology Online,1/25/2022.
2021 "Hurt." Stone of Madness Press (10), 5/1/2021.
2021 "Lead Me To Life: Voices of the African Diaspora." SAPIENS Magazine, 9/23/2021. (With Christine Weeber and Justin D. Wright)
2020 "Ars Poetica: A Conversation with Chantal Gibson." Anthropology and Humanism 45(2), 354-360.
2019 "Battlefields, Fieldpoems." Kenyon Review Online (Sept/Oct). (With Nomi Stone)
2019 "Fieldpoem 18: Children." Consequence Magazine (11, Spring), 279.
2019 "How We Review and Support the Art of Ethnographic Poetry at Anthropology and Humanism." Anthropology and Humanism 44(2),182-188.
2019 "Ars Poetica: A Conversation with Wendy Chin-Tanner." Anthropology and Humanism 44(2), 189-193.
2018 "Bomb Ecologies." Environmental Humanities 10(2), 528-531.
2018 "The Dragon and the River: Poetic Parallelism in Hazardous Research." Anthropology and Humanism 43(1), 107-125.
2017 "Cultural Anthropology Responds to Trump.” Fieldsights: Collaboration Studio. Cultural Anthropology Online, 11/9/2017. (With Darren Byler)
2016 "A New Vision for Teaching Tools." Fieldsights: Teaching Tools. Cultural Anthropology Online, 2/12/2016.
2015 "Bomb Ecologies? Inhabiting Disability in Postconflict Laos." Somatosphere, 6/15/2015.
2015 "Clearing the Land of a Million Bombs." Tikkun Daily, 3/28/2015.
2012 "Reflections on American Anthropology: A Conference at UC Irvine." American Anthropologist 114(4), 584-592. (with Chima Anyadike Danes et al.)
Interviews & Invited Talks (selected)
2022 "The Place of Waste in Southeast Asia." Center for Southeast Asian Studies. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
2021 "Evolving Perspectives in Anthropology and Human Rights." American Association for the Advancement of Science.
2021 "The Significance of Poetry and Storytelling in Promoting Healing in Different Communities." In-Sight Collaborative.
2020 "Militarized Landscapes of Indochina." Yale Southeast Asian Studies Brownbag. Yale University.
2020 "Leah Zani: Bomb Children." New Books Network, 8/5/2020.
2019 "Ethnographic Poetry & Arts Salon." Ethnographic Terminalia. The Hanger at the Center for Digital Media. Vancouver, Canada.
2018 "Special Feature with Leah Zani and Robin Mejia.” Turning Pages, KWMR Radio. 8/16/2018.
2017 "The Red Dot: Abstraction and Uncertainty in Explosives Clearance." Geography Colloquium. University of California, Berkeley.
2017 "Blast Radius." Militarized Ecologies Workshop. Sawyer Center Documenting War and the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies. University of California, Irvine.
Workshops & Other Events (selected)
2020 "A Poet's Sensibility for Ethnography." Technology in Practice, ETHOS Lab. IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
2020 "Cultivating a Poet's Sensibility for Ethnography." Ethnography Beyond the Vignette. Stanford University.
2020 "Ethnographic Poetry Workshop." Ethnography in the Time of COVID. University of California, San Diego.
2016 "Teaching Anthropology." Society for Cultural Anthropology Student-Faculty Workshops. Annual Conference for the American Anthropological Association. Minneapolis, MN.
2016 "When I Grow Up!" Girl Scouts STEM Career Fair. NASA Ames Research Center. Moffett Field, CA.
Conference Presentations (Selected)
2021 "An Open Future for the AAAs: MPAAC-sponsored Roundtable for Sustainable Open Access Publishing." Annual Conference for the American Anthropological Association. Baltimore, MD.
2019 "War Ecologies I: Pollution and Imperial Apparatus." Annual Conference for the American Anthropological Association. Vancouver, Canada.
2019 "The Gone Man: Reckoning with the Disappeared in Postwar Laos." Annual Conference for the American Anthropological Association. Vancouver, Canada.
2018 "The Body That Wasn't There: Political Disappearance and Postwar Violence in Laos." Annual Conference for the American Anthropological Association. San Jose, CA.