James R. Bell


 James R. Bell, 60, died of a broken heart on June 26, 2004. Although he suffered from heart problems resulting from an infection he caught while doing field work on Skid Row in Los Angeles, it is believed by his family and those closest to him that it was the recent loss of his wife last November, the woman he had loved since he was a teenager, that led to his death in his sleep. Jim was a full Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Los Angeles, where he headed up the ethnographic film program.

Before becoming an anthropologist, Bell did a number of things, including playing football, participating in a cattle drive, and serving a stint in the Navy, where he served in Vietnam (and after which he vowed never to get on another boat or helicopter!). In his later years, Bell stayed close to his home town of Pasadena,.

Bell did fieldwork in Kenya, East Africa from 1980-1981, where he studied local socialization practices and formal education among primary school children in the Taita Hills. In the mid-70s and mid-80s, he did research on Skid Row in Los Angeles. In the 1970s he focused on violence, aggression, and conflict resolution among American Indian men. In the 1980s he did an analysis of food procurement and food consumption patterns. From the late 80s to mid-90s he did ethnographic and visual studies of the contribution of African American women to the community through their roles in local Black churches.

Although Bell published a number of articles and presented papers at professional conferences, he was best known for his award winning educational and documentary films. Little Warrior focused on the socialization of a young boy into the spiritual beliefs of his father. Broken Bottles examined the state of Native American alcoholism on skid row. More recently he did a series of films for the Juvenile Dependency Court of Los Angeles County on the operation of the court. He generously used the money he received to buy equipment for the ethnographic film students to use.

Bell was very active in the Southwestern Anthropological Association. He was President of the Association from 1996-1997, and Editor-in-Chief of the association newsletter from 1997-2000. Prior to his presidency, he served as Vice President, and was elected to the position of Fellow in 1996. He organized the association's annual conference in 1995 and 1996.

Bell was a popular and well-respected professor, Word of his death spread through the grapevine and many of his former students contacted the Anthropology department to tell the faculty how important he was to them. He was nominated for an Outstanding Professor Award in 1992 and 1999.

Bell was somewhat of a contradiction; although very friendly and well-liked by his colleagues, he rarely attended social events. His family, his work, and Monday night football were his life.

He is survived by his daughters Sarah and Jamiko, his son Joel, and his grandchildren, Rachael and Ernest. He will be missed by all.

Written by Geri-Ann Galanti



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