2012 SHA Writing Prizes

Congratulations to the winners of the 2012 SHA Writing Prizes

SHA is proud to announce the winners of the 2012 Ethnographic Fiction, Ethnographic Poetry, and Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing competitions who were honored at the SHA awards ceremony at the 111th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco.

Ethnographic Fiction Prizes

The readers for the 2012 Ethnographic Fiction competition are Jessica Falcone, Kristen Ghodsee and Ruth Behar and they voted to award first prize to Thararat Chareonsonthichai (Australian National University) for “The Fragrance of the Classical Past,” and Honorable Mention to Cynthia Keppley-Mahmood (Notre Dame) for “How Jesse Became a Revolutionary.”

Ethnographic Poetry Prizes

The readers for the 2012 Ethnographic Poetry competition are Renato Rosaldo, Melisa Cahmann-Taylor and Lorraine Healy and they voted to award first prize to Irina Carlota Silber (CUNY) for “Nanita,” second prize to Kuo Zhang (Georgia) for “One Child Policy,” third prize to Jonathan Glasser (William and Mary) for “Enemy Territory,” and Honorable Mention to Elena Harap (Independent Scholar) for “Sanctuary/Home.”

The Victor Turner Prize

The readers for the 2012 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing are Misty Bastian, Kevin O’Neill, Neni Panourgía, and John Watanabe and they awarded first-place to Angela Garcia (Stanford) for her book, The Pastoral Clinic: Addiction and Dispossession along the Rio Grande (California 2010), second place to Mark Auslander (Central Washington University) for his book, The Accidental Slaveowner. Revisiting the Myth of Race and Finding an American Family (Georgia Press 2011), and third place to Daniel R. Reichman (University of Rochester) for his book, The Broken Village: Coffee, Migration, and Globalization in Honduras (Cornell 2011).

Citation for Angela Garcia’s The Pastoral Clinic.

Less than a year before his last, Victor Turner published an article with Edith Turner on performing ethnography in The Drama Review (volume 26, no. 2 [Summer 1982]). It was a meditation on method. They recounted how they would prompt their students to perform different rites of passage, to step into liminal spaces. They acted out weddings. They acted out funerals. They wanted their students to feel “how people in other cultures experience the richness of their social existence, what the moral pressures are upon them, what kinds of pleasures they expect to receive as a reward for following certain patterns of action, and how they express joy, grief, deference, and affection, in accordance with cultural expectations.” This was not play-acting. This was not just fun. It was a reflexive exploration of ethnography. They asked, what does it mean to feel a story?

If posed this question today, by Victor or Edith Turner, or by anyone for that matter, I would not orchestrate a ritual—although that would not be a bad idea. Rather I would pick up Angela Garcia’s The Pastoral Clinic, turn to page one, and begin reading out loud. What does it mean to feel a story? “The clinic is a house,” Angela begins her book.  “Small, brown, made of straw bale and mud plaster.” The Pastoral Clinic is an ethnography of heroin addiction and fatal overdoses in northern New Mexico’s Española Valley. Heroin problems, Angela argues, are a contemporary expression of material and cultural dispossession, which makes her book a portrait of addiction and of place. But maybe most of all, at least for this competition, in light of Victor and Edith Turner, The Pastoral Clinic is also a statement about ethnography. Angela writes, with possibly unintentional echoes of Turner, “I understood my task as an anthropologist to conjure up the social life that produced these signs, to give it flesh and depth. Indeed, that is why I went to New Mexico to study heroin—to try to give purpose and meaning to an aspect of American life that had become dangerously ordinary, even cliché” (p. 6). The Pastoral Clinic shuttles between joy and grief; it is an ethnographic meditation that foregrounds, to quote Turner yet again, “the kinds of pleasures [that people] expect to receive as a reward for following certain patterns of action.”  It is for this reason, and for many more, that The Pastoral Clinic emerged from a stack of successful ethnographies. The book feels a story, which makes it a true accomplishment. Many, many congratulations.

Kevin Lewis O’Neill
University of Toronto

Citation for Mark Auslander’s The Accidental Slaveowner

In 1844, a national controversy erupted in the strongly abolitionist Methodist Church over the censure of Bishop James Osgood Andrew of Oxford, Georgia for owning slaves. The censure precipitated a schism between northern and southern Methodists, black and white congregants, that would last a century. The first president of the board of trustees of Emory College, precursor of Emory University, Bishop Andrew claimed he had inherited a slave named Catherine Boyd—known locally as “Kitty” to whites, “Miss Kitty” to African Americans—who, upon reaching her majority, had refused manumission and transport back to Africa to remain in his household. For many white southerners then and now, the story of Bishop Andrew and Miss Kitty captures both abolitionist intolerance and northern misunderstanding of the lifelong attachments, if not love, that often united owners and domestic slaves, many of whom grew up together. For African Americans, Miss Kitty’s story epitomizes the intimate injuries and iniquities of dehumanizing property rights and relations crosscut by the all too often unspoken bonds of kinship between black and white families during and long after slavery. Bishop Andrew, the “accidental slaveowner” in the title of Mark Auslander’s fine book, thus becomes occasion for this exemplary ethnography of race relations past and present in the United States.

Most concretely, as all ethnographies should, this book opens to us the unexpected world of domestic relations between masters and slaves in antebellum Georgia and what happened to those relations after emancipation—a world all the more unexpected because it lies so close to home, especially in the association of so many universities north and south with slaves or the slave trade. More broadly, the book traverses the fraught ground that all ethnographies must between what people believe to be true about themselves and what we as ethnographers may discover about them from others. In this, Auslander never presumes to render the myth of Miss Kitty and Bishop Andrew into his own or others’ history, but rather, he wisely and painstakingly shows us how for whites their various myths came to be, and how for African Americans, including Miss Kitty’s desendants, the history got lost, the myth forgotten or remembered otherwise. Most importantly, Auslander writes in the face of all ethnographers’ greatest fear that the people we write about will actually read what we write and find it incomprehensible, irrelevant, insulting, wrong, or simply banal. In knowing full well that those about whom he writes will read his book, Auslander writes with modest conviction yet quiet courage that giving voice to hidden, half-remembered or long forgotten pasts is essential to “saying something now” in the present to help reopen dialogues across difference too long stifled or stigmatized by power, anger, fear, and shame. There are larger lessons we can all learn from this book about what writing anthropology could—and should—be. We are pleased to recognize Mark Auslander for his signal achievement, and above all, for his deep concern, abiding commitment, and always human voice.

John M. Watanabe
Dartmouth College

Citation for Daniel R. Reichman’s The Broken Village

La Quebrada, the pseudonymous “broken place” in Daniel Reichman’s compelling book, evokes a telling series of breaks. Historically, a boom then bust in international migration to the United States prises open this small coffee growing town in central Honduras, itself the result of earlier internal migration to its forests and coffee lands that globalization has already, ominously, serially commodified. Socially, La Quebrada fractures along growing moral, not just political, economic, or religious, divides precipitated by unseen others in faraway places. And anthropologically, globally interconnected ruralities like La Quebrada decisively challenge ethnography to break with any vestige of past romances—or even tragedies—of solitary communities local, global, or otherwise. At the heart of all these breaks lies the double bind of all modern, and now postmodern, human experience infused with the disembodied, contagious magic of market competition, not only in the Marxian sense of commodification and alienation, but also experientially in having to habituate, often unwittingly, to ever wider and ultimately unfathomed webs of appeal and obligation that distance and disguise us from our interdependencies: whether in rural Honduras or New York coffee houses, Reichman finds in Foucauldian-like fashion that the more we mind our respective runaway worlds, the more we privatize—that is, personalize and internalize—the perceived causes and consequences of our disquiet in terms of individual moral worth or monetary value that only further distracts us from the systemic imperatives that bind us.

So, more than beleaguered Central American villagers, Reichman shows us would-be migrants from La Quebrada caught between the dissatisfactions of providing (or not) for their families and leaving them for distant perils yet possibilities; between risking all only to fail—foolishly in the eyes of sanctimonious neighbors—or to return successfully but never again feel quite at home at home. He shows us evangelicals in La Quebrada who grapple personally with their sinfulness to assure salvation but disattend to the inbuilt inequalities in their lives. He shows us coffee growers who rationalize volatile markets as just another cost of doing business but who themselves must migrate during downturns if they want to recapitalize their smallholdings for when the market returns. And finally, even closer to home, he shows us how supporters of fair trade coffee aspire through their individual consumer choices to make the world a better place percisely because they can afford to (and not coincidentally, display their taste while gratifying it), but in fact the markups from buying fair trade go mostly to the largest coffee marketers, not to small growers in Central America.

In this multifaceted way, The Broken Village becomes a meditation on the perils of thinking and acting in overly individual, private ways in an increasingly upscaled world; but confounded by so many already inescapably entangled places, how can we do otherwise without impossibly changing that world? In finding in the most particular of circumstances this most general dilemma of globalization, Daniel Reichman’s book exemplifies the ethnographer’s craft at its best because he understands that realizing what we all have most in common constitutes the first step of mutual recognition in seeking necessarily diverse solutions across our abiding differences. For this important, deeply humanistic insight that shows why ethnography still matters, Daniel Reichman deserves our keenest recognition and warmest congratulations.

John M. Watanabe
Dartmouth College

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