The Society for the Anthropology of Work (SAW) is pleased to award the 2020 SAW Book Prize to Ieva Jusionyte for her insightful and distinctive ethnography of emergency workers, Threshold: Emergency Responders on the US-Mexico Border. This book, published by the University of California Press in 2018, is the product of some of the most rigorous, humane, and original fieldwork in the anthropology of work. Jusionyte’s firsthand experiences as an emergency responder at multiple sites along the U.S.-Mexico border inform her compelling narratives of the daily experiences of these workers in the communities they serve. She identifies the impact of local, regional, and national policies on the work of responders on both sides of the border. Set in multiple locations, but especially Nogales, Sonora, and Arivaca, Mexico and Nogales, Arizona, the book details the lives and work situations of emergency responders as they navigate multiple bureaucracies, including those of other agencies such as law enforcement groups. With clarity and compassion, she demonstrates the way first responders and aid groups try to save lives and treat injured people in the midst of ever-shifting political forces.
SAW would also like to recognize Mythri Jegathesan with an Honorable Mention for her book, Tea and Solidarity: Tamil Women and Work in Postwar Sri Lanka, published in 2019 by the University of Washington Press. Set among the Hill Country Tamil, Jegathesan’s book paints a sympathetic portrait of tea plantation workers. She relates what she describes as their “desires for dignity as they work and live on and beyond Sri Lanka’s tea plantations,” as she identifies work practices and labor goals and traces the legacy of colonial work. Throughout the book, Jegathesan places anthropological research on work at the center of her strikingly descriptive ethnography and insightful analysis. She weaves together the stories of women’s lives with insights, interpretations, and explanations drawn from feminist methodologies and postcolonial approaches. In a complex narrative, she is able to gently critique dominant academic narratives about the plantation workers, noting that they can overlook women’s complex desires and minimize their agency. Jegathesan reveals stories of homebuilding and desires beyond the plantation through her careful treatment of the ways that persistent colonial relationships relate to available choices. This book shows the intricate ways in which postcolonial realities shape and compel the choices of these working women.