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Congratulations to Our 2023 Award Winners

The Society for the Anthropology of Work recognizes the recipients of the Conrad M. Arensberg Award, the SAW Book Award, and the Eric R. Wolf Prize.

Published onNov 15, 2023
Congratulations to Our 2023 Award Winners
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The Society for the Anthropology of Work (SAW) would like to congratulate the honorees for the Conrad M Arensberg Award, the SAW Book Award, and the Eric R. Wolf Prize for Graduate Student Research.

2022 Conrad M. Arensberg Award

Harsha Walia, for outstanding contributions to the anthropology of work from inside the discipline and beyond. She is author of Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism (Haymarket 2021), Undoing Border Imperialism (AK Press 2013), as well as numerous journal articles. 

Walia's analysis and her organizing show why the abolition of borders and prisons have everything to do with work. She demonstrates why refugee and migrant crises are the outcomes of conquest, capitalist globalization, and climate change. In such conditions, multicultural liberalism plants the seeds of racist nationalism. Her work critically illuminates the connections between state formation, the intensification and externalization of borders, and the economic exploitation of migrant workers past and present. 

Walia's writing also challenges ethnographic projects that take the form of "anthropological consumption" of migrant lives and stories, urging us to turn our gaze from groups and subjectivities to the state regulation of difference. SAW sees the promise of dialogue between Walia's focus on structural processes of "state-regulated relations of governance and difference" and anthropologists' diverse engagements with migration and borders. Given anthropology's interest in power, work, and migration, Walia's contributions stand to push us further on questions of unfree labor, criminalization, and the very work of research.

2023 Book Award

Co-winners: 

Laboring for Justice: The Fight Against Wage Theft in an American City

By Rebecca Berke Galemba

Laboring for Justice by Rebecca Galemba is a model of accountable anthropology as an outcome of building power with workers while also attuning to underappreciated forms of ethical reason, survival, and resistance among workers. An account of the fight against “stolen wages on stolen land,” Laboring for Justice profiles how workers, labor organizers, and ethnographers understand and act on the problem of wage theft. Workers in a Colorado city come from all over the world, their life trajectories shaped by empire, war, and immigration regimes that rationalize racial capitalism. Well meaning labor laws present opportunities for organizing but often fail to deliver wages or justice. Workers, in the meantime of the everyday, develop their own tactics for survival and resistance, yelling warnings about thieving employers on the street corner and taking faith in “God’s justice.” Galemba worked with over 90 students and co-authored chapters of Laboring for Justice with some, working closely with Denver’s Centro Humanitario Para Los Trabajadores. Though direct action cannot undo settler colonialism or recover owed wages for all, she argues that the process of convivencia as acting – including through research – on workers’ own terms can transform us in ways that transform movements for structural change. 

The Eyes of the World: Mining the Digital Age in the Eastern DR Congo
By James H. Smith

James H. Smith’s ethnography The Eyes of the World is a powerful account of the worlds of artisanal rare earth mining, especially as they are, on the one hand, inhabited by miners, traders of these minerals, and NGOs that seek to visibilize labor globally and, on the other, undergirded by uneven and oftentimes, violent processes that make possible our digital age. Rather than theorizing from the fetishized perspective of techno-optimism, Smith situates his theorization of labour, markets, capital, and their global movements from the perspective of those whose lives have been and continue to be transformed by resource extraction in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as humanitarian interventions from a distance. While The Eyes of the World remains attuned to the localized dynamics of places and peoples, the account is not simply a “local” story; it is a lucid argument for the stakes—theoretical, ethical, political—of narrating the worlds that grow in the shadows of the digital age. These worlds are saturated by stories of kin and relatedness, the magic and auditing of supply chains, war, bodies, and wealth, the collaborations that make possible mining, among many others. The Eyes of the World presents a model of scholarship for an anthropology of work as it reassesses the unevenness processes that have been built upon colonial and imperial formations and continue to suture together our contemporary world.

Honorable mention: 

A Man among Other Men: The Crisis of Black Masculinity in Racial Capitalism 

By Jordanna Matlon

Jordanna Matlon’s A Man among Other Men: The Crisis of Black Masculinity in Racial Capitalism is an extraordinary analysis of Black masculinities mediated by racial capitalism across the Black Atlantic. Through an examination of the subjectivities of Black men in Côte d'Ivoire in relation to colonial and Black Atlantic ideals, the book elucidates how Black men embody shifts from racialized economies of labor theft to racialized economies of exclusion and consumption. Matlon shows how the logic of racial capitalism remains embedded in the lives of underemployed Black men regardless of whether they attempt to negate Blackness through entrepreneurial work identities or affirm Blackness through masculine practices of consumption. Matlon profiles market hustlers investing their “weekend money” in hip-hop accouterments, as well as devalued orators pulled into a continual imitation of the professionalized entrepreneur as  twinned Black male subjectivities in a global economy predicated on the exclusion of Black men.

A Man among Other Men offers a model for the anthropology of work in synthesizing diverse scholarship on the mediation, history and sociality of Blackness with the lives of communities Matlon lived among in West Africa. In doing so, she shows how racial capitalism continues its work even when whiteness appears on the surface to be geographically and historically absent.

Eric R. Wolf Prize for Graduate Student Research

Winner 

Who Made Mead? The Native Research Assistant as Intellectual 

Amrina Rosyada, Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology at Northwestern University

This essay examines the contributions of I Made Kaler, Margaret Mead’s “native secretary” to her fieldwork in Bali, Indonesia (1936-1939). Drawing on archival sources (the Margaret Mead Papers, Library of Congress), it argues that I Made Kaler was not simply a secretary or recorder, but was formative of the intellectual ideas in Mead’s work through what the author terms, ‘active ethnographic labor’, as well as language training and domestic work. The essay’s historical empiricism, sophisticated engagement with Anthropology as a scholarly lineage, and use of an explicitly comparative frame, the committee felt that this essay had very productive resonances with the scholarship of Eric Wolf. 

Honorable mentions: 

Working When Time Allows: The Value of Artisanal Work in the Chiapas Highlands

Rachel Barber, Doctoral student in the Social Sciences program at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social in Guadalajara, Mexico

“Working When Time Allows” depicts the ways that artisanal craft workers in Chiapas refuse capitalist terms of value as they organize their work and celebrations against terms encouraged by NGOs and economic development. The essay offers examples that are good-to-think for understanding how people struggle not to work, promising contributions to debates on anti-work from locations atypical in those debates, and more capacious ways of understanding labor agency and resistance. 

Motherland and Mother Earth: Indo-Fijian Claims to Belonging Through Agricultural Labor and “Hard Work”
Ipsita Dey, Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology at Princeton University

This ethnographically and historically textured essay based on rich empirical work with Indo-Fijians shines important light on the entwinement between labor/work and colonial and racial dynamics in plantation economies. The author examines the complex ways that the practices and narratives about work and labor have been central to producing both the figure of the ideal Indo-Fijian in colonial and racial imaginaries as well as the identities belonging, and material experiences of value and wealth creation for contemporary Indo-Fijians. The essay takes more commonly studied farmwork, land relations, and entrepreneurial hustle, but this essay is ambitious in its effort to bring these discussions together into a singular historical and ethnographic frame.


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