We are pleased to announce the winner and honorable mentions in the 2015 APLA Book Prize award!
By Alex Golub
The APLA Book Prize Committee described Leviathans at the Gold Mine as a powerful ethnographic and theoretical exploration of the meaning and material implications of corporate relatedness. The book’s engaging and witty writing unveils the complex relationship between the Ipili (an indigenous group from Papua New Guinea) and the Porgera Gold Mine, the third-largest mine in the world. Through a textured ethnographic examination of the processes by which collective forms of personhood—corporate and ethnic—come to inhabit political spaces, the book problematizes the self-evidence of entities such as the Porgera corporation and the Ipili themselves. Showing the arduous and detailed work necessary to make both entities feasible, Golub takes us from colonial settlement to household census, from records to royalty distribution, and beyond. Golub has managed to provide rich views of the daily detail and character of people involved in the struggles with and from the mining company, while also providing analysis of a corporation, in a historically, politically, and ethically sensitive manner. The book is written in an accessible, friendly style that does nothing to lighten the sophistication of the analysis, which is steeped in a wide range of literatures. Golub’s erudition is evident and impressive but never heavy. The book refrains from a formulaic analysis of the distribution of wealth, political capital, or access to corporate benefits. Instead, it vividly illustrates the contradictions, imprecisions, and ambiguities at the heart of the process of creating collective forms, political and legal. With tremendous skill, Golub weaves classic anthropological scholarship on kinship, historiography, and ethnographic material to re-conceptualize contemporary forms of political power, law and relatedness. By addressing issues that are specific to its context Leviathans does an admirable job of drawing out broader theoretical and political questions about representation, political mobilization, corporations and capital. Ultimately, the book invites us to examine the quotidian, formalized, and historic ways in which a sense of the collective depends on historically specific processes of abstraction. Alex Golub is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa.
By Aaron Ansell
The APLA Book Prize Committee agreed that Zero Hunger is an absorbing, compelling ethnography that demonstrates the multiple scales at which “intimate hierarchy” is forged during encounters between state officials, politicians and subsistence cultivators in Piaui, Northeast Brazil. It documents the ways in which the Brazilian government, led by President Lula’s Worker’s Party, sought to eliminate hunger and poverty in the early 21st century, while simultaneously transforming the country’s hierarchical structures of power into more egalitarian ones. Designed to challenge our understanding of relations of political intimacy as “clientelism,” the book not only questions the scholarly assumption that patronage is undemocratic, but also—and more fundamentally—demonstrates how inequality, especially when based on mutual vulnerability, is not necessarily oppressive. Most impressive about this ethnography is the detail through which Ansell shows this “intimate hierarchy” at work in exchanges at various levels, persuading the reader of the significance of naive attacks on clientelism as one reason why policies like Zero Hunger failed. Ansell’s study gets under the skin of people’s multiple motivations and modes of interacting socially and politically (and shows the absence of a dividing line between the two domains). His ethnographic eye is as attentive to subjectivity and modes of thinking and nostalgia among development workers as it is to the hopes, fears and calculations of everyday citizens of a small town in Northeast Brazil. This book shows what anthropology can do at its best : undermine political platitudes and policy makers’ short-term thinking by offering a complex, grounded, human-centered understanding of political dynamics—not for the sake of complexity, but for the sake of greater precision. Aaron Ansell is assistant professor in the Department of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech.
By Audra Simpson
The APLA Book Prize Committee declared that Mohawk Interruptus is a nuanced ethnography with theoretically important contributions: namely, the need to acknowledge refusal as an indigenous political strategy at the center of relations between the Mohawks of Kahnawá:ke and the U.S. and Canadian governments. She shines light on the ongoing nature of North American settler-colonialism and resistance to it; this analysis is not only politically important, but also a welcome corrective to the hegemony of the human rights-dominated framework of political struggle.Through her analysis, Simpson carefully and powerfully reveals how this political strategy—the politics of refusal—lays bare the limitations of common tropes in liberal political theory. She demonstrates how a “politics of refusal” comprises a significant assertion of sovereignty and membership that requires a renewal of the liberal imaginary. Simpson’s book is remarkable for the variety of levels upon which the narrative and literary aspects of the text function. It is simultaneously anthropological critique, critique of anthropology, and political intervention. The text itself, with its ambiguities, personal inflections, and biting humor is itself a performance of some of the arguments Simpson is making about sovereignty, epistemology, and different modes of scholarly and political authority. Mohawk Interruptus is a sensitive, nuanced analysis of contradictory claims of sovereignty played out over the course of centuries and a stinging critique of social scientists’ willingness to accept colonial processes as a fait accompli. Audra Simpson is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University.