By the APLA Book Prize Committee Members: Rosemary Coombe, Alex Golub, Erik Harms, Audra Simpson and Andrea Ballestero
We are pleased to announce the winners and honorable mention of this year’s APLA Book Prize!
Winner: Fennell, Catherine. (2015). Last Project Standing: Civics and Sympathy in Post-Welfare Chicago, University of Minnesota Press.
Last Project Standing: Civics and Sympathy in Post-Welfare Chicago, published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2015, is a careful, creative and rigorous study of public housing regeneration in Chicago. The book is a fascinating work that braids together questions of affect, the body, sympathy, and material infrastructures along with classical political and legal concerns about living life collectively amidst asymmetries of all sorts. Showing how anthropological approaches make powerful and transformative contributions to the study of policy fields, Fennel not only writes about empathy, sympathy and proximity in efforts of citizenship-building and transformation of civic consciousness, she also performs that epistemic position throughout her writing. Her prose is sharp and empathic.
Last Project Standing pulls out the very politics that emerge from the complex intersection between humans and things (heaters, pipes, seals) in profound ways. It reminds us that the forms of housing people build, the ones they destroy, and the ones they preserve are part of the very making of political communities. Constructing and maintaining buildings, Fennell shows, is also about the building and maintenance of subject positions from which people mingle, flourish and in some instances distance themselves from 20th century imaginaries of what an “American life” should be and the ruble left by its decline in the post-welfare era.
The committee was very impressed not only by the depth of Fennell’s field engagement but also by the care with which she examines issues of race and citizenship with dignity and theoretical insight. Her weaving of ethnographic material with robust theoretical concerns is exemplary. Her attention to the materiality of everyday life and its politics is inspiring and an extraordinary example of how new (and old) theoretical concerns can be enlivened and re-discovered through the craft of ethnography.
Honorable Mention: Campbell, Jeremy M. (2015). Conjuring Property: Speculation and Environmental Futures in the Brazilian Amazon, University of Washington Press.
Conjuring Property: Speculation and Environmental Futures in the Brazilian Amazon published by the University of Washington Press in 2105 tackles an issue central to legal anthropology: the legitimacy and legibility of property regimes. Campbell explores this question in an area that for one purpose or another has been rendered a frontier: the Brazilian Amazon. Through a careful and insightful analysis, Conjuring Property invites us think of property-making as a technology of development turned towards a future that is always about to arrive, but never quite does.
Ethnographically, the book shows us the detailed vitally material tactics people use to make claims to property, how these claims overlap and compete, and the means by which they are upheld through the difficult, demanding, and repetitive labors of working lands and maintaining boundaries.
The committee was very impressed by the scale and depth of the fieldwork behind Conjuring Property. One of the committee members described her immersion into the narrative as opening cinematic imagery and imaginaries. Campbell’s exploration of the material, documentary, and political work necessary to bring about property as a legal and economic figure is an ambitious one that challenges conventional approaches to the right and wrong sides of history by refusing to morally categorize the actions of his interlocutors in predictable ways. Ultimately, he provides an elegant and deeply grounded example of how, by interrogating concepts with which we have become familiar, legal anthropology helps us re-discover new worlds in the making.