This year’s APLA Book Prize goes to Karina Biondi for Sharing This Walk: An Ethnography of Prison Life and the PCC in Brazil. This book was edited and translated by John F. Collins and was published by the University of North Carolina Press.
Sharing This Walk is a gripping exploration of the First Command of Capital (or PCC), São Paulo’s infamous prison gang that dominates the inside of many of Brazil’s carceral facilities. Innovative in method and its approach to questions of democracy, organization, and the state, the book is based on Biondi’s years of work with collaborators whom she met through her own personal navigation of Brazil’s prison system. In a time when prisons are bursting in much of Latin America (as elsewhere), and in which conventional wisdom holds that prison gangs are highly organized, hierarchical, and invested in forms of authority that constitute a “counter-state,” Biondi’s account is full of surprises that double as incisive exposés of how much we get wrong about prison life.
“A bold signal for the future of political anthropology”
Dedicated to what she calls the “possibility of a novel anthropology,” Biondi’s ethnography blurs the line between memoir, field report, astute analysis, and theoretical tour de force. The PCC emerges as a decentralized organization founded on its members’ shared commitment to equality, a rule that assures that no individual becomes associated with any particular position within the gang. Rather than reading hierarchy and state-ness into the structure of the PCC, Biondi listens for the incipient forms of democracy that inhere in the PCC’s version of politics. It’s a politics born in prisons—the very center of the state—but which transcends the place of the prison or the body of the individual gang member. Showing how prisons are places for everyday experiments of democratization is both the book’s contribution and its challenge for us all to think more carefully about our concepts and our methods.
In the committee’s view, Biondi’s venture into a Deleuzean anthropology is inspiring, not least because it leads political anthropology back to questions first posed by Clastres on how societies can be organized against state-like hierarchies. John Collins’ deft translation holds fast to Biondi’s affecting prose and lucid style. Sharing This Walk strikes us as a rare achievement: a rich and approachable text for teaching and a bold signal for the future of political anthropology.
Two Honorable Mention Books
This year, APLA recognized two honorable mention books: Antina von Schnitzler, for the book Democracy’s Infrastructure: Techno-Politics and Protest After Apartheid, published by Princeton, and Nitzan Shoshan, for the book The Management of Hate: Nation, Affect, and the Governance of Right Wing Extremism in Germany.
The committee was excited by von Schnitzler’s identification and analysis of how everyday infrastructures in South Africa – especially those related to water and electricity – have become key sites for battles over the country’s political transformation from apartheid. We loved her rich ethnographic focus on contests over prepaid water meters as evidencing new forms of techno-politics. We were impressed by the way the book opens up important analytic space to understand less obvious forms of activism in our contemporary moment, and how they are produced through engagements with material technologies – with major consequences for the futures of citizenship and democracy.
The second honorable mention goes to Nitzan Shoshan, for the book The Management of Hate: Nation, Affect, and the Governance of Right Wing Extremism in Germany, published by Princeton. Our committee found Shoshan’s ethnography of marginalized right-wing youth in Germany to be brave, sensitive, and theoretically sophisticated. We think it is exceptionally useful for understanding not only the current rise of the right wing in Europe (and perhaps worldwide), but also its persistence. Finally, we deeply appreciate Shoshan’s rethinking of governance as an affective project that attempts, and often fails, to manage cultural difference.
This year’s book prize committee: Jeremy Campbell, Catherine Fennell, Jeffrey Martin, Samuel Martinez, and Jessica Winegar, chair.