Selfhood in Flames
Social Categorization and Identity in Arizona’s Prison Wildfire Program
This year’s APLA paper prize winner is Lindsey Feldman, a graduate student at the University of Arizona, for “Selfhood in Flames: Social Categorization and Identity in Arizona’s Prison Wildfire Program.” Lindsey’s paper about prisoners working as firefighters was a lyrical exploration of how people survive and find new ways to construct resilience and self despite the exploitation and social cauterization that characterize prison and prison labor. Her ethnography advances anthropological studies of prison, acutely needed under conditions of mass incarceration. She also explores intersubjectivity and the micro-level production of self, moving between analytical scales of subjectivation and discipline to everyday practice. While recognizing historical and contemporary patterns of forced labor in the U.S., the paper makes visible the truly heroic, unrecognized work that oppressed people must do to survive, as well as make meaning and social connections.
“Staging the Hackathon: Codeworlds and Code Work in México,” by Héctor Beltrán, University of California Berkeley
Héctor’s paper on young Mexican hackers contributes to the anthropology of creativity, work, and of social movements, as well as classic anthropological questions about how people create collective action across local/international scales, and how technology is both the product of human labor and the context within which new forms of labor emerge. Héctor’s compelling ethnographic descriptions of young hackers shows how young people use technologies to solve collective problems. At a time when the global practices of capitalism drive down remuneration for actual labor, he describes young hackers shifting their attention to meaning-making, rather than concrete commodities. Although the hackers are clear-eyed about tech’s false promises of huge commercial windfalls, they make conscious choices to substitute social and aesthetic values for commercial ones.
“Prosecution in the Shadow of the Jury,” by Anna Offit, Princeton University
Anna’s paper on the subjectivity of prosecutors contributes to recent sociolegal scholarship on the U.S. criminal justice system. Although trials are now infrequent in the U.S., Anna argues that in their everyday labor, prosecutors attempt to be conscious of the judgment and preferences of hypothetical juries, even in cases that will inevitably be resolved without trial. Anna argues that despite the structural tendencies within the justice system, decisions about charging are still shaped by prosecutor’s intuitive or empirical understandings of the “public,” even in cases that will never reach a jury. This understanding of the continuing salience of concepts like justice and the public in the day-to-day work of prosecutors offers a possible entry point for advocates of criminal justice reform, locating allies within the system who share a commitment to fairness and justice.