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UC Press Takes Home 7 Awards at AAA

The AAA Annual Meeting, which took place in Washington, D.C. this year, was quite a whirlwind for UC Press. Seven different awards for six books. Non-stop meetings. Dinners, parties, and die-ins.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • We threw a dinner for Seth Holmes, who won the prestigious Margaret Mead Award. Executive Editor Naomi Schneider reports the dinner was attended by a wide array of senior anthropologists—Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Philippe Bourgois, Charles Briggs—who reconfirmed their commitment to social justice and human rights as guiding principles of their intellectual work.
  • We held a book party for Eduardo Kohn‘s How Forests Think, as well as a dinner to celebrate Joseph Hankin‘s new book, Working Skin.
  • There was a “die-in” in which primarily African-American anthropologists expressed their rage about the recent non-indictments in Ferguson and New York.
  • Issues surrounding the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel were a predominant theme of the meeting and AAA members rejected a proposed resolution opposing the academic boycott of Israel. 
Seth Holmes' acceptance speech for the Margaret Mead Award

Seth Holmes’ acceptance speech for the Margaret Mead Award

Congratulations to this year’s award winners:

These wonderful authors stopped by to say hello:

Tine Gammeltoft, author of Haunting Images

Sarah Besky, author of The Darjeeling Distinction

Sarah Besky, author of The Darjeeling Distinction

Cheryl Mattingly, author of Moral Laboratories

Cheryl Mattingly, author of Moral Laboratories

Jarrett Zigon, author of "HIV is God's Blessing"

Jarrett Zigon, author of “HIV is God’s Blessing”

Ruben Andersson, author of Illegality, Inc.

Ruben Andersson, author of Illegality, Inc.

For more research and insights on this year’s AAA theme, “Producing Anthropology,” be sure to check out our author blog series (and use hashtag #AAA2014 when sharing). Thanks to everyone for a great meeting; we can’t wait to do it again next year!

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Studying Them, Studying Us, Studying Up: What Role for an Engaged Anthropology?

by Ruben Andersson

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington DC. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme “Producing Anthropology.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and December 5th

It was at the end of a volunteering shift in a migrant holding centre that the question I had expected finally came, voiced in eloquent French. “Ah, so you are studying us?”

The speaker was a Malian man in his fifties, undocumented like everyone else in “the camp”, as migrants called their precarious home in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa. During research on irregular migration for my book Illegality, Inc., I often heard such retorts. “What can you offer us?” deportees asked me in Senegal, “and what do you want?” Their questions seemed the wrong way round, but for a good reason: they had seen too many visitors already.

At Europe’s southern fringes, migrants find themselves at the crosshairs of a powerful border apparatus – and they know it. “Human trading” was how one migrant stranded in Ceuta glossed his predicament. “They have work thanks to us,” said another, referencing not just camp workers and police but also the reporters, researchers and do-gooders waiting outside the facility’s fences. As one embittered Senegalese deportee summed it up, “there’s lots of money in illegal migration.”

As anthropologists strive to fill what Joel Robbins calls the “suffering slot,” focusing on marginalised people, we have entered “field sites” that are busy places indeed. How to frame and justify our studies here, amid the stampede of NGOs, reporters, officials and undercover police? These dilemmas became clear to me as I sat in sand-swept Dakar courtyards parrying questions from angry deportees. Yet as our discussions deepened, I glimpsed a way out. The deportees’ insistent question started guiding my research: “Who gains from ‘illegal migration’, and how?”

As I shifted focus from migrants to those working on migration, I entered another busy field beset by similar problems. Studying “up” and “sideways” have become ethnographic buzzwords – yet how do we retain our epistemic convictions, our anthropological sensibility, as we mingle with policy officers and political scientists, “quants” and criminologists, police and reporters? At times, it seems as if our distinctive ethnographic approach, relational and subjectively anchored, inhibits our ability to contribute to broader debates on pressing political problems.

I believe that we can take the lead in such debates thanks to, rather than in spite of, our convictions. But to do so we need to be able to speak beyond our discipline, as anthropological work on debt, conflict or humanitarianism has shown is eminently possible. We also need more methodological “promiscuity,” poaching tools and partnering up – just like my new border worker “informants” were doing as they built networks connecting humanitarians, border agents and journalists. Here we can tap into the knowledge of “marginalised” participants, too, who may serve as co-analysts of these very networks. And as we move between the small-scale and the systemic, between the “phenomenal” and the political, we may also gain an audience. Our ethnography puts flesh on the bare bones of academic abstraction.

True, these justifications may not satisfy my Malian questioner. However, we cannot shirk away from addressing large political problems, not least since we already inhabit a political arena that frames or funds our research – an arena, moreover, in which our work can easily be appropriated by powerful groups regardless of our intentions. Stepping fully into this field, anthropology can play an insurgent role in moving between disciplines and pushing beyond their stale confines, in a manner not too dissimilar to that of a clandestine migrant crossing fences and borders.

Ruben Andersson is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of International Development, London School of Economics and Political Science, and an associated researcher at the Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.

 

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ASC 2014 Recap

by Maura Roessner

Thanks to all who visited the UC Press exhibit at the recent American Society of Criminology annual meeting here in San Francisco! Whether you came by to browse new titles, fill us in on your research, or simply happened to wander in due to our convenient location next to the ice cream station, we always love the opportunity to talk to our readers and authors in person.

Jack Young, editorial assistant

Jack Young, editorial assistant

We are thrilled to announce the winner of our iPad giveaway: Bonnie R. Miller at Eastern Michigan University! If you subscribed to our eNews to enter the drawing, keep an eye out for discounts, announcements, and exam copy offers.

A big ASC highlight was the release of Kitty Calavita and Valerie Jenness’s Appealing to Justice, copies of which arrived at the booth directly from the printer. By turns hilarious, poignant, and gruesome, it’s a riveting book that offers an unprecedented window into contemporary life in prison, and it nicely expresses the conference theme, Criminology at the Intersections of Oppression. While celebrating over lunch, these authors demonstrated how good-natured they were about the breakneck production schedule by telling the first publishing joke I’ve ever heard: How many editors does it take to change a light bulb? (Scroll for answer)

From left to right: Kim Robinson, editorial director; Valerie Jenness, author; Leslie Davisson, marketing manager; Kitty Calavita, author; Maura Roessner, senior editor

From left to right: Kim Robinson, editorial director; Valerie Jenness, co-author of Appealing to Justice; Leslie Davisson, marketing manager; Kitty Calavita, co-author of Appealing to Justice;
Maura Roessner, senior editor

Hadar Aviram’s Cheap on Crime is heading to the printer now, and already generated quite a bit of buzz. It’s one of the first analyses of how the discourse on criminal justice reform has shifted from a focus on human rights to fiscal prudence in the wake of the recession, and what that shift signals for long-term policy changes. For those of you in the Bay Area, join us at Book Passage in the Ferry Building on February 25 to hear Professor Aviram talk about humonetarianism in action, from the passage of Prop 47 to the California Attorney General’s argument that court-ordered early release programs deprive prisons of a valuable source of cheap labor.

From left to right: Maura Roessner, senior editor; Hadar Aviram, author of Cheap on Crime; Jack Young, editorial assistant; Leslie Davisson, marketing manager

From left to right: Maura Roessner, senior editor; Hadar Aviram, author of Cheap on Crime;
Jack Young, editorial assistant; Leslie Davisson, marketing manager

We ran into Marjorie Zatz as she took a break from reviewing copyedits for Dreams and Nightmares in her hotel room. Professor Zatz and her coauthor Nancy Rodriguez have been updating the manuscript in real time as immigration policies and practices shape and shift in the absence of comprehensive reform. This photo was taken just hours before President Obama announced a series of executive actions that will shield five million people from deportation, allowing them to work legally and live without fear of being detained by local enforcement for minor offenses.

From left to right: Leslie Davisson, marketing manager; Maura Roessner, senior editor; Marjorie Zatz, author of Dreams and Nightmares

From left to right: Leslie Davisson, marketing manager; Maura Roessner, senior editor;
Marjorie Zatz, author of Dreams and Nightmares

It’s always inspiring to spend time with people doing such important, transformational research, and to work together to make sure it has the broadest possible impact. This marks my third ASC conference in as many years at the Press, and I’m tremendously grateful to be a part of such vibrant community.

Maura Roessner is Senior Editor, Criminology, Criminal Justice, Law & Society for UC Press.

 

**Three. One to change the light bulb and two to hold the author down.

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Producing Dead Mosquitoes

by Alex M. Nading

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington DC. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme “Producing Anthropology.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and December 5th

Whenever the epidemiology office in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua learned of a case of dengue fever, standard procedure was to first kill mosquitoes. It is, after all, a mosquito that transmits the dengue fever virus among humans. In Ciudad Sandino, responsibility for producing dead mosquitoes fell to Don Nacho and Don Noë, the city’s two “entomological technicians.”

As I describe in my book, Mosquito Trails, in order to kill mosquitoes, forms had to be signed, verbal arrangements had to be made with ambulance drivers, and gasoline expenditures had to be approved by health center directors. The commissioning of a gasoline-powered vehicle was particularly important, and particularly disruptive. In the course of my fieldwork, an order for dead mosquitoes led to the suspension of several other vehicle-dependent activities, such as water quality testing, quarterly rabies vaccination campaigns for dogs, and even routine house-to-house mosquito control visits.

You could tell when Don Nacho or Don Noë had come to your neighborhood by the distinctive sound of their main piece of equipment, the motomochila, echoing off of the concrete walls and metal roofs. The motomochila looked like a heavy-duty leaf blower and was essentially a small two-stroke engine mounted to a backpack frame. The engine powered a fogging machine that released a vaporized, diluted solution of an aerial insecticide, a neurotoxin that was calibrated at Managua’s central vector-borne disease headquarters to kill adult mosquitoes on contact.

Not all mosquitoes will die in a given fogging. Some will resist the poison, and eventually their offspring will dominate the population. Thus, levels of insecticide in the motomochila’s dilution had to be high enough to kill a significant number of mosquitoes but low enough to make the evolutionary march to mosquito population resistance as slow as possible. A massive dose of high-powered insecticide would be effective in the short-term but render the chemical useless in the long term.

The head entomologist for the Department of Managua was responsible for keeping track of organized mosquito deaths. Each year, they tested various insecticides at various strengths on control colonies bred in a mosquito nursery. They delivered their findings about mosquito death rates to their supervisor, who selected a poison and determined an official yearly dilution level for the district. Since the resources for insecticide were limited, the decision about an acceptable death rate was part science, and part economics. Even though the number of dengue cases fluctuated over the course of the year, the Nicaraguan health ministry’s budget for mosquito killing was constant, set just once a year.

In our interviews, the head entomologist told me that a series of right-wing governments in the 1990s and early 2000s had denigrated the skills of those tasked with killing mosquitoes. They were more interested in saving money than in understanding mosquitoes. Last-ditch slaughters, organized after reported dengue cases, did little to change the overall rate of infection. And dengue case numbers in Nicaragua had been rising steadily over that same period.

“Mosquitoes,” the entomologist told me, “are animals of custom like us.” They adapted to control regimes, so it was up to trained “field workers” to adapt to them through seasonal experimentation. The term “field workers” seems significant. Like anthropologists, health workers in Nicaragua were both learning about the world around them and learning in the world around them. Their skills were incorporated, both in the sense that they emerged from a bodily interaction with mosquitoes and in the sense that they became essential to the Ministry of Health’s ability to produce both healthy humans and dead mosquitos.

Alex M. Nading is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Franklin & Marshall College.

 

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TLS on the "Sad Tale" of Student Loan Debt

The Times Literary Supplement says Joel and Eric Best, the father-son team behind The Student Loan Mess: How Good Intentions Created a Trillion-Dollar Problem, have “produced what is probably the best and clearest book on the United States’ complex student debt problem.” Student debt, which now exceeds $1 trillion and is predicted to reach $2 trillion by 2020, threatens to become the sequel to the mortgage meltdown, the authors argue in their new book. The review (only available to TLS subscribers), describes the Bests’ project to reveal the severity of America’s student debt crisis and explain how we arrived here:

Expanded student loan programmes boosted the demand for college, which made college more expensive, which in turn increased the need for student loans. Along the way, the federal government was classifying student loans as an asset on its books and so it received few serious warning signals that a major problem was building up. State governments saw that the loans were maintaining the demand for college and so they cut back on direct aid to the institutions, which further hurt affordability.

TLS isn’t sanguine about where we go from here, but concludes that The Student Loan Mess is a must-read for understanding the scope of the problem. Ultimately, the author writes, there “will be a very painful restructuring for what has traditionally been one of America’s strongest sectors – maybe its strongest – by global standards. If this does end up being a century of American decline, the student debt debacle will have played a modest but not minor role.”

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Ethnographic Insights into Health Care and the Stalling of Immigration Reform

by Seth Holmes

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington DC. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme “Producing Anthropology.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and December 5th

Recent debates over immigration reform have been abstract, and often fail to consider the real life experiences of individual immigrants themselves. Over the last decade, I spent time conducting fieldwork in a vertical slice of transnational agriculture with indigenous Mexican migrant farm workers, border patrol agents, health professionals, and farm owners.

During this field research, my migrant companions and I lived in labor camps and picked berries in Washington State, stayed in a slum apartment and pruned vineyards in California, and harvested and planted corn while living in a village in southern Mexico. We also crossed the border from Mexico into Arizona together, and spent time in a border patrol jail before my companions were deported and I was released with a fine. In Washington State, the farm workers toiled every day, rain or shine, from before dawn until that day’s field was harvested. They worked seven days a week, bent over, picking berries and pruning grape vines.

Many politicians and media outlets depict migrants as “criminals” or “illegal aliens,” who are “draining our economy” and therefore do not deserve benefits afforded American citizens, including health care. This exclusion from health care coverage continues for many categories of immigrants, both undocumented and documented, even under the Affordable Care Act. Quite the contrary of the common political and media representations, I found my undocumented Mexican immigrant companions to be law-abiding, hardworking people who are anything but burdens on the American economy. In fact, many farm workers work so hard to provide healthy, fresh food that their own bodies become sick or injured.

Farm work carries a physical toll. Even though I worked in the fields only one or two days a week, I experienced stress as well as back, hip, and knee pain for days after. I watched my farmworker companions suffer these pains, as well as give premature birth, develop knee and back injuries, suffer extreme stress, and experience pesticide poisoning. I watched these same farm workers avoid medical care whenever possible, continuing to work long days in order to care for their families and harvest fruit for American consumers.  Conducting fieldwork in this vertical slice of U.S. agriculture deepened my theoretical understanding of the ways in which social hierarchies and health inequalities come to be perceived as normal and natural in society and in health care, such that farm workers and others are often understood to deserve their social positions and health problems.

The United States reaps enormous benefits from the work of immigrant farm workers. They labor under difficult and dangerous circumstances, often harming their own bodies in order to provide American consumers with fresh food. It is time to move past political posturing to do what is right for the people who work hard to feed us. These people deserve truly comprehensive immigration reform and they deserve health care.

Seth M. Holmes is Martin Sisters Assistant Professor of Public Health and Medical Anthropology at UC Berkeley. He is the author of Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States (2013), winner of the Society for the Anthropology of Work Book Award and the New Millennium Book Award from the Society for Medical Anthropology.

 

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Email from Ngeti

by James H. Smith 

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington DC. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme “Producing Anthropology.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and December 5th. Warning: This post contains profanity.

Man, it was crazy! It was like walking into a world that was permanently drifting in and out of a thick pea soup, no terra firma, just gently undulating dough under your feet. Imagine the dough to be grayish in color, a fucking large expanse of it, and if you looked real hard at it you would catch a glimpse of a winking eye and an obscene fat finger with a pouting red mouth at the end of it sticking up at you, saying “Fuck you, with knots on, A-hole!!” It was pure zombie land, where reason plays second fiddle to the intricacies of the unconscious.

My old friend Ngeti wrote this to me in an email some years after I returned to the States from the Taita Hills, where I first came to know him while conducting doctoral research on issues related to witchcraft and development. In the spirit of transparency and revelation that had lately become his own, Ngeti had begun opening up to me about aspects of his personal history that were new to me. In this message, Ngeti was trying to get me to understand the experiences he went through “at the hands of the great waghanga,” or what he referred to as “witchdoctors,” over ten years ago, when he was still a teenager. He had gone to visit this particular healer with his father, who was worried about the fact that he seemed to hate books so much, for he had dropped out of school.

After some time communicating in this way, we decided to work together, turning his thoughts about his experiences into a co-authored book. I soon found myself faced with the problem of how to put different pieces of his narrative together to form a whole: although Ngeti did a great job of translating his experiences into English for others, there was so much more that was significant for understanding his story, which I felt also needed to be conveyed. The end result was an innovative ethnography that self-consciously interweaves my thoughts and his through emails and ruminations on those letters, as well as more traditional methods like extended interviews in the field.

Email from Ngeti implicitly poses many challenging questions related to the production of anthropology: what happens to ethnography when the anthropologist’s “informant” is also a kind of anthropologist, estranged from his own home and painstakingly curious about other worlds? One thing that became clear is that far from being “cut off” from the rest of the world, Ngeti was creatively engaging with other places from a very early age, even when he knew next to nothing about them. The messages introduce readers to a person and to aspects of Africa that are different from what they might be accustomed to, since they represent none of the well-worn extremes of Africa. Unseen people like Ngeti, and the mundane but poignant everyday struggles in which they are continually engaged are rarely viewed as being significant or important.

For some time now, anthropology has been grappling with new ways to transcend its own limits, often by using “theory” (and, ironically, continental philosophy) to escape from Western philosophical assumptions, and perhaps unleash a new world in the bargain (the so called ontological turn, for example). While many of these interventions have been very salutary, they often reiterate the singular voice of the author-theorist whose mind grasps all the connections that need to be made. There is a certain risk in presenting material in the way Ngeti and I have, in that it upends the ethnographer’s absolute authority without giving up on the challenging task of interpretation on the part of that very ethnographer. And so Email from Ngeti points to a possible form of collaboration that might help anthropology to forge new directions in the future.

James H. Smith is Associate Professor of Anthropology at University of California, Davis.

Ngeti Mwadime lives, works, and looks for opportunities in the Taita Hills and Mombasa, Kenya.

 

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Women’s Migration through the Lens of Food Insecurity

by Megan A. Carney

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington DC. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme “Producing Anthropology.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and December 5th.

“There is never enough money to buy food…I’m constantly stressed. If it’s not one thing, then it’s another.” As the mother of three children who struggled to find even part-time employment, Linda experienced the daily struggle (la lucha diaria) of getting enough food to feed her household. This daily struggle was all too familiar to the one she had been accustomed to in rural Mexico: “Our parents could barely afford our diet of rice and beans, much less other items like meat and cheese.” Her undocumented status in the United States only complicated matters further by placing constraints on where she could go to ask for help in times of need.

The structural causes of poverty and food insecurity do not begin and end at geopolitical borders. As I describe in The Unending Hunger, women’s hopes for a better life in migrating from Mexico and Central America to the United States quickly dissipate in the context of resettlement for the reason that they find no escape from the hardships that had impelled them to migrate in the first place.

Neoliberal economic policies—piggybacking on a history of structural adjustment programs—have displaced millions of people from rural livelihoods throughout Latin America. Processes mandated by these policies—trade liberalization, deregulation, and privatization—have rendered an uneven distribution of life chances as national governments increasingly defund welfare programs and surrender entire populations to the violence of abject poverty and hunger. Women account for more than half of those fleeing to the United States in search of better opportunities, but there is a neoliberal logic that awaits them here as well: food insecurity and hunger are conceptualized as individual failures rather than as collective or social problems.

With the simultaneous militarization of borders, and of the immigrant experience more generally through practices of detention, deportation, and heightened surveillance, there are multiple, layered forms of scrutiny and social exclusion shaping the lived experiences of women who migrate from impoverished settings in Latin America to the United States. While conducting fieldwork on food insecurity with Mexican and Central American women in the United States, I have witnessed countless occasions in which they allude to such oppressive social forces, and often when conversing in community circles with other women who face similar circumstances. They make statements such as “I’m interested in the rights of women. I know many women who are marginalized, who do not have a voice or a vote,” “One does not speak because it gives one shame. One has to be brave enough to say something, but for shame she does not,” “We Mexican women, or Latinas, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to express ourselves. Many people do not give us the opportunity to explain ourselves because they are lecturing us.”

The everyday struggle for food is thus not only about food: it provides a lens for interrogating violations of human rights on a global scale and serves as a platform for mobilizing goals of social inclusion and justice. The implications of this struggle hold obvious importance beyond the field of anthropology. Engaged anthropologists and social scientists probe into the underlying forces of people’s suffering not simply for the sake of producing knowledge, but for connecting with broader publics. In producing anthropological knowledge, we are motivated by the question of who or what should be held accountable in a world of profound and expansive inequalities. Moving forward, we cannot forget that our work is primarily in service to others; the future of our discipline depends on our willingness and capacity to conceptualize research projects that will disrupt the status quo and yield to social change.


Megan A. Carney
is a lecturer at the University of Washington in the Department of Anthropology and in the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program. Her recent article “Border Meals: Detention Center Feeding Practices, Migrant Subjectivity, and Questions on Trauma” appeared in Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies. She is also the author of the forthcoming book The Unending Hunger: Tracing Women and Food Insecurity Across Borders.

 

Please use hashtag #AAA2014 when sharing on Twitter or Facebook.

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