Amiel Bize Awarded the 2021 Cultural Horizons Prize

The Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA) is happy to announce that the 2021 winner of the annual Cultural Horizons Prize is Amiel Bize for the article “The Right to the Remainder: Gleaning in the Fuel Economies of East Africa’s Northern Corridor.”

Recognizing that doctoral students are among the most experimentally minded—and often among the best-read—of ethnographic writers, the SCA created the Cultural Horizons Prize, which is awarded by a jury of doctoral students for the best article appearing in the previous year of Cultural Anthropology.

This year’s jurors were Yasemin Ozer (CUNY Graduate Center), EB Saldana (Princeton University), and Meenakshi Nairobis Aubujan (The Graduate Institute, Geneva).

In recognizing Amiel Bize’s article, the jurors write:

Amiel Bize’s “The Right to the Remainder: Gleaning in the Fuel Economies of East Africa's Northern Corridor” is a conceptually exciting and beautifully written article that unravels the inner workings of a complex economic system and its moral underpinnings—the remainder. Bize starts with a hand gesture, a Kenyan truck driver’s signaling out the window that he wishes to sell “the remainder,” the marginal leftover fuel in the tank of his truck. In the article, Bize presents us a dynamic world, situating the remainder within broader economic and political contexts, including the liberalization of the oil industry and the long-standing divide between urban and rural regions in East Africa, and within locally salient ethical understandings about “entitlement,” “share,” “value,” and “economic justice” that make up this elaborate yet marginal roadside fuel trade. She attends to the words and actions of everyone involved: the truck drivers, the brokers who strike the deals, the siphoning crews, the trucking companies, the police, and even the plastic fuel containers themselves, mitungi, which arguably play the most central role in these operations. The moral and material universe constructed and negotiated by these characters is made sensible to us thanks to Bize’s nuanced explanations of the metaphors used daily on the ground: “intentional accidents,” “leakage,” and “milking,” which all contain rights claims about who is entitled to what kinds of liquids and on what grounds. The careful use of these metaphors, moreover, permits us to understand the stakes of these transactions and the blurriness between licit and illicit.

Combining careful historical and ethnographic analyses with conceptual originality through her use of the ancient practice of “gleaning”—the right to harvest leftovers by peasants—to make sense of roadside fuel economy, Bize invites us to ask timely questions that reach beyond the specific concerns of economic anthropology and agrarian studies: How can we understand alternative projects of resource redistribution and economic justice emerging from the margins of liberalized economies? How can we move beyond dualistic approaches that frame these alternative economic systems as either radical alternatives to profit or mere instances of incorporation into global capitalist circuits? What does studying alternative forms of valuation and ethics of claims-making look like today in contexts of “actually existing liberalism”? As graduate students committed to thinking beyond critiques of existing social, political, and economic arrangements to envision alternative projects for social justice, we were inspired by the way Bize offers us a way to explore these questions, to demonstrate what “a moral economy not organized in opposition to profit or to capital, but one that nevertheless decenters it” (481) could look like.

Submitted by Andrea Muehlebach (University of Bremen) and Ramah McKay (University of Pennsylvania), Cultural Horizons Prize Co-Chairs.