The Society for Cultural Anthropology is proud to award the 2018 Cultural Horizons Prize to Hannah Appel (University of California, Los Angeles) for her article “Toward an Ethnography of the National Economy,” which appeared in Cultural Anthropology 32, no. 2 (2017): 294–322.
Appel’s article is a compelling historical and ethnographic account of how a thing called “the national economy” is made through imagination, affect, and material practices. Denaturalizing the concept of national economy as embedded in the global history of capitalism, imperialism, and decolonization in the twentieth century, Appel argues that “ethnography can help us trace the sites, practices, people, documents, daydreams, and institutions that continuously remake the national economy as a serial global form.”
Set in Equatorial Guinea—a postcolonial African nation with a booming oil economy and an authoritarian regime—Appel’s article explores various practices of imagining a national economy, such as organizing national conferences, keeping records and statistics for the oil sector, and distributing pamphlets. The article draws on recent insights about the performative nature of markets and economics, while distinctively exploring the ways that economic facts might be proclaimed but not actually realized. In this way a West African nation becomes the location from which to critically interrogate dominant assumptions that structure global capitalism. Written with great clarity and rigorously argued, Appel’s article is an important interdisciplinary contribution to various areas of anthropology and beyond, including economic anthropology, the anthropology of capitalism, the anthropology of the state, African studies, and social studies of finance.
The Cultural Horizons Prize is awarded by the Society for Cultural Anthropology, a section of the American Anthropological Association, for the best article appearing in the previous year of its peer-reviewed journal Cultural Anthropology, as chosen by a jury of advanced graduate students. This year’s jury included Courtney Cecale (University of California, Los Angeles), Tomonori Sugimoto (Stanford University), and Tyler Zoanni (New York University).