Jafari Allen, Darren Byler, and Maya Mikdashi Awarded the 2023 Gregory Bateson Book Prize

The Gregory Bateson Book Prize is awarded by the Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA), the largest section of the American Anthropological Association. Named after distinguished anthropologist, semiotician, cyberneticist, and photographer Gregory Bateson, the award reflects the SCA’s mandate to promote theoretically rich, ethnographically grounded research that engages the most current thinking across the arts and sciences. Welcoming a wide range of styles and arguments, the Gregory Bateson Prize looks to single out work that is interdisciplinary, experimental, and innovative. This year the Gregory Bateson Book Prize Jury honors three winners and one honorable mention. The jury reviewed over seventy books from a number of presses over a four month period. There were a number of outstanding submissions, reflecting the breadth and scope of the discipline. Ultimately the four books the jury chose reflect, each in their unique way, a deeply ethical ethnographic integrity, political commitment, and theoretical and citational rigor.

2023 Gregory Bateson Book Prize Winners

Jafari Allen's There’s a Disco Ball Between Us: A Theory of Black Gay Life (Duke University Press)

There’s a Disco Ball Between Us explores how power, love, agency, and activism play out in the lives of desiring subjects whose multiple and unruly histories constitute, though not without friction, the stuff of Black gay life. Allen offers an ethnography of an idea that refuses to be rooted in any particular place even as he rigorously traces the imprints that many different places have left on the historicity and politics of Black/Queer habits of life. This effervescent book stands out for its sumptuous writing, simultaneously playful and urgent engagement with the reader, and commitment to an anthological mode of listening and conversation that threads together multiple lineages of inspiration “across miles, seas, and continents.”

Darren Byler's Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City (Duke University Press)

Terror Capitalism is an outstanding example of the power of ethnography to illuminate the intricate logics and workings of colonial power. Bringing together deeply situated and globally resonant insights on racialization, surveillance, and settler colonialism, the book offers an unsparing and urgent critique of the profoundly violent intersections between capitalism and the state in Xinjiang. Byler’s empathetic and tender attention to the individual textures of Uyghur men’s lives and friendships reveals both the world-destroying nature of modern enclosure as well as its limits.

Maya Mikdashi's Sextarianism: Sovereignty, Secularism, and the State in Lebanon (Stanford University Press)

Sextarianism creatively and productively pulls at the threads that tie sect, sex, citizenship, sovereignty, and activism into unexpected knots in Lebanon. The book offers sharp, moving, and resolutely historical insights into longstanding anthropological debates on secularism and religion. Mikdashi’s ruminations on the complex relationships between ideology, epistemology, and methodology are an example of feminist ethnography at its finest.

Honorable Mention

Lamia Karim's Castoffs of Capital: Work and Love among Garment Workers in Bangladesh (University of Minnesota Press)

Castoffs of Capital is testament to the analytical insight and transformative potential of feminist analysis of political economy. Turning attention to how aging women workers navigate the perils of the Bangladesh garment industry by becoming new kinds of desiring subjects, Karim reminds us of the ethical and political importance of remaining attentive to the nuances and textures of individual lives.


The 2023 Gregory Bateson Book Prize Jury included Radhika Govindarajan (Chair, University of Washington), Hilda Lloréns (University of Rhode Island), and Ethiraj Gabriel Dattatreyan (NYU).