The Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA) is happy to announce that the 2023 winner of the annual Cultural Horizons Prize is Prof. Ruth Goldstein for the article, “Life in Traffic: Riddling Field Notes on the Political Economy of “Sex” and Nature.”
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 Julio Villa-Palomino (UNC Chapel Hill) and Kenza Yousfi (UT Austin).
In recognizing Prof. Golstein’s article, the jurors write:
Ruth Goldstein’s “Life in Traffic: Exploring Field Notes on the Political Economy of ‘Sex’ and Nature” offers a thought-provoking and meticulously detailed ethnographic account of the interplay between political economy and ecology at the juncture of Latin America’s Interoceanic Highway and the mineral-rich Amazonian region of Madre de Dios in Peru. Goldstein’s work prompts us to engage in broader conversations about the complex intersections of ecologies with global and local economies, as well as about the evolving methods necessary for understanding, theorizing, and researching those intersections—particularly within the context of resource extraction and socio-political dynamics in the Global South. The article also creates opportunities for experimental exploration, description, and narration and sheds new analytical light on extractive economies and sexual systems. Goldstein highlights how the nature of extractive economies is interwoven with the geopolitical intricacies of border crossings and the movement of people and commodities. These interdependent dynamics and exchanges connect people and resources revealing how they cannot be considered distinct entities but rather must be comprehended as overlapping.
Goldstein’s analysis of “traffic” reveals how the Interoceanic Highway plays a vital role in the convergence of various economies by serving as a transitional pathway. Within this context, the interconnected ecologies encompassing extracted gold, male laborers involved in mining, and the provision of sexual services by women are further shaped by the transient nature of the region’s political economy, characterized by the physical movement of commodities and individuals along the highway. It becomes evident that the highway creates conditions conducive to the flow of women and nature.
Goldstein challenges the traditional understanding of sexual exploitation, which is sadly prevalent in violent economies such as those involved in mineral resource extraction. She invites us to view the concept of “traffic” through a broader multispecies lens. Within this framework, women exist in relation to other trafficked goods and people, emphasizing the intricate web of relationships that characterize trafficking dynamics. The notion of traffic thus illuminates the complex interplay between infrastructure, empire, and multispecies interactions within this unique socio-economic and ecological context. The concept of “traffic” provides a unique and insightful approach to understanding the complex interplay between social, political, and economic factors that impact (im)mobility patterns. Moreover, it encourages exploration into the concept of reverse-ability, inviting further reflection on its intricate intersections.
Overall, “Life in Traffic” lays the groundwork for stimulating discussions within sociocultural anthropology. It delves into dynamic political economies and ecologies that are in constant flux, exploring how people and things mutually influence and are influenced by these forces. This is an exceptionally well-crafted, self-reflective, and critically informed narrative that underscores the significance of writing as a vital component of the anthropological work involved in constructing and making sense of theory.
Submitted by Andrea Ballestero (University of Southern California) Cultural Horizons Prize Chair.