Kristina Lyons Awarded the 2017 Cultural Horizons Prize

The Society for Cultural Anthropology is proud to award the 2017 Cultural Horizons Prize to Kristina Lyons (University of California, Santa Cruz) for her article “Decomposition as Life Politics: Soils, Selva, and Small Farmers under the Gun of the U.S.–Colombia War on Drugs,” which appeared in Cultural Anthropology 31, no. 1 (2016): 56–81.

Challenging a portrayal of agroecology in the Colombian state of Putumayo as an effort by farmers to cultivate life against a liberal regime that necessitates the forced eradication of coca, Lyons’s article trains attention on selvic practices that disrupt the life/death binary. By weaving intricate details about relations of decay and growth in “a tropical forest ecology under military duress,” she unfolds an elegant argument—that “becoming into death” embraces the everyday decomposition and renewal of entire ecologies in the face of counterinsurgency campaigns modeled on eradication.

Based on extensive fieldwork and meticulous research, the article employs a carefully calibrated lyricism that animates and responds to the conceptual work of her interlocutors, human and nonhuman alike. Lyons’s writing wraps the reader in a dense weave of making and unmaking, enacting the “becoming into” that she finds. This is not an ethnographic enterprise in which the objects of inquiry are slotted into narrow disciplinary agendas, but rather an exercise in accounting for and responding to when the material suggests, even demands, theoretical jumps.

At a time when scholarly research is under attack, the political thrust of Lyons’s work is noteworthy. Not only does this piece advance knowledge and insight about the world, it also advances a radical politics of life and death in the Anthropocene, showcasing some of the ways that those people and plants so often understood exclusively as passive victims of the “wars” on drugs and terror demonstrate a capacity for rethinking and reworking vitality, agency, and scale. In this way, Lyons challenges scholars in a range of disciplinary locations to adopt a more nuanced—and expansive—approach to the concepts that matter in and for the fields in which we find ourselves.

Honorable Mention

The jury also awarded an honorable mention to Yen-Ling Tsai (National Chiao Tung University), Isabelle Carbonell (University of California, Santa Cruz), Joelle Chevrier (Land Dyke Feminist Family Farm), and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (University of California, Santa Cruz and Aarhus University) for their article “Golden Snail Opera: The More-than-Human Performance of Friendly Farming on Taiwan’s Lanyang Plain,” which appeared in Cultural Anthropology 31, no. 4 (2016): 520–44.

Through overlapping rhythms of reading, hearing, and seeing, this article documents the irreducible co-makings of golden snails, ducks, stray dogs, real-estate infrastructures, farmers, and ghosts as they live “in common” in Yilan’s rice fields after Taiwan’s Green Revolution. Through radical deconstruction of linearity and singularity and a rejection of a framing contrast between indigenous knowledge and science, the authors argue for attention to world-making practices rather than to ontology as a static trap, like the culture concept of old.

Tsai and colleagues write: “Farmers are not trapped in a static cosmology, whether science or tradition; they explore the peculiarities of the world . . . [we consider] practices that—crosscutting many lines—allow farmers to work with ontological difference, making it their ally rather than being held in its sway. Farmers, like anthropologists, appreciate that there are many kinds of world-making, and, like anthropologists, they know how to switch, combine, and juxtapose.” As a collaborative, media-and-text composition and performance that may serve as a classroom activity, this article exemplifies two practices reworking the discipline: multimodal publication and collaboration.

The Cultural Horizons Prize

The Cultural Horizons Prize is awarded by the Society for Cultural Anthropology, a section of the American Anthropological Association. The prize is awarded by a jury of doctoral students for the best article appearing in the previous year of Cultural Anthropology. This year’s jury of doctoral students included Charles McDonald (New School), John Moran (Stanford University), and Kali Rubaii (University of California, Santa Cruz).