The Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA) is proud to award the seventh annual Gregory Bateson prize to Lucas Bessire (University of Oklahoma) for his book, Behold the Black Caiman: A Chronicle of Ayoreo Life (University of Chicago Press).
With this powerful ethnography, Bessire pours more than a decade of fieldwork with the Ayoreo in Bolivia and Paraguay into an impassioned plea for their complex humanity. His book is a beautifully written, elegiac account of individual Ayoreos as they attempt to make sense of their dehumanization at the hands of other citizens, bureaucrats, and “specialists” in their fate. More importantly, Bessire reveals the limits of the contemporary political technology of indigeneity as it appears in Latin American state policy and anthropological theory. His writing is searingly insightful about the consequences of extreme social disintegration and inspiring in its descriptions of people enduring. Through experimental forms of fragmented narrative, Bessire wrestles with both the impotence and power of being an anthropologist. Most significantly, he shows how inequality continues to be generated by forms of culturalism both inside and outside the academy.
The runner-up for this year’s Bateson Prize is Laurence Ralph (Harvard University), for his book Renegade Dreams: Living through Injury in Gangland Chicago (University of Chicago Press). The judges recognized Ralph’s book to be a valuable and far-reaching contribution by an anthropologist to current debates. Based on three years of fieldwork on the West Side of Chicago, this impressive ethnography explores how experiences of social injury are transformed into aspirations in the face of injustice. The theme is a universal one, and yet Ralph also vividly takes us inside the everyday experiences of gang members, activists, community leaders, and archivists in an African-American neighborhood. We learn how inequality is created and how people continue to dream of its overcoming in the face of impossible odds. Ralph not only reveals contemporary forms of suffering; he also explores how this suffering can be publicly healed and scaled up to generate political change. Ultimately, his text exceeds anthropology as a discipline to intervene in vital contemporary debates about race and resilience.
The judges also awarded an honorable mention to Noelle Stout (New York University), for her book After Love: Queer Intimacy and Erotic Economies in Post-Soviet Cuba (Duke University Press). The judges recognized Stout’s book for its theoretical originality. As she examines intimacy, desire, labor, and sexuality in the context of late socialism and global capitalism, Stout produces a new canon for the study of intimate economies forged from anthropology, queer theory, trans theory, and affect theory. Her intervention promises to open up whole new fields of inquiry: for example, linking love, commodities, and citizenship to map the contours of a political economy of love. Yet this brave and sophisticated book is also a nuanced urban ethnography of sex workers, sex tourists and gay-identified men and women in Havana. Rather than focusing on an ostensible minority, Stout reflects on how each of these groups negotiate the conflict between authentic emotions and self-interest. She also makes an innovative argument for the limits of the concept of sexuality, urging us to replace it with the notion of volatile, mobile desire.
The Gregory Bateson Prize
The Gregory Bateson Prize is awarded annually at the meetings of the American Anthropological Association and carries a honorarium of $500. This year’s prize competition saw eighty entries from thirty-eight different presses. The jury included Laura Bear (London School of Economics), Sarah Franklin (University of Cambridge), and Lisa Davis (Princeton University).