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The GAD New Directions Award recognizes work that presents anthropological perspectives to publics beyond the academy across diverse forms of media, with methodological rigor and ethical engagement. The award is offered in two categories: Group and Individual.
This year’s winners will be recognized at the GAD Awards Ceremony at AAA in Vancouver, Friday, November 22, at 8:00pm.
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The Center for Imaginative Ethnography
The Centre for Imaginative Ethnography (CIE) is a transnational independent research collective formed in 2011, led by socio-cultural anthropologists Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier (University of Victoria), Dara Culhane (Simon Fraser University), Denielle Elliott (York University), Magdalena Kazubowski-Houston (York University), and Cristina Moretti (Simon Fraser University). Its five co-curators and eighty-four current members include scholars, artists, artist/scholars, activists, and practitioners located around the world. The CIE offers a space for communication and collaboration, debate and practice, creativity and action generated by experimental and emergent ethnographic methodologies that integrate and fuse creative arts, digital media, and sensory ethnography, and where new ethnographic writing is encouraged in teaching, theory, and practice.
In making their selection, the Award Committee noted the CIE as an excellent and truly collaborative long-term intervention in the domain of pubic anthropology that fosters experimentation in genre, media, and presentation, and in new venues that link anthropology and the human sciences to producers and audiences of across the arts.
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Joint Winners: Ilana Gershon, ChorSwang Ngin
Award Committee deliberations resulted in a tie, with Ilana Gershon (Indiana University) and ChorSwang Ngin (California State University, Los Angeles) as joint winners
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The award recognizes Ilana Gershon for a body of work that fosters anthropological conversation through a variety of channels and range of scholarly and public outreach activities. This work encompass two books for the general public; the CaMP anthropology blog and virtual reading group; and a slew of public outreach that includes: two dozen articles and guest blogposts for magazines and websites; and over seventy-five radio, podcast, and news interviews and appearances in local, national and international media outlets.
Gershon’s most recent book, Down and Out in the New Economy (2017) is written for a general public, and demonstrates that linguistic anthropology offers many useful analytical insights for understanding the contemporary U.S. corporate hiring ritual, and evaluating the advice commonly given to jobseekers. In The Break-Up 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media (Cornell 2010, 4) Gershon argues that new media not only create new forms of connection and new networks, but also new possibilities for disconnecting. The book, which is widely taught and has received attention from outlets from Teen Vogue to the New York Times, explores the current moment as one in which new media have been introduced without consensus about the ethics of using them.
Gershon has been running the CaMP anthropology blog at the intersection of linguistic anthropology, media anthropology, and performance studies since 2016. The blog showcases new books, author interviews, and recent dissertations, and is accompanied by a virtual reading group that brings anthropologists from Belgium, Brazil, Israel, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and U.S. together monthly via video conferencing to speak with the authors of new books.
The Award Committee noted Gershon’s work as an outstanding example of anthropology addressed to a broad range of publics, and a model of the discipline’s contemporary relevance. They were particularly impressed by the balance of rigor and accessibility in her books, engaging general readers with concrete insights they can “apply”, while offering broader conceptual understanding. Gershon’s contributions across this wide range of scholarly, mentoring, and public outreach activities are impressive and exactly the kind of work the New Directions Award was created to honor.
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The Award Committee recognizes ChorSwang Ngin for her work of the last 17 years as an anthropological expert witness helping attorneys and their asylum petitioners to gain favorable asylum outcomes; and for her book, Identities on Trial in the United States: Asylum Seekers from Asia (Lexington 2018) that expands anthropological perspectives through engagement with the legal process for verifying the identities of the asylum seekers in United States Federal Courts. Ngin addresses the problematics of identifying Asian asylum seekers without re-inscribing “race” and without essentializing culture. The project extends from Ngin’s work with Vietnamese boat people in Southeast Asian refugee camps 35 years earlier. Her work is timely and speaks to the current humanitarian crisis of refugees and asylum seekers globally, demonstrating the many ways anthropological engagement is possible through teaching, training, research, organizing conference panels, local and international collaboration.
Ngin bridges applied and public anthropology, bringing anthropological expertise into the arena of asylum claims and refugee status, and expanding in new directions as a scholar, mentor, teacher, and, most recently, playwright. She co-authored The Houseguest from Xinjiang, a play about a Chinese Muslim in the U.S. caught in the Muslim ban that forces us to think about identity making. It has had several staged readings and was produced at University Student Union Theatre at Cal State LA in 2017.
Ngin regularly co-presents with immigration attorneys at academic conferences, and works to get students at her large, urban, Hispanic-serving, public university involved in asylum work through teaching, mentoring, and training. For example, she organized a session at the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA) meetings specifically to educate anthropologists and graduate students about this field.
International in reach—Ngin has been working with the Malaysian state and judges and attorneys in Europe, educating on the role of the anthropological expert witness in asylum cases—Ngin’s work also has had significant local and personal impacts for generations of Cal State LA students, and the 16 people for whom she has helped to secure asylum.