Diana Forsythe Prize Winners
The Diana Forsythe Prize was created in 1998 to celebrate the best book or series of published articles in the spirit of Diana Forsythe’s feminist anthropological research on work, science, and/or technology, including biomedicine. The Prize is awarded annually at the meeting of the American Anthropological Association by a committee consisting of one representative from the Society for the Anthropology of Work (SAW) and two from the Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing (CASTAC). It is supported by the General Anthropology Division (GAD) and Bern Shen.
The 2021 Diana Forsythe Prize goes to Porkopolis by Alex Blanchette, with Animal Intimacies by Radhika Govindrajan winning an honourable mention. Both of these books chart new paths for research related to multispecies justice.
Porkopolis: American Animality, Standardized Life, and the Factory Farm
by Alex Blanchette, Duke University Press, 2020, 298 pp, ISBN 9781478008408
Imagine walking into a hot damp barn with thousands of pregnant pigs watching your every movement. Simply touching one of these animals could set off a contagious wave of fright—a series of miscarriages spreading out across the herd. Porkopolis is a gripping and harrowing tale of laboring bodies in productive and extractive contact. Blanchette’s portrait of the scale and intensity of meat production is tough to read, yet once this book grips you it is very difficult to put down. Blanchette addresses his friends and acquaintances from the town he calls “Dixon” right up front in an Acknowledgment note, that gracefully foregrounds the power dynamics of anthropological research and writing while holding space for empathic critique. Blanchette refuses simple judgements, but is unceasing in a critical analysis of large systems that produce violence and exploitation. At the same time the book offers an empathetic account of interspecies intimacy in everyday factory life.
The story unfolds in a part of rural midwestern America that has become unexpectedly cosmopolitan—with twenty-six languages spoken among children at the local school. Blanchette demonstrates impressive tenacity in his fieldwork as he took participant observation to the factory farm. For example, he fertilized hundreds of sows after mastering physically challenging insemination techniques. Glimpses of queer interspecies masculinity appear alongside an account of gendered labor practices. He worked alongside vulnerable men and women in the factory while also gaining access to managers and scientists who are on a quest to innovate in the name of generating ever cheaper meat. Most importantly, he takes cues from workers who have developed practices of refusal as they elaborate a politics adequate to Porkopolis.
Porkopolis is a beautiful book. Photos of everyday life on a factory farm—portraits of individual animals among multitudes—are presented alongside images of artifacts, built environments, and work practices. While the meat industrial complex is demystified, the workers are humanized. This is book is about struggles to achieve dignity and worth amidst the hostile infrastructures of American industrial agriculture.
Porkopolis is theoretically innovative. Rather than mobilize the theoretical apparatus of the usual suspects, Blanchette offers his own subtle conceptual interventions related to Marxism, feminism, cultural theory, and multispecies studies. As ghost towns crop up across the Midwest, the book considers the meaning of deindustrialization and offers smart ways to understand rural futures. This book is important and timely. It unveils inner workings of a powerful industry that is exacerbating problems in the Anthropocene era by generating carbon emissions, water pollution, contagious diseases, as well as intense violence to multitudes of people and animals.
Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in India’s Central Himalayas
by Radhika Govindrajan, The University of Chicago Press, 2018, 256 pp, ISBN: 9780226559988
Animal Intimacies engages with a lively species multiple: rambunctious goats, lonely cows, wild pigs, displaced monkeys, and sexually promiscuous bears. Beautifully written accounts of human-animal relations come together in a vivid story about how people who live among the Himalayan mountains in India are situated within agricultural and ecological assemblages. Readers encounter impolite monkeys brought from India’s lowland cities that become crop pests in rural highland villages, and destructive wild boars that are protected by the State and by right-wing Hindu animal activists. This engaging and accessible book offers a fresh approach to thinking about how animals have become proxies in conflicts among people who are situated within wider political and economic dynamics.
This careful account of relationships with animals in rural Asia disrupts both colonial discourses on civilization/savagery as well as elite Indian images of “jungly” peoples in the hinterlands. Animal Intimacies is a story of the borderlands. Govindrajan inhabited “terrains of relatedness” in multispecies assemblages that exist on the edge of a forest, while carefully studying the political landscape of Uttar Pradesh—an Indian state that is bordered by Tibet and Nepal.
Govindrajan’s book turns away from the (unmarked) white spaces of science that often captivate STS scholars, instead charting a path for a new generation of researchers who are studying the interplay of species and power amidst postcolonial and urban-rural relationships. She unsettles and unravels caste and religious politics through careful accounts of intimate relationships between people and other animals. The book challenges us to see ethics in everyday interactions, rather than approaching other creatures through abstract rubrics of rights and values. The book is full of personality—with strong characters, both human and more-than-human. Govindrajan approaches issues related to love and anthropomorphism with feminist sensibilities, making interventions into Science and Technology Studies, South Asian Studies, and gender studies.
Tea and Solidarity: Tamil Women and Work in Postwar Sri Lanka by Mythri Jegathesan. University of Washington Press. ISBN: 9780295745671
Tea and Solidarity will change how you think about structural violence, reproductive futurity, decolonial methodologies, and desire.
This book is set in the Tamil Hill Country of Sri Lanka, where the tea industry seeks to accumulate profit at the expense of cheap labor. While nostalgic tea-industry advertisements continue to romanticize colonial-era Ceylon, Jegathesan introduces us to workers who aspire to become something other than “coolies.” Insights about potentials for transformation, with futures unknown, will travel far beyond the particularities of these workers in transition. Optimism, happiness, and possibilities are carefully described against a backdrop of structural violence, racism, and patriarchy. This is a story of human innovation by structurally marginalized laborers who actualize their desires within imperial, industrial, and national terrains of life and work. Hegemonic forces are shaping the contours of desire in Sri Lanka, as powerful political projects aim to control the social relations, experiences, and futures of workers. Jegathesan deftly shows how the data regimes which count and categorize plantation life often miss the forms of accounting most salient for plantation workers themselves, which track births and deaths, accumulate debt for wedding ceremonies, and mobilize political agitation around rights to residence. Hill Country Tamils find alternative futures of national and transnational solidarity through what Jegathesan calls a poiēsis of desire.
Writing within the long legacy of feminist science and technology studies exemplified by past winners of the Forsythe Prize, Jegathesan shows how tea plantation owners seek to control their workers “from the womb to the tomb.” Here the forced sterilization of women takes place in situations “not necessarily without consent.” Women are “choosing” to be sterilized in Tamil Hill Country as tea plantation midwives and officials convince workers that they have no other choice given their situation of poverty and immobility. Within this space of discursive and actual violence, Tea and Solidarity is a moving account of the value of women’s work, not as mere accumulation by dispossession but as testament to the durability of life itself.
For those who love Ceylon tea, this book is a must read. It is an important resource for anyone concerned with the politics of work, science, and technology. Jegathesan shows that it is possible to expose past records of violence, and ongoing injustices, while pushing for more equitable ways of living and being.
The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome by Alondra Nelson 2016. Beacon Press. ISBN 9780807027189
The Social Life of DNA is a thoughtful expose of anti-racist projects linked to cutting-edge genetic technologies. A subtle tale of science and justice. Timely, urgent, and profoundly important.
Nelson is an astute reader of genetic evidence, who concludes that “DNA is Janus-faced.” Genetic evidence can produce convictions, but also exonerations. While genetic science has a racist legacy, now DNA technologies are being deployed in new anti-racist social and political projects.
DNA tests have been artfully deployed by black geneticists, activists, genealogists, and lawyers in reparations struggles. Large insurance companies and banks that directly profited from slavery were targetted by plaintiffs who used genetic genealogy testing to establish links to ancestors who had been “kidnapped, tortured and shipped in chains to the United States.” This is a story of tactical ingenuity by savvy intellectuals who made innovative appropriations of technology and novel legal arguments. While the legal arguments were largely unsuccessful in court, Nelson illustrates how these cases can inform a “radical politics after the genome.”
Social justice involves work of transformation and imagination, according to Nelson. Lived experiences of racist discrimination are being transformed by new approaches to human biology. Science alone will not drive social change, Nelson insists. She chronicles past successes and failures, to illustrate future possibilities. The Social Life of DNA is a playbook for coming generations who might engage in their own imaginative appropriations of biotechnology.
The Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing (CASTAC) of the General Anthropology Division (GAD) and The Society for the Anthropology of Work (SAW), announce Lilly Irani as the winner of the 2019 Diana Forsythe Prize for her book, Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India (Princeton University Press 2019).
Chasing Innovation is a fearlessly ambitious work of scholarship that weaves together history, ethnography, and critique of a seductive vision of entrepreneurial citizenship. Through its pages, Lilly Irani illustrates how discourses of innovation were articulated with the distinctive context of a liberalized India hungry to climb global chains of value. Marked, at times, by a raw and searching reflexivity as its author reflects on the failures of imagination produced by her own socialization as a tech worker, the book pushes back against the “subsumption of hope” by innovation and points to mass politics—for all its inefficiencies—as the true locus of democratic futures.
Irani is a careful ethnographer who gets inside the optimistic dreams of entrepreneurs, whose impetus to “move fast and break things” in their speculative world-making betrays a certain innocence about the violence of the market economy. Her work brings us into a high-end design studio where the free will of innovators relies on unfree labors of devalued service staff and on the extraction of solutions from subaltern subjects who are framed as improvisers rather than as innovators. The key actors in Chasing Innovation “attempt to stabilize, manage, and profit from uncertainties and futurities” even as they themselves are constrained by the design thinking through which innovation for the developing world is increasingly channeled.
Lilly Irani is Associate Professor in the Department of Communications at the University of California, San Diego.
The Forsythe Prize committee also awarded Juno Salazar Parreñas honorable mention for her book Decolonizing Extinction :The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation (Duke University Press, 2018).
Decolonizing Extinction traces tenuous moments of encounter across species lines at orangutan rehabilitation centers in Sarawak, Malaysia. Juno Salazar Parreñas poignantly refers to these moments of encounter as an “interface of confusion,” where conservation involves multiple and embodied relationships with death and care, risk and the inevitability of loss. The concept work that she builds up from these moments illuminates a decolonizing moment in humans’ relationship to nonhuman others, at which fantasies of control over the relationship of animals and humans must at times be relinquished. Decolonizing Extinction centers forms of labor too often occluded in ethnographies of science, from the embodied expertise of technicians to the participation of the orangutans themselves in the production of a spectacle for consumption. It also daringly extends feminist and queer writing on the duty of reproduction to ask how the concentration of nonhuman life can produce a system of sexual violence. Parreñas stages the incompleteness of our understanding of the politics of care in a time of extinction, while enacting a principled refusal of definitive resolutions.
Juno Salazar Parreñas is Assistant Professor in the Department of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at the Ohio State University.
The Society for the Anthropology of Work (SAW) and the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing (CASTAC), a committee of the General Anthropology Division (GAD), announce Sara Ann Wylie as the winner of the 2018 Diana Forsythe Prize for her book, Fractivism: Corporate Bodies and Chemical Bonds (Duke Press 2018). Sara Ann Wylie is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Anthropology, and Health Sciences at Northeastern University.
The Forsythe Prize committee also awarded Sophia Roosth honorable mention for her book Synthetic: How Life Got Made (University of Chicago Press 2017). Sophia Roosth is the Frederick S. Danziger Associate Professor in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University.
Reviews of Fractivism: Corporate Bodies and Chemical Bonds (Duke Press 2018)
“Sara Ann Wylie tells both a sobering story about industry practice and government negligence and an inspiring story of how gas patch residents, artists, civil servants, NGO activists, and health, environmental, and social scientists have responded to fracking. The political implications of this impressive and important book will be far-reaching.”
— Kim Fortun, author of Advocacy after Bhopal: Environmentalism, Disaster, New Global Orders
“Wylie makes an exciting and timely scholarly contribution that is relevant well beyond the scope of those concerned with the anthropology of energy. This book is useful to social scientists to inform research and teaching on topics spanning science and technology studies, energy policy, sustainability, environmental health, digital humanities, and applied and design anthropology. The relevance of this work also extends beyond academia, and would be of great value not only to gas patch communities that are still struggling to demonstrate the links between chemical exposure and illness, but to community leaders and activists that are engaged in a growing array of citizen science initiatives.”
— Amanda Poole, Conservation and Society
Sareeta Amrute, 2017 Forsythe Prize Winner.
Winner: Sareeta Amrute for Encoding Race, Encoding Class: Indian IT Workers in Berlin (Duke University Press, 2016).
Honorable Mention: Emilia Sanabria for Plastic Bodies: Sex Hormones and Menstrual Suppression in Brazil (Duke University Press, 2016).
2016 Eben Kirksey: Emergent Ecologies (Duke University Press, 2015)
2016 (Honorable Mention) Everett Yuehong Zhang: The Impotence Epidemic: Men’s Medicine and Sexual Desire in Contemporary China (Duke University Press, 2015)
Gabriella Coleman for Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous
Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous (Verso, 2014) is a powerful ethnography of the making and remaking of networked computational infrastructures and their animating publics and politics. Taking a multi-method anthropological approach to understanding the unruly online collective known as Anonymous, Coleman creatively continues Diana Forsythe’s legacy of getting underneath the cultural logics motivating projects of computational representation and culture. In her unique ethnographic exploration, she tracks affiliated participants across virtual and physical spaces, providing a rich and highly intricate understanding of the labyrinthine worlds that her hacker-activist subjects occupy.
Writing on a much-criticized and often misunderstood technosocial “movement” lacking a fixed or overarching structure, Coleman’s original book deftly navigates the complexities, ambiguities, and controversies of digital forms of activism. At once intellectually rigorous, impressively thorough, and captivatingly readable, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy speaks to a wide audience with sophistication and nuance, offering highly generative analysis and eliciting multiple readings that bring us closer to (if never overcoming) the contradictions and uncertainties of her subject matter. Where Anonymous have often been demonized or dismissed in popular media, Coleman refuses the “gross fetish of stereotypes” so often mobilized in its characterization, instead astutely reading Anonymous as a new and important kind of political collective exposing and acting against the security state and its attacks on fundamental freedoms.
Throughout the book, Coleman shifts reflexively between numerous roles: an anthropologist studying sometimes-illegal activity; a participant-observer in an online world; a go-between and translator of sorts between the collective and the public. In the process, she offers a timely and immensely relevant contribution to critical contemporary scholarship and public debates on technology, digital worlds, social movements, and incipient forms of politics.
Expertly probing the social, ethical, and political spheres of democracy and voice in our contemporary world, Coleman’s generous approach opens space to consider the new possibilities for politics, direct action, solidarity, and organizing that are too easily erased or distorted. Enchantment, in her account—that of Anonymous, and her own—presents as an ethical and political possibility, a means of sustaining or cultivating hope, a form that works to propel “disruption and change.” For opening new channels of thought into our technological present and characterizing new forms of politics in-the-making, this brave scholar and her vivid book deserve our highest prize.
2015 Honorable Mention
In Ordinary Medicine: Extraordinary Treatments, Longer Lives, and Where to Draw the Line (Duke University Press, 2015), Sharon Kaufman explores the consequences of the life-extending biomedical and pharmaceutical technologies that have become part of the standard of care for treating conditions that affect millions of elderly people in the United States. Through powerful ethnographic scrutiny, Kaufmann questions what has become accepted commonsense about medical technology, aging, and care and urges us to ask core humanistic questions about who we are, how we want to live, and the kinds of choices and sacrifices we are willing to accept (or not). Writing from within the “postprogress” world of contemporary American health care, the piercing anthropologist grapples with the cultural, political, and economic forces that both shape and are shaped by our expectations, hopes and desires. In so doing, Kaufman’s lucid, sharp and compelling book exposes the hidden logics and systems that structure our present quandaries, and offers new avenues for asking: “how, ultimately, do we want to live in relation to medicine’s tools?”
The lessons of this exemplary ethnography build upon Diana Forsythe’s pioneering ethnographic work on infrastructures of medical expertise, showing us what happens when “life” is valued as a thing — rather than a process — in itself. While debates about health care reform in the United States consistently skirt the question of values in favor of a technocratic rhetoric about efficiency and cost control, Kaufman’s essential work points out that the conjoining of scientific evidence, Medicare policy, and therapeutic imperatives have nonetheless given rise to a makeshift ethical field which significantly impacts familial and self-governance. Her approach to this novel sociomedical reality complicates assumptions of technological rule from above, and grounds market abstractions in lived realities and relations of care. Reclaiming medicine as a social good and a question of values, Kaufman restores the “existential and social” to questions about living and dying amidst the promises and perils of contemporary health care and, in so doing, lives up to anthropology’s highest humanistic and critical goals.
S. Lochlain Jain: Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us (California Press, 2013)
(Honorable Mention) Adriana Petryna: When Experiments Travel: Trials and the Global Search for Human Subjects (Princeton University Press, 2009)
Heather Paxson: The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America (University of California Press, 2012)
2012 Rene Almeling: Sex Cells: The Medical Market for Eggs and Sperm (University of California Press, 2011)
2011 Alexander Edmonds: Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex and Plastic Surgery in Brazil (Duke University Press, 2010)
2010 Elly Teman: Birthing a Mother, The Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self (University of California Press, 2010)
2009 Emily Martin: for Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture (Princeton University Press, 2007)
2008 Joao Biehl: Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival (Princeton University Press, 2007)
2007 Marcia Inhorn: Local Babies, Global Science: Gender, religion and in vitro fertilization in Egypt (Routledge, 2003)
2006 Jan English-Lueck: Cultures@SiliconValley (Stanford University Press, 2002)
2005 Joe Dumit: Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity (Princeton University Press, 2004)
2003 Cori Hayden: When Nature Goes Public: The Making and Unmaking of Bioprospecting in Mexico (Princeton University Press, 2003)
2002 Lucy Suchman: for the body of her work
2001 Stefan Helmreich: Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artificial Life in a Digital World (University of California Press, 1998)
2000 David Hess: for the body of his work
1999 Rayna Rapp: Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Impact of Amniocentesis in America (Routledge, 1999)