Announcement2021 Diana Forsythe Prize
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.
2021 PRIZE WINNER
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.
2021 HONORABLE MENTION
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.
The 2021 Diana Forsythe Prize and Honorable Mention will be awarded at the annual American Anthropological Association meetings in Washington DC, during the General Anthropology Division Awards Ceremony and Distinguished Lecture on Saturday, November 20, 2021.