Distraction Free Reading

Congratulations to the 2016 Winners of the Diana Forsythe Prize!

Today’s post is brought to you from the 2016 Forsythe Prize Committee, to announce two scholars recognized in this year’s competition. Created in 1998, The Diana Forsythe Prize celebrates the best book or series of published articles in the spirit of Diana Forsythe’s feminist anthropological research on work, science, or technology, including biomedicine. The prize is awarded annually at the AAA meeting 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. CASTAC is deeply grateful to all who submitted to the competition, and to Prize Committee members Stefan Helmreich, Nina Brown, and Alexander Edmonds for their efforts on behalf of the Forsythe Prize.

Eben Kirksey, Winner, 2016 Diana Forsythe Prize

Eben Kirksey’s Emergent Ecologies (Duke University Press, 2015) offers an imaginatively written and highly innovative multi-sited, multi-method ethnography about the doings of a range of human and non-human biological agents, in places from Costa Rica to Panama to the United States. The book takes us to such varied sites as scientific labscapes and landscapes—as one might expect in a work of science studies—but also ushers us into the world of art spaces and galleries, where new kinds of critical eco-art and bio-art are coming into being. Kirksey, in this tale of people, frogs, monkeys, microbes, and more, gives us a vivacious and vital contribution to “multi species ethnography,” a field in which he has been a pioneer. His narrative moves the reader into other species’ phenomenological worlds while also highlighting areas of inter-species connection and entanglement. He is also cautious about anthropomorphizing other beings as he examines how organisms influence one another in ways that are both intentional and unintentional, even chaotic. The book collapses the distinction between natural and artificial in showing us several beleaguered zones that are not easily categorized as either. The style of the book also artfully echoes its content, and it shines as a critical interrogation of “conservation,” and, more, operates in the spirit of Diana Forsythe’s feminist and social justice commitments in order to deliver its account of life in troubled times.

Everett Yuehong Zhang, Honorable Mention, 2016 Diana Forsythe Prize

Everett Yuehong Zhang’s The Impotence Epidemic: Men’s Medicine and Sexual Desire in Contemporary China offers an ethnographically evocative and methodologically rigorous analysis of how sex, gender, and desire are being reconfigured in post-Mao China. Zhang’s way into this question is through the “epidemic” of male impotence, which he examines as a sign and symptom of post-socialist modernist anxiety. Dismantling both psychologically and biomedically reductionist or determinist arguments about impotence in China, he instead examines socio-historical structures and particularly the enduring effects of socialist era rural-urban divides, household registration systems, and the one child policy, on the everyday intimacies of life, from individuals, to couples, to families. The book is valuable as a description of an ongoing process of medicalization in China that has spread Western biomedical models alongside traditional Chinese medicine. This book carefully situates both men and women in terms of their construction as medical subjects, workers, consumers and even subjects of desire/desiring. Throughout the book, he employs Chinese and Chinese-language conceptual terms to guide his analysis (while never letting go of the voluminous anthropology of China literature, which he has clearly mastered), making this a persuasive and situated ethnography. The book continues the legacy of Diana Forsythe in its attention to the infrastructures that make and remake such social forms as gender.

2016 Forsythe Prize Committee

Stefan Helmreich, Committee Chair (MIT)
Nina Brown (The Community College of Baltimore County)
Alexander Edmonds (The University of Edinburgh)

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