Interviews with Past Award Recipients

Rachel Nuzman
AAA/AFA Summer Intern 

Starting in 2011, the Association for Feminist Anthropology began awarding a $2000 scholarship to one PhD candidate each year in support of the writing phase of the dissertation. This award is given to an anthropologist who is making a significant contribution to feminist anthropology through research. As part of the 2013 AAA/AFA Summer Internship Program, I revisited past award winners to find out where they are now, and asked their advice for the next generation of anthropologists undergoing the dissertation process.

2011 AFA Dissertation Award Winner Shankari Patel finished her dissertation in December 2012 and is currently an adjunct professor at Foothill College in California. Working through the subfield of archaeology, Patel’s dissertation focused on ancient Mayan women and the agency—often overlooked—they had over their lives. Through original examination of religious practices and pilgrimages, Patel shows how women had control over their reproductive rights, health, and wellbeing. Patel tears apart the common assumption that women, particularly in the past, were limited by their bodies and are historical actors only through their procreative abilities. She reveals in contrast to that limited portrayal the highly active political and religious roles women could maintain in ancient Mayan society.

In a recent interview, Patel stated of her doctoral dissertation research, “I was trying to show how feminist archaeology is really important to feminist anthropology.” When asked what advice she would give to others working on dissertations, she stressed the importance of dedicating the time it deserves to finish. “So many of us try to work and write at the same time.  I think it extends the time that we’re in the dissertation process and by just focusing on the [writing] rather than picking up work, I think is the best way of moving forward.”

Patel feels the AFA dissertation award is a critical contribution to the field for multiple reasons. “The award was so important in me finishing my dissertation just because, when you teach and try to finish your dissertation at the same time, it never works. So having the [award] really, really helped in terms of finishing.” In receiving the award, Patel also felt the significance of gaining the support of the AFA: “Getting acknowledgement [through the award] was huge because I realized my own professional organization [recognizes] that I’m trying to integrate feminism in my work” (phone interview, July 23, 2013).

2012 AFA Dissertation Award Winner Asli Zengin is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Toronto, where she is also an instructor of Women and Gender Studies. Zengin’s dissertation explores “how the Turkish state materially and symbolically transforms the transgender body into a core political instrument to inscribe, reproduce and maintain a pervasive and fundamental sexual and gender order in Turkey and exercise its power in heteronormative masculine forms.” Her research also focuses on the way trans women respond to such “processes in their everyday negotiations, contestations and collaborations with these institutional actors.” In recent correspondence, Zengin describes her dissertation as a way to “develop effective critiques of normative assumptions about sex, sexuality and gender, problematize universalizing renditions of the relationship between sexuality and gender, and theorize the complex intersections between them by contributing to the ongoing dialog between feminist and queer anthropology.”

Although she has not yet finished, her response about the value of the AFA award to the process of writing her dissertation was similar to that of Patel. According to Zengin, the AFA Dissertation Award alleviated the stress of looking for and keeping up other income sources, and granted her two months of financial security during which she was able to focus solely on her writing.

For more information about the AFA dissertation award, with its 2014 applications due in April, please see the AFA website for this past year’s (2013) application, or contact Dr. Holly Dygert at [email protected]. The winner of the 2013 award will be announced as part of the AFA Business Meeting to be held on Thursday, November 21st, during the AAAs in Chicago. For more information about this research or my own internship, please contact me at [email protected] or look for me at the Business Meeting.

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