AFA Award Winners 2011-2019

2019 Sylvia Forman Prize

María Lis Baiocchi, Graduate Prize winner for her paper, “The Bargaining Power of Love: Access to Rights, Affective Capital, and the Political Economy of Feelings in Paid Domestic Work in Buenos Aires, Argentina,” advisor Dr. Robert M. Hayden (University of Pittsburgh).

The paper builds on the ethnography of intimate labor (Boris and Parreñas 2010), in which feminist scholars of paid domestic work have compellingly shown how the affective bonds and kin-like relationships that domestic workers share with their employers can often become sources of value extraction, exploitation, and one of the primary obstacles to accessing formal labor rights (e.g., Brites (2014); Pereyra and Tizziani (2014); Romero (1992)). Based on ethnographic research with domestic workers in Buenos Aires, Argentina and its Metropolitan Area and drawing from domestic workers’ experiences with access to formal labor rights, the paper looks instead at the ways in which love and trust produce economic value and become one of the primary sources of bargaining power that domestic workers can count on in a context of entrenched intersectional structural inequality between them and their employers and general lack of regard for the rule of law. The paper shows how love and trust are oftentimes a form of capital that workers can use to access formal labor rights and one of the few resources they can draw from and make use of in order to do so.

Amelia Y. Goldberg, Undergraduate Prize winner for her paper, “Between Kin and Ship: The Intersection of Feminism and Environmentalism on a Hudson River Sailboat,” advisor Dr. Andrew Brandel (Harvard University).

Goldberg’s essay presents an ethnographic study of the sloop Clearwater, a traditionally rigged sailboat on the Hudson, and its associated environmentalist community. Clearwater’s members, many of whom live onboard, aim to save the river by taking the public on sails and moving them to care about the environment. Goldberg argues that Clearwater imagines itself as a separate and self-contained political space that, through its daily practices, models an alternative American way of life – one opposed to hegemonic structures, environmental exploitation, and heterosexism. Clearwater thus locates itself in the theoretically neglected space at the intersection of environmentalism and feminism. Drawing on twelve weeks of participant-observation, ethnographic interviews, and archival research, Goldberg argues that Clearwater crew work to resignify the gendered order of social reproduction through everyday acts like washing the deck, cooking, and picking up trash. Extending the work of Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, and other feminist theorists, Goldberg maps out a political terrain at the nexus of “mother” and “nature.” While this process of resignification is never the fantasized rupture from hegemonic space, it exemplifies the power of enacted politics to generate the possibility of other worlds. Clearwater, and this essay, challenge feminists to explore the instability of gendered terms within environmentalism, and point to the mundane but richly significant practices onboard that renegotiate the terms of reproduction, care, and kinship.

2019 Michelle Z. Rosaldo Award

Juno Parreñas for her book, Decolonizing Extinction: The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation. Durham: Duke University Press (2018).

At a global moment of environmental crises and family separations, Parreñas presents an account of care and hope in the face of extinction. Situated in rehabilitation centers for traumatized and endangered orangutans in Sarawak, Malaysia, Decolonizing Extinction courageously calls for creative approaches to bio-cultural scholarship by asking how feminist analyses of violence might offer humane alternatives to the “palliative care” the species currently receives due to deforestation and industrial agriculture. Parreñas’s radically interdisciplinary and heartbreaking ethnography draws on primatology, queer theory, and archival history to argue that a feminist sense of welfare must include the possibility of pain and loss. In the spirit of Michelle Z. Rosaldo’s own pioneering approach to expanding the canon of feminist scholarship, the Association for Feminist Anthropology applauds Parreñas for asking us to imagine the intellectual tools necessary to rethink what it means to be autonomous and dependent, to suffer and to care.

Honorable Mentions

Alvaro Jarrín for his 2017 book, “The Biopolitics of Beauty: Cosmetic Citizenship and Affective Capital in Brazil” (University of California Press).

Jarrín productively and creatively situates feminist affect theory in the context of the medicalized pursuit of beauty in Brazil. Framing the biopolitics of beauty as both a personal craving and an industry, Jarrín’s ethnography guides us up and down the sites and scales of its production, with doctors, patients and activists. This approach allows him to analyze transgender and cis-gender women and men in the same frame, thereby illustrating how much gender and sexuality are always co-created, and that in that co-creation they are also agents for the reproduction of poverty, stigma and occasionally joy.

Katherine Lemons for her 2019 book, “Divorcing Traditions: Islamic Marriage Law and the Making of Indian Secularism” (Cornell University Press).

Divorcing Traditions persuasively moves analyses of secularism beyond their familiar European contexts and into the lived experience of divorce applicants in Islamic courts in India. Lemons brings us right into the courtroom and the deliberations, places that are bureaucratically opaque even as they are the sites of high stakes decisions. By demonstrating how secularism, as much or more than religious law, reproduces persistent categories of public and private that uniquely affect women, Lemons’ book is an outstanding example of the value of interrogating political discourse as always already gendered.

Debarati Sen for her 2017 book, Everyday Sustainability: Gender Justice and Fair Trade in Darjeeling (SUNY Press).

Everyday Sustainability is a moving example of the ways that good intentions can go awry. Analyzing the organic fair trade tea industry in Darjeeling, India, Sen traces how development projects that promise to harness market-based solutions to address poverty do not always overlap with the strategies for social justice that Nepali women tea-workers themselves prefer. Sen’s detailed ethnography and profound respect for the voices of her interlocutor’s produce a book that is likely to influence audiences in development studies, women’s and gender studies, as well as anthropology.

2019 First Inaugural Career Prize

The Association for Feminist Anthropology is delighted to announce that the inaugural 2019 Career Award in Feminist Anthropology is awarded to Professor Rayna Rapp.

Rapp is a brilliant scholar, generous mentor, and publicly engaged academic, herself a “moral pioneer” of the sort she has honored in her research on reproductive technologies. At the root of her intellectual and political commitments is the fundamentally feminist insistence that all humans are embedded in politically produced forms of sociality. As early as the 1970s, Rapp argued that expertise is a central medium for producing exclusion. More recently, she has argued that feminist and activist conceptions of autonomy and relationality can productively inform each other, expanding our horizons of what counts as life and what counts as knowledge. Her prescient work has been ahead of its time yet remains engaged and relevant. Using a variety of platforms, she has influenced a wide array of audiences, including fellow scholars of science, medical professionals, patients, students and activists in fertility and disability communities. Her record and life are an ideal match to the qualities we all cherish in feminist anthropology and which we honor with this award.

2019 Dissertation Prize

Whitney Russell of UCSD (advisor Nancy Postero), for her dissertation on how Indian human rights activism intended to help women leave sex work has problematically neglected to ask questions about sex workers’ broader social, familial and moral lives. Her dissertation extends a feminist analysis of sex work beyond the framework of development alone.

Ashrey (a pseudonym), a village near the Haryana-Delhi border, is what Anuja Agrawal terms a “prostitution village” (2008), a place where families draw most of their income from sex work. Commercial sexual labor has drawn a number of development and human rights interventions into the community, but Russell shows that these programs have been at the expense of a wider view that would include Ashrey’s own approaches to empowerment and rights, all of which center around goodness. Russell shows that goodness, in Ashrey, is a political identity that wields power at multiple scales, including the family, village, and interactions with the state. By focusing on the gendered, everyday, political experiences of women in this community, Russell attempts to escape established tropes of sex workers and instead advance new ways of thinking about gender, development, and political life in contemporary India.  

Honorable Mention

Jananie Kalyanaraman (advisor Akhil Gupta, UCLA). Kalyanaraman’s paper, “Window seats: Transport and inequality in Bengaluru, India,” details the failures of high visibility transportation infrastructure projects in Bengaluru to facilitate the mobility, both physical and social, of poor, lower-caste women.

In Bengaluru city, parastatal public transit systems champion women’s empowerment and right to mobility with an emphasis on safety. They adopt protectionist measures such as seat segregation, the installation of CCTV cameras and use of smartphone apps. Meanwhile, mainstream feminism—by default middle class, upper caste, and metropolitan— fights for women’s equality from a more “cultural” perspective. In doing so, this form of feminism combats moral policing, protectionism, and reclaims equal and safe access for women to urban resources and spaces through “Reclaim the Night” marches and protests. These mainstream conversations, in combination with the public bus system’s revenue-generating logic (of allocating buses only on profitable routes and raising the bus fares) alienates communities of urban poor users (a majority of them women) both in terms of access to the bus system as well as discussions surrounding women’s mobility concerns. They often do not acknowledge hierarchies that exist and are produced even within these efforts at empowerment. This dissertation asks: how do urban poor women create access to transportation when the state fails to provide them with affordable and frequent access? In doing so, what is the symbolic value that transport systems assume for these women? Using insights from 17 months of fieldwork with urban poor women who have been forcibly evicted from slums and relocated in slum resettlement colonies in peripheral Bengaluru, this dissertation draws attention to alternative pathways of empowerment that are often invisible in mainstream discussions. Kalyanaraman’s research shows that the women engage in diverse tactics to arrange for transportation not merely to ensure safe access to livelihood, but also to ensure that their children are able to continue access to schools and colleges. Paying attention to these quieter tactics can inform policy on transport and equitable access, to address and empower these alternative pathways for meaningful emancipation.

2019 Zora Neale Hurston Award

Chelsey Carter, Washington University St. Louis

Chelsea presented a paper titled “The ‘truth’ about ALS: Reconciling bias, motives, and etiological gaps in research on a niche disease,” for the panel “Reworking the Cognitive Bias in Biomedicine and Disability Studies.”

Frances Roberts Gregory, University of California Berkeley

Frances preseted a paper titled “Post-apocalyptic environmental politics: using autoethnography to explore state-corporate crime, women of color and climate justice” on the panel “Land, Race, and Justice: Resisting Capitalism and Colonialism in Ecological Crises.

Leyla Savloff, University of Washington

Leyla presented a paper titled “Everyday Cruelty: “Dirty War” convicts move in and still no menstrual pads” on the panel “Borders, Walls, and Boundaries as sites of Struggle, Collaboration, and Justice.”

2018 Sylvia Forman Prize


Graduate Paper: Maira Hayat

The AFA is pleased to announce the 2018 Sylvia Forman Award for an Outstanding Graduate Paper to Maira Hayat, for her paper, “The Gender of Corruption: Bureaucrats, Bodies and the Female Complaint – Notes from an Irrigation bureaucracy in Pakistan,” advisor William Mazzarella (University of Chicago).

Hayat uses mahawl (atmosphere in Urdu) and ‘the female complaint’ as two axes along which to examine corruption in the Irrigation department in Pakistan’s Punjab province, the country’s most populous province and also its agricultural heartland. Together, these provide instruction in the ever-shifting contours of the public-private distinction, the gendering of the bureaucratic everyday, and the devaluation of work as lived by bureaucrats in an era of e-governance. This is not the corruption of small or scandalous bribes, of funds embezzled, of cheating, of the seeping of the private into public roles, and perversion of the ‘rule of law.’ Instead, Hayat examines the ethical labor of resisting corruption, the porosity of the female body and its gradual inhabiting by a male surround, and the changing valuations of work in a government bureaucracy. The paper draws upon literature on Islam, ethics, gender, and the body and engages the work of scholars who have contributed greatly to feminist scholarship (in particular, Gal, Mahmood, Brown, and Butler).


Undergraduate Paper: Allegra Wyatt

The AFA is proud to award the 2018 Sylvia Forman Prize (Undergraduate) to Allegra Wyatt, for her paper, “Curls, Kinks and Colonization: The Decolonization of Afrodescendant Women’s Bodies in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic,” advisors Olga Gonzaléz and Arjun Guneratne (Macalester College).

Wyatt’s paper documents the experiences of Afrodescendant women in the Dominican Republic who choose to wear their hair naturally curly, despite the norm to straighten it. Wyatt argues that Afrodescendant Dominican women are decolonizing racial and gendered discourses of the Afrodescendant body through their pursuit of beauty, blackness, health and self-definition. She draws on Ana Irma Rivera Lassén’s allegory of the spiderweb to suggest that her informants are the spiders of their webs, weaving the discourses of the Afrodescendant female body into a web in which they are free to move in/through their multiple identities and find empowerment.


Honorable Mention (Graduate): Tiffany C. Cain

The AFA is pleased to announce an honorable mention for the 2018 Sylvia Forman Award to Tiffany C. Cain for her paper, “Reflecting on Positionality: Archaeological Heritage Praxis in Quintana Roo, Mexico,” advisor Richard M. Leventhal (University of Pennsylvania).

Cain’s paper calls for a renewed engagement with the concept of positionality in archaeology. She begins the essay by tracing the intellectual development of positional thinking among archaeological scholars. She cites their encounters with post-/de-colonial and feminist standpoint theories as critical axes in this development. She then suggests that this engagement could be deepened by thinking more with women of color and queer decolonial feminisms, specifically. She argues that transparent and position-conscious feminist praxis could root out restrictive, repressive, and injustice-perpetuating archaeological approaches, but asserts that it will take more archaeologists being willing to stand to the challenge. In the second half of the essay, she offers ethnographic and autoethnographic accounts to highlight how sustained reflection on her positionality has influenced her research trajectory and the kinds of alliances and collaborations that have been possible in her work in central Quintana Roo, Mexico. She focuses on how members of the community where she lives and works have understood her in relation to the collaborative heritage initiative centered on the Maya Social War (Caste War of Yucatan) that she helps to coordinate. By offering these reflections, she hopes to reinvigorate and strengthen the unfinished work of positionality in archaeology.


Honorable Mention (Undergraduate): Giselle Lora

The AFA is pleased to announce an honorable mention for the 2018 Sylvia Forman Award to Giselle Lora for her paper, “Paramos Mas al Frente: Mobilizing Vulnerability in Kichwa Women’s Resistance,” advisor Olga Gonzaléz (Macalester College).

Lora’s paper focuses on the experiences and critical reflections of indigenous women from the Amazonian Kichwa community of Tzawata Baja. Like many indigenous communities across the world, Tzawata Baja is engaged in a Lucha, struggle, for legal rights to their ancestral lands, which are currently owned by a Canadian mining company. Based on field work conducted in the spring of 2017, Lora argues the Lucha of Tzawata Baja is as much a struggle for ancestral territory as it is an ideological struggle in which the women of Tzawata Baja have emerged as pioneers in an attempt to transform patriarchal attitudes and practices that reproduce the subordination of indigenous women. Within the Lucha, women have catalyzed their process of empowerment by gaining equal land ownership rights, changing gender relations within the household, and implementing alternative strategies of resistance to defend the community against state violence.  This research is an effort to uphold the work that Tzawata Baja women have done within the Lucha, and position them at the forefront of the resistance and liberation of their community.


2018 Senior Book Prize


Winner: Marisol de la Cadena

The Association for Feminist Anthropology is delighted to announce the 2018 inaugural Senior Book Prize in Feminist Anthropology to Marisol de la Cadena, for her book, Earth Beings: Ecologies of Practice Across Andean Worlds (2015, Duke University Press). Please join us at 12:15pm, on November 16 during the AAA annual meeting as we celebrate de la Cadena’s profound, moving book.  

Earth Beings is a model of what the best feminist anthropology can achieve through theoretical sophistication and rich ethnography. de la Cadena never divorces these two commitments, instead analyzing her experiences and conversations with her Peruvian interlocutors through feminist theory to argue that the languages we use to talk about difference are still entangled in modernist categories.   

de la Cadena situates this insight in the Andean Peruvian community of Pacchanta where we meet Mariano and Nazario Turpo, a father and son who translate the earth-being Ausangate to their community and to any of the rest of us who care to listen. Earth Beings is a wide-ranging read, taking us from Andean mountains to Lima to the Smithsonian and back again, all in lively, lyrical form. We meet mountains, rocks, spirits, lakes, people, none of which have equivalent Quechua names or concepts but instead merge in specific ways. Taken together, we come to see and even feel alternative modes of being that do not rest on division, binaries, or pure identities. She develops these insights in conversation with feminist scholars such as Marilyn Strathern, Anna Tsing and Donna Haraway who have argued that precisely because gendered claims rest on binary categories, we need to better conceive of hybrid, complex modes of living. Although these are clearly ontological claims, de la Cadena practices the ultimate decolonizing act by not simply placing her research in the current debates about sensibility or time or the unthinkable. Rather, because of her engagement with feminist theory and her commitment to feminist practice, she crystallizes current debates and rearticulates them in new ways. If we listen closely, these new ways convey the possibility of respecting alternative ecologies and, potently, alternative humanities. 

The jury agreed that this book has and will continue to impact the fields of feminist and cultural anthropology. Earth Beings sets the bar high for our section’s new biannual Senior Book Prize and we are delighted to honor it.

Honorable Mention: Veena Das

The Association for Feminist Anthropology is delighted to announce the Honorable Mention for the 2018 inaugural Senior Book Prize in Feminist Anthropology will be awarded to Veena Das, for her book, Affliction: Health, Disease, Poverty (2015, Fordham University Press). Please join us at 12:15pm, on November 16 during the AAA annual meeting to celebrate Das’s book.  

Das’s book is a meditation on illness. She traces the small and large, but always intersecting forms of suffering that produce poor health outcomes among impoverished people, especially women, in urban India. She offers what only long-term, sensitive ethnography can provide, longitudinal evidence of what it feels like to be ill, to be invisible, and for one’s family to suffer alongside. How does medical practice address impoverishment and illness? How do states recognize these citizens? Affliction is a collection that could only exist after decades of fieldwork and thinking. The jury is proud to launch the new, biannual Senior Book Prize by awarding the Honorable Mention to this quiet, profound book.

2018  Dissertation Award

The AFA is proud to announce Suyun Choi as the winner of our 2018 Dissertation Award, for her dissertation, “‘Going into Labor’: Gender, Migration, and Neoliberal Governance in South Korea,” advisor Carla Freeman (Emory University).

Choi examines “how governing forces and migrant women’s desires overlap and contest each other in the realms of work and intimacy” by investigating the “migratory journeys of Asian women who pursue South Korea’s migration opportunities, either through short-term labor contracts and/or marrying Korean men.” Her research contributes to bodies of work that explore labor, affect, migration, and (gendered) neoliberal governance, as well as important interventions in feminist anthropology. We are impressed with Suyun’s commitment to the field, and have no doubt her dissertation will eventually become a well read book.


2018  Zora Neale Hurston Award


Elisha Oliver, PhD
University of Oklahoma

Elisha presented her paper, “All Black Towns in Oklahoma: Forgotten Archaeologies, Ethnography, and Multi-racial/Multi-ethnic Identity” at a panel entitled, “Contemporary Archaeologies of Old Places: Material Politics Between Past and Future.”

Aja Lans
Syracuse University

Aja organized and participated in a roundtable entitled “Black Feminist Science,” sponsored by the Association of Black Anthropologists. Aja’s dissertation is entitled, “♀Negro: Embodied Experiences of Inequality in Historic New York City.”

Symone Johnson
University of Notre Dame

Symone presented her paper, “I Need You to Survive: Meaning-Making and Mobilizing in Black American Spiritual Communities” at a panel entitled “Race, Remembering, Resilience.”


2017  Sylvia Forman Prize

Graduate Paper:  Brady G’Sell

“Multiple Maternities: Maternal Repertoires and Support Seeking in South Africa”

Advisor: Adam Ashforth (University of Michigan)

G’Sell’s paper analyzes marriage and childcare in South Africa. In South Africa, 40% unemployment and plummeting marriage rates have put once reliable means of supporting children—employment, husbands, or husband’s family—out of reach. This shift has led to a situation where women must draw upon an ever-expanding network of people and institutions to support themselves and their families. Although women are expected to translate resources into proper social reproduction, they are not regarded as legitimate recipients of aid in their own right. Children are considered the deserving beneficiaries. Thus, women can only access resources by framing themselves as a maternal caregiver to a needy child. Drawing on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this paper tracks how women living in a multi-racial and multi-cultural inner-city neighborhood claimed support from many categories of persons: social workers, pastors, school principals, boyfriends, and neighbors. These persons held different, often conflicting definitions of desirable, and therefore deserving, motherhood. In response, women cultivated semiotic skills to discern and apply effective ways of speaking and acting to each interactional context. By enacting the disciplinarian, the indulging auntie, or the thrifty housewife, Point women used performances of acceptable motherhood to justify their entitlement to support. This paper argues that such performances are both a strategy and a resource for poor women in South Africa that enables claim making and social recognition. However, this recognition remains limited as their legibility and merit resides not in their own needs or even in the value of their maternal labor, but in the social value of the child.

Undergraduate Paper: Caroline Vellenga-Buban

“Queer or Mainstream? LGBT Parents and American Family Values”

Advisor: Olga Gonzalez (Macalester College)

Vellenga-Buban’s paper uses ethnographic data to focus on the ways many middle-class, American LGBT parents conform to and resist heteronormative family values. Considering structure, agency, and biopolitics, she argues that many queer families follow many mainstream family practices, in spite of how queer parents are often othered by “family values” rhetoric. Vellenga-Buban also discusses tactics by which parents deliberately subvert heterosexual norms, in a process called “un-mainstreaming.” This paper further informs the argument that queer parents do not necessarily differ from cisgender, heterosexual parents in terms of goals, desires, or practices, based on sexuality alone.


Honorable Mention (Graduate): Sahana Ghosh

“Security Scripts: Gendering Everyday Mobility and Civil-Military Relations under Surveillance in India’s Eastern Borderlands”

Advisor: Inderpal Grewal (Yale University)

Ghosh’s paper analyzes the gendered contours of military action in India’s eastern border. As India drives an increasingly militarized border security agenda along its officially ‘friendly’ border with Bangladesh, its preemptive practices to control the illegal movement of people and goods are directed to routes and movements within the Indian borderlands. How, and in what forms and scales, are threats and dangers embodied and made concrete for the policing of suspect mobilities by the Indian security forces from their abstract mandate of ‘national security’? Focusing ethnographic attention to everyday journeys by foot and various shared vehicles, this article proposes the idea of ‘security scripts’ to think about an interactive co-production and socio-spatial experience of border security by residents and security force personnel alike. It argues that how people choose to move, what routes they take, the rhythms of those journeys, and socialities on the move are key to life in a highly surveilled space and shows how security practices transform the borderlandscape into a gendered geography. This focus on the intersections of affect and bodily experiences with the material dimensions of spatial practices urge a rethinking of the forms of knowledge through which security states are formed and constrained, showing that visible militarized encounters and the life of law have afterlives in numerous times and spaces of everyday life.

Honorable Mention (Graduate): Seda Saluk



“Monitored Pregnancy in the Age of Pronatalism: Health Information Technologies and Reproductive Governance in Contemporary Turkey”

Advisor: Jacqueline Urla (University of Massachusetts Amherst)





2017  Michelle Rosaldo Book Prize

Saida Hodžić

The Twilight of Cutting: African Activism and Life after NGOs.

University of California Press.

In this ambitious and courageous ethnography, Hodžić analyzes how the same historical period in which the Ghanaian government and Ghanaian citizens outlawed and rejected female genital cutting, feminist activists from in and out of Ghana began to focus on cutting as a human rights crisis, thereby creating campaigns to stop a practice that was already nearly extinct. Hodžić situates this paradox in a variety of settings: NGOs, courtrooms and private homes. She identifies a central political tension that has allowed cutting to become a defining anxiety in national Ghanaian public culture, deeply unequal access to political and economic power between the northern and southern regions of the country. She asks readers to move beyond two common liberal impulses, either defending genital cutting as part of local cultural tradition or arguing that cutting should only be policed by local women. Instead, she interrogates the theoretical and historical foundations of conceptions of care and freedom while calling for a feminist ethics that remains engaged in fundamentally anthropological questions of difference.

Emilia Sanabria

Plastic Bodies: Sex Hormones and Menstrual Suppression in Brazil.

Duke University Press

Sanabria brings together detailed ethnography with sophisticated theories of medical and feminist anthropology through a classically feminist lens: the intersection of sex and gender. At the center of this book are hormones, a human essence that is made animate through medical and popular practice in Bahia, Brazil. Sanabria’s ethnography moves from clinics to archives to bars, showing how hormones are “sexed” in medical discourse and popular use. Initially promoted as a path to modern femininity, through contraception and especially menstrual suppression, synthetic hormones have become nodes through which experts, state officials and patients alike think of sex and gender in much more complex ways, contributing to a sex/gender universe that is not binary and cannot be mapped onto exclusively male or female bodies. The book connects feminist theory to science, technology and medical anthropology through emphasizing a central anthropological question about the malleability of the body.

2017  Zora Neale Hurston Travel Award

Katlego Disemelo

Katlego is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Amsterdam. He will be presenting his paper, “What’s drag got to do with it: Rethinking Queerness, Community and Kinship in Johannesburg, South Africa.” This paper draws upon ethnographic material from one of Johannesburg’s longest-running queer nightclubs (Club Simply Blue), to explore some of the tensions surrounding the debates on global gay identity. It provides an account of the ways in which trans- and other gender non-conforming individuals understand their own modes of racial and sexual identification, and how they navigate through these and other social identity categories.

Skyler Hawkins

Skyler is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Manchester whose work focuses on race, gender, and politics in North Carolina. She will be presenting her paper, “Letting Go to Get it Done: An Ethnographic Study of Progressive Social Policymaking in Conservative North Carolina.” Taking House Bill 250 (the Healthy Food Small Retailer/Corner Store Act in the North Carolina House of Representatives), this paper argues that race and gender continue to play an active role in the presentation, formation, and passage of public policy.


Guldana Salimjan

Guldana is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Institute of Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia. Guldana’s paper takes a phenomenological lens into elderly Kazakh women’s lived experiences, bodily practices, and botanical and social memories regarding their indigenous social and kinship structure, awil, and demonstrates that these embodied practices with traditional ecological knowledge convey an intimate connection to the grassland that the Kazakhs have managed, lived, and communicated in Xinjiang, Northwest China.

2017 AFA Dissertation Award

Eliza Williamson

“Birth in Crisis: Public Policy and the Humanization of Childbirth in Brazil”

Advisor: Eugenia Georges (Rice University)

Williamson’s dissertation examines the implementation of public health policy aimed at “humanizing” childbirth in Brazil’s public health system. Tracking the Rede Cegonha (Stork Network) program from the federal Ministry of Health to local clinics and communities in Salvador, Bahia, she shows how the concept of humanized birth—at its core, a turn toward evidence-based, demedicalized, respectful birth care—is put into practice in a context of persistent, racialized social inequities and widespread economic and political crisis. Drawing on 23 months of ethnographic fieldwork, she asks how women, healthcare professionals, and government agents imagine, effect, and experience the Brazilian State’s attempts to change not just techniques and practices, but the very ethics of care in childbirth. She also shows how these ethics were challenged by the Zika virus outbreak and its reproductive consequences, underlining the problematics of Brazilian maternal and infant health policy in its current forms.

Honorable Mention: Meryleen Mena

“Women Detained: Justice and Institutional Violence in the Sao Paulo Criminal Justice System”

Advisor: Donna Goldstein (University of Colorado Boulder)

Mena’s dissertation research is entitled “Women Detained: Justice and Institutional Violence in the São Paulo Criminal Justice System.” This research draws from 18 months of fieldwork in São Paulo’s criminal courts and in women’s prisons where she investigated the experience of women incarcerated. In her research, she asks: how do detained women perceive the effects of structural violence in São Paulo? The majority of women and trans men in prison in Brazil are Black or Brown individuals from lower-income communities. These are the same communities that have been criminalized historically. In the aftermath of the 2006 drugs laws which aimed to decriminalize drug use in Brazil, the police has targeted Black and Brown women and other “gender outlaws.” One major consequence of this policing is the surge in women’s incarceration.Her broader argument is that rather than function as a place of discipline and rehabilitation to re-integrate criminal offenders back into society, for the thousands of individuals detained in female penitentiaries, prisons are spaces of terror and madness-making. In these civic slaughterhouses, those who survive do not emerge rehabilitated, but rather grapple with PTSD and upon release often have little-to-no safety nets, which ultimately contributes to recidivism. The criminal justice system thus fails Black and Brown women in particular because anti-Black violence is institutionalized and inextricably linked to Brazil’s ethos: a multiracial society with deep problems of racial-, gender-, and class-based injustices. Despite the inhumane conditions and structural violence that defines prison life for many individuals, however, with a support network, some ex-prisoners participate in prison reform efforts. she underscores the conditions they live in during incarceration, and the strategies they use after they receive parole to self-preserve and support their communities.



2016 Sylvia Forman Prize for Student Papers 

Graduate Paper: Erin Moore


“Detoothing Kampala: ‘Idling’ and the Politics of Evasion in Kampala’s NGO Economy”

Advisor: Jennifer Cole (University of Chicago).

Moore’s essay weaves together detailed ethnography with theories of temporality to propose specifically gendered insights into the experience of time. As she says, “To detooth, in the urban slang of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, is to take a man’s money while withholding the other end of the transactional sexual deal. In this paper, I show how young urban women detoothed not only their male suitors but also Kampala’s widespread and well-resourced NGO economy, which is predominantly focused on girls and women. In particular, the worldwide movement to “empower” adolescent girls has given new shape to population control initiatives in Kampala by focusing on economic and social empowerment as pregnancy prevention. At public health events there in 2012-2013, government officials advocated for reducing unwanted pregnancies by occupying girls’ time. These officials voiced a fear that, when idle, young urban women transact sex for money, or, more simply, because they are bored. Idling has also drawn recent interest from anthropologists, who concentrate on the ways urban youth “hang out” in the face of economic precarity in the global South. This literature, however, often excludes young women because they are presumed to be, and often are, continually laboring within the home. The elision of young women from politicized time-passing practices reproduces a division between household and waged labor that assumes “the household” mediates how women experience the exchange of money and time. By contrast, using a feminist analysis I show how even amidst housework and NGO-remunerated piecemeal labor, young women in urban Kampala still made time to idle. Because they both anticipated and responded to the global macroeconomic logics of contemporary population control initiatives, these idling practices became the vehicle through which young women detoothed Kampala’s NGO economy.”

Honorable Mention (Graduate): Annie Wilkinson

Wilkinson photo

“Cleanliness is Holiness: The Transnational Ex-Gay Movement and ‘Dehomosexualization’ in Ecuador”

Advisor: Lilith Mahmud (University of California, Irvine).

Wilkinson’s paper analyzes the origins and variations of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) in two separate settings in Ecuador: (i) the illegal practice of so-called deshomosexualización as practiced in some private rehabilitation centers, and (ii) “la lucha” (the struggle) in the Quito-based ex-gay ministry Camino de Salida. Drawing on her extensive fieldwork between 2011 and 2016, she demonstrates that while these two spheres are institutionally distinct, they share one important common premise: that homosexuality can—and should—be changed, a discursive product of the transnational ex-gay movement.

In this ethnographic treatment, Wilkinson shows how sexual orientation change efforts in these two spaces derive from separate historical genealogies and motives. She details their distinct models of discipline, philosophies of sexual conversion, forms of organization, and practices of subject-making as employed by each of their practitioners. Wilkinson argues that practices of deshomosexualización in private rehabilitation centers largely constitute an organic and decentralized phenomenon. They engage a model of externally imposed militaristic discipline based largely upon principles derived from outdated behavior modification theories, rely on forced internment, and are driven predominantly by profit motives. In these spaces, clients are punitively disciplined “hasta que cambien” (until they change). Change in these spaces is conceptualized as an external process mediated by an overseeing practitioner and as a commodified product deliverable by force. In contrast, la lucha as practiced within Camino de Salida reflects local practices within the context of a transnationally networked and purpose-driven movement: the ex-gay movement. It engages a model of voluntary self-discipline based upon evangelical Christian theological principles of spiritual transformation and is driven by politicoreligious motives. In this space, to triumph in la lucha requires that clients drive the process of sexual and spiritual transformation themselves by accepting that “el cambio es possible” (change is possible) and so becoming their own agents of change. In turn, change in the ex-gay ministry is conceptualized as an internal process mediated by Jesus and relies upon the notions of free will.

But across these differences both sets of practices derive from and rely upon one common basic discursive premise: that homosexuality can—and implicitly should—be changed. In examining this juncture, Wilkinson focuses on analyzing the role of the transnational “ex-gay movement” in spreading the message that “change is possible” in Latin America. She argues that this transnationally circulating discourse has served not only to generate unique manifestations of SOCE within Camino de Salida but also that it plays a key role in legitimizing and supporting the proliferation of illegal and violent practices of deshomosexualización in Ecuador’s rehabilitation centers—a conclusion with relevant implications for activists working to bring an end to these devastating practices.



Undergraduate Paper: Katherine Brown

Photo of Brown

“Re-learning Womanhood: A Gendered Analysis of German-Turkish Return Migrants in Istanbul”

Advisor: Arjun Guneratne (Macalester College).

Brown’s paper examines German Turkish female return migrants’ strategies to adjust to life in Istanbul. Using ethnographic data, it beautifually explores the roles identity, independence, and gender play in the ways these women interact with the world around them. Drawing on feminist literature, Brown proposes that in the face of contradictory expectations from German and Turkish societies, female return migrants must choose between remaining western foreigners in their ethnic homeland of Turkey or renouncing their German-instilled values to adopt a ‘traditional’ Turkish lifestyle. Ultimately, many German Turkish women adopt a hybrid identity, which allows them to embrace both German and Turkish values while maintaining their individuality.

Honorable Mention (Undergraduate): Nana Charlene Elfreda Adubea Toa-Kwapong 

Photo DubieToa-Kwapong

“Taking it Back to the Motherland: The Gendered Frictions of Return Migration to Accra, Ghana”

Advisor: Olga Gonzalez (Macalester College).

Toa-Kwapong’s paper centers the perspectives of Afro-diasporic migrants who make their way back to the African continent, particularly to Accra, Ghana, after sojourns in the West. Like any other type of mobility, return migration is gendered. As a result of their transnational lifestyles, Accra’s returnees find themselves in the position of balancing Western and local gender norms. They must manage ideals of successful return, with women expected to forfeit parts of their autonomy and men burdened with the expectation to step into the role of provider and the financial obligations of this role. While men tend to fare better in professional contexts, women returnees find themselves in male-dominated work spaces, where outdated gender dynamics give rise to social situations like the growing sugar-daddy phenomenon. While the lines between the personal and professional can be blurry, this does not deter single returnees from trying find both success and love in Accra. They develop strategies, both individual and collective, to facilitate these processes. Returnee women, in particular become major “social actors” (Ortner 1996:116), using their positionality to challenge patriarchal norms. By connecting the dots between identity, geography, gender, and culture as they are experienced by African returnees to Accra, this paper aims to provide a space for returnees − particularly women − an opportunity to narrate their own stories and present their own realities.




2016 Zora Neale Hurston Travel Grant

Shayna Cordis

Shayna is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin with a specialization in Native American & Indigenous Studies and Critical Race Studies and a theoretical focus in black and indigenous feminisms. She will defend her dissertation, (Un) Settling Dispossession: Neoliberal Development, Gender Violence, and Struggles for Land in Guyana in the Spring 2017. Her dissertation examines the everyday lived experiences of indigenous dispossession in Guyana. She will be presenting her paper, “On Being Able: Reassembling Praxis in the Field in the Context of Racialized Gender Violence.”

Meryleen Mena

Meryleen is a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her dissertation utilizes legal anthropology and feminist interdisciplinary frameworks in her exploration of women’s experiences with structural violence in the Criminal Justice System of São Paulo, Brazil. She will be presenting her paper, “Possibilities and the Future: On the Condition of Brazil’s Incarcerated Women and their Children.”

Marlaina Martin

Marlaina is a 5th year PhD student at Rutgers University specializing in the study of media strategies of women of color. Her work explores production and distribution among self-identified women of color working in NYC independent film and image creation. She will be presenting her paper, “Battleground Aesthetics: Black Women in NYC Independent Film Production and Distribution.”


2015 AFA Michelle Rosaldo Book Prize

Lucinda Ramberg

Lucinda Ramberg. Given to the Goddess: South Indian Devadassi and the Sexuality of Religion. Duke University Press. 2014.

Elise Andaya

Elise Andaya (Honorable Mention) Conceiving Cuba: Reproduction, Women and the State in the Post-Soviet Era. Rutgers University Press. 2014.


2015 AFA Dissertation Award

Mary Elena Wilhoit

Mary Elena Wilhoit
Northwestern University
Advisor: Mary Weismantel

Title: Women’s Work, Chosen Families and Drug Wars in the Andes.

Mary’s dissertation draws on intensive research with rural women in the Ayacucho region of Peru, a region with a long and intensely gendered history of political violence, a tense relationship with the state, and a fragmented economy.  Using a gendered and intersectional lens, she addresses three different facets of life for rural women: the political life of the citizen; the economic life of the wage worker in the informal economy; and the family life of mothers and children.  Her findings in each area challenge gendered stereotypes, including those held by experts in international development.  Indeed, one of her most striking findings is the gendering of political citizenship. Given their exclusion from many economic opportunities available to men, as well as the instability of marital ties, women are particularly engaged in shaping census results in order to increase eligibility for benefits and social services. Men, by contrast, tend to avoid contact with the state whenever possible – a gendered difference that results both from men’s more direct experience with past military violence in the area, and in their growing involvement in the illegal drug trade. Women’s exclusion from both licit and illicit violence positions them differently vis-à-vis the state, giving them greater freedom to engage with it as citizens.

2015 Sylvia Forman Prize for Student Papers 

Graduate Recipient

Emily Channell-Justice

Emily Channell-Justice
The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Advisor: Katherine Verdery

Title: “We’re not Just Sandwiches”: Gender, Nation and Feminist (Im)possibilities on Ukraine’s Maidan.

EuroMaidan mobilizations were a significant site for the development of gender roles in postsocialist Ukraine. This paper examines the relationship between nationalism and feminism, both historically and during the protests, showing that the constant primacy of nationalist goals marginalizes feminist activism in contemporary Ukraine. It further considers the influence of feminist and nationalist conceptualizations of Europe that were regularly at odds with each other during the mobilizations. This research is based on participant observation of the protests over the seven months of their duration, including at multiple feminist-organized events; interviews with feminist activists; and analysis of gender-based discussions circulating among feminist and other activist groups. I discuss how feminists perceived limitations on their roles in the mobilizations – either as passive supporters or as militants in masculine-structured defense brigades – and how these limitations furthered feminist criticisms of the protests and dominant nationalist goals. This paper argues that, while the protests did not create the space for new forms of feminism, self-identified Ukrainian feminists used the protests to establish stronger connections among already-existing self-organized (non-governmental) feminist groups and to enhance local discussions about feminist possibilities in Ukraine.


Undergraduate Recipient

Lily Gutterman

Lily Gutterman
Brown University
Advisors: Rebecca Carter and Jessaca Leinaweaver

Title: “An Ideal Family of Our Sort”: Homonormative Framing in LGBT Immigration Activism.

Throughout the National Immigrant Center for Equality’s (NICE) twenty-year fight for same-sex binational couples’ immigration rights, the organization has strategically emphasized the “normalcy” of LGBT families to win their inclusion in family unification-based immigration policies. With the history of LGBT discrimination in immigration law, the recent visibility of LGBT families in US cultural and political spheres, and the influence of an increasingly powerful mainstream gay rights movement in America, this strategy of “normalization” is not surprising. This paper places NICE’s messaging tactics into conversation with their cultural and political context, illustrating how NICE’s agenda was set, and their victories defined, through developing homonormative discourses about gay families, marriage, consumption and domesticity. This paper argues that the notion of LGBT “equality” under US immigration law became increasingly narrow as NICE focused primarily on gay and lesbian binational couples, leaving other LGBT immigrants outside of their political work.

Check out Mounia El Kotni’s recent interview with this year’s winners of the Sylvia Forman Student Paper Prize.

2015 Zora Neale Hurston Travel Grant

Maya Berry

Maya Berry is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin with a specialization in African Diaspora Studies and theoretical focus in Black feminism(s).  She will defend her dissertation Afro-Cuban Movement(s): performing autonomy in “updating” Havana in Spring 2016. Her work uses black feminists’ theoretical readings of the erotic to examine the performative effect of collective bodily agency in sacred and secular spaces as pedagogies of desire.

Title: “Salvandose: Rumba Performance as a Politics of Black Survival in Reforming Havana.”

Mounia El Kotni

Mounia El Kotni is a Ph.D. candidate in in the Anthropology Department at the University at Albany, SUNY.  Her work focuses on indigenous women’s access to reproductive health care and indigenous midwives’ rights in Chiapas, Mexico. Her dissertation analyzes the impact of public health policies aiming to push all women to give birth in state hospitals, and the resistance of women and traditional indigenous midwives to such measures.

Title: “The Hospital is Where Women Die.”

Annie K. Wilkinson

Annie K Wilkinson is a first year PhD student at University of California at Irvine.  Her future dissertation work will explore the practices and logics of expanding transnational conservative religious missionary networks in Latin America in relation to gender and sexuality.

Title: “Cleanliness is Holiness: Discourses and Practices of the Transnational Ex-Gay Movement in Ecuador.”



2014 AFA Dissertation Award

Megan SpringateMegan Springate
Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland
Advisors: Holly Wardlow and Naisargi Dave

Becoming Women on the Shores of Lake George, New York: Wiawaka Holiday House and Women’s Social Reform in the Progressive Era.

Progressive Era reforms, including improving labor conditions and settlement houses, were commonly philanthropic endeavors championed by women. These were a response to the incorporation of America, increasing immigration, increased urbanization, and a reaction to the resulting poor working conditions. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were also a time of significant changes in what it meant to be a woman in America, as more women moved into the workforce, the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, and changing ideology around women’s sexual and social behavior.

Wiawaka Holiday House was founded in New York State in 1903 by middle-class women as a place for factory women to have affordable vacations. Using archaeological, archival, and documentary sources, Wiawaka serves as a case study of the complexities and contradictions of women’s holiday houses, a common Progressive Era philanthropic endeavor which has been neglected in the literature. Questions about gender, class, power, the nature of reform, leisure and labor at these sites of philanthropy will be addressed in the context of Progressive Era philanthropic reform and of being a women in the early twentieth century.

2014 Sylvia Forman Prize for Student Papers

Graduate Paper: Jessica Mason

“A Question of Belonging: Conspicuous Erasure and the Politics of Queer Visibility in Russia”

Jessica Mason

Advisor: Prof. Maria Lepowsky (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

In contemporary Russia, the LGBT community is entangled in simultaneous processes of visibility and erasure. This paper analyzes the politics of queer visibility in Russia through the lens of “conspicuous erasure,” projects which highlight that which is to be excluded. The recent ban on “gay propaganda” has drawn public attention to LGBT Russians while simultaneously criminalizing public queerness. This conspicuous erasure, this paper argues, has created a space of cultural intimacy in which some Russians construct a national community on the basis of queer exclusion. Such projects call into question the valorization of “queer visibility” as a necessarily emancipatory process. Yet at the same time, pro-LGBT activists have their own visibility project, seeking to make conspicuous the erasure of queerness within the political opposition. Their conspicuous erasure seeks to create an alternative cultural intimacy, founded on experiences of repression and precarity, that might produce a more inclusive community of citizens.

Undergraduate Paper: Brenna McCaffrey


‘To Hold These Two Things at Once’: Discourses of Ethics and Reproductive Justice in Abortion Activism”

Advisors:  Meg Devlin O’Sullivan & Benjamin Junge (State University of New York at New Paltz)

Discourses of consumer choice, privacy rights, and defensive reactions to “The War on Women” continue to dominate mainstream organizations fighting for reproductive justice. Meanwhile, activists and volunteers who are “on the ground”—working with patients in abortion care and clinic defense—struggle with representing the realities of their work while reflecting the acceptable discourses of mainstream activism. This paper presents ethnographic research conducted with activists at a reproductive health clinic in the Hudson Valley, NY. I aimed to identify how suggestions about abortion discourse made by feminist scholars were understood and integrated into activist practice. This research was conducted through participant observation and semi-structured interviews with eleven activists. Key findings suggest that activists often think through “tough questions” about ethics, personhood and fetal life, and repeat abortion patients, yet understand the importance of “acceptable discourse” within the public face of activism. I argue that acceptable discourses about reproductive rights limit how activists and volunteers can engage with the political, moral, and intellectual conflicts that they encounter when fighting for reproductive justice. These limitations in turn decrease broad-based support for abortion access. An understanding of the reproductive justice paradigm and a willingness to accept “gray area” and conflicting ethical ideals allows some activists to mediate the realities of their work with the acceptable discourse of political activism. These findings suggest that discourses which allow activists to “hold two things at once” will help the reproductive justice movement gain supporters and affect change.

2014 Zora Neale Hurston Travel Grant

Holly O

Holly Okonkwo is a Ph.D. candidate in the University of California, Riverside program in Anthropology. She is currently working on finishing her dissertation and at tended the meetings to present aspects of this work as part of the session: Ethnography ad Discourse in the Socialization of School Subjectivities. Her talk entitled “She Builds Robots: African American Women Transforming the Grid of Science and Technology” traces the discursive origins and implications of notions of what it means to be a scientist, utilizing the narratives of self-identified African and African American women computer scientists.

Kamal Arora

Kamal Arora is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.  She presented a paper and chaired a session entitled Matters of Faith: Feminist Anthropological Explorations of Religion and Gender.  Her talk entitled “Sikh Women in New Delhi’s ‘Widow Colony’: On Affective Religious Practice, Memory, and Violent Spatiotemporal Junctures,”examines contemporary gendered religious practice and memory among Sikh widows in New Delhi, India. Specifically, she considers how religious practices have shaped memories of communal violence directed towards the Sikh community in 1984.


Luciane Rocha is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology/African Diaspora Program at University of Texas at Austin.  This year she presented a paper as part of the session: Sorrow as Artifact: Black Radical Mothering in Times of Terror. Her talk entitled, “Tray-matic Resistance: Black Mothers and Emotions in the African Diaspora”, analyzes the ways in which black women who have experienced the loss of a family member transform individual mourning into political strategy to achieve social change and racial equity.


2012 AFA Dissertation Award 

Asli Zengan
University of Toronto

Sexual Plays of Intimate Power: The State, Violence and Trans Women’s Subjectivities in Istanbul

2012 Sylvia Forman Paper Awards

Graduate Recipient

June Hee Kwon
Duke University

The Economy of Remittances:  Sexual and Moral Tensions of Korean Chinese Migration in Yanbian

Undergraduate Recipient

Lilia Kilburn
Amhurst College

‘Trying to Be a Woman in This World’: Revisiting Feminist Responses to Transgender Body Modification

2012 Zora Neale Hurston Travel Grant 

Tami Navarro

Virgin Capital: Foreign Investment and Local Stratification in the U.S. Virgin Islands (dissertation)

Christine A. Pinnock
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Collective-Yes; Union-No!: Exploring the Complexities of Collective Engagement for Female Afro-Caribbean Service Workers in New York City (AAA paper)

Paola Canova
University of Arizona

Tracing Intimate Subjectivities of Ayoreo Women in the Mennonite Colonies of the Paraguayan Chaco

2014 AFA Dissertation Award

Shankari Patel
University of California, Riverside
Advisor: Professor Thomas C. Patterson

Journey to the East: Pilgrimage, Politics, and Gender at Postclassic Yucatan

My dissertation, “Journey to the East: Pilgrimage, Politics, and Gender at Postclassic Yucatan” tackles two misconceptions regarding gender in Maya prehistory. It deconstructs the public versus private narrative in Maya archaeology by examining women’s very public participation in the religious and political institutions of Postclassic (A.D. 900-1519) Maya society. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, archaeological interpretations from Postclassic Yucatan reinforce this misconception regarding the separation of public and private spheres of gendered activity by pointing out that Maya women labored in the home while Maya men were the leaders, farmers, politicians, and priests who interacted in public society. Such perspectives of past societies continue to misrepresent history by offering up examples of early civilizations independently developing the same division of labor that justify current political realities associating public space with men and private space with women (Pyburn 2004). When the separation between the public and private spheres of life for women becomes naturalized, the human rights of women in contemporary patriarchal societies are not protected in the home (Arditti 2009).

The second misconception regarding gender in Maya prehistory is that women shared a universal experience of womanhood. My dissertation looks at the intersection of gender, religion, and class through ethonohistoric, iconographic, and archaeological evidence. It analyzes representations of gender between state sponsored art and household figurines in Yucatan following the work of Brumfiel (1996), Cohodas (2002) and Joyce (2000) who examined Mesoamerican resistance to gender ideologies and how they were contested by different social groups. My dissertation also examines the representations of gender ideologies in the religious art, literature and architecture of the Postclassic, deconstructs representations of gender presented in the 16th century colonial documents, and presents a feminist perspective regarding the east coast of Yucatan’s material assemblages. By taking an intersectional approach to gender, religion, and class in the Maya Postclassic period, I hope to demonstrate the relevance of feminist archaeological narratives to the practice of anthropology.

For more information on past award winners, see Rachel Nuzman’s Interviews with Past Award Recipients, Shankari Patel and Asli Zengin.

2011 Sylvia Forman Paper Awards

Graduate Recipient

Jacob Nerenberg
University of Toronto
Advisor: Dave Naisargi

This paper explores the enrollment of transnational human rights advocacy in the project of white empire by examining the differential gendering of media images of violated New Guinean bodies. It traces continuities between histories of colonial sexual fantasy and contemporary media stagings of sexualized suffering to show how human rights advocacy draws on racist and sexist tropes. As transnational advocacy discourse articulates with global mass media practices, the division of New Guinea between two nation-states maps onto a contrasting focus on male victims in West Papua and female victims in Papua New Guinea. Dominant representations of the current political conjunctures on either side of the border reflect a symbolic “feminization” of West Papua through loss of political agency under Indonesian rule, while Papua New Guinea is represented as charged with an excess of masculine sexual energy. While human rights advocacy discourses and media practices draw on colonial fantasies to construct white imperial subjectivity, they erase the political projects of New Guinean collectivities. As media activists engage with dominant representations around violence and gender in West Papua and Papua New Guinea, their projects to restore dignity to New Guinean subjects are partly recaptured by a liberal imperialist discourse of the postcolonial state’s progress towards accountability. This discourse forecloses possibilities of transformative politics by reinscribing the colonially-inherited boundary that divides New Guinea and by effecting a gendered denial of Melanesian agency.

Undergraduate Recipient

Shannon Ward
Wellesley College

Advisors: Isabelle Onians and Katrina EdwardsIn the Tibetan refugee community of Dharamsala, India, I examined the overlapping nature of political and ethnic identity, and attitudes towards reproduction in general and abortion in particular.  Through extensive interviews with Tibetan men and women, I gained insight into the ways that understandings of ‘Tibetan-ness’ are narrated, embodied and reproduced. For Tibetan refugees, ethnic identity is buttressed by a history of forced displacement and political violence that configures physical and cultural continuation as a central concern. The female body, in particular, accentuates an embodied collectivity, since a woman physically reproduces the community, literally and metaphorically ensuring its survival.  Additionally, collective Buddhist ethics drive understandings of the spiritual and physical processes of reproduction, which influence personal views about reproductive intervention in the domain of a woman’s body. The interplay between Tibetan identity and reproductive health is further complicated by Tibetan refugees’ memories of “genocide.”  Public reports of past and present human rights violations are mirrored in individual life stories, and are rife with references to the destruction of future lineages through forced abortion and sterilization.  Public rhetoric and personal convictions about reproduction are directed towards this shared history of trauma, in which abortion figures as a violation of the Tibetan collectivity. However, my informants upheld a woman’s “freedom of choice,” expressing collective and personal religious ethics and political ideologies while narrating life stories.  By analyzing these narratives, my work demonstrates the intertwined nature of Tibetan ethnic identity, the refugee experience, and reproductive decision-making.

2011 Zora Neale Hurston Travel Grant 

Erin Durban-Albrecht
University of Arizona

Zonbi, Zonbi: Queer Responses to State Discourses of Sexuality in Haiti in the Shadow of U.S. Imperialism

“Zonbi, Zonbi” examines the spatial and cultural dimensions of gender, sexuality, economic class, and nation in pre- and post-earthquake Haiti. The paper analyzes various discourses about Haiti in relationship to the United States and to other Caribbean nations, and illuminates the material consequences of those discourses for gender and sexual minoritarian populations. This paper explores what is at stake for queer people (lesbian, gay, masisi, madivin, bisexual, homosexual, etc.) in different economic classes in the context of heteronormative performances of the nation and the structural inequalities of “natural” disaster.

“Zonbi, Zonbi” opens with multiple instances of government performativity, concentrated in the months before and after the earthquake, as exemplary of the structuring of sexualized discourses in the current context of U.S. imperialism in Haiti. Among other performances—e.g. Operation Pierre Pan and U.S. asylum cases in the Caribbean—the paper will pay particular attention to the ouster of Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis in 2009. Her ouster came only a year following her scandalous nomination—she was only officially recognized after a mandatory radio address to the nation in which she denied charges of lesbianism—and her eventual installation. These emerging narratives of the heteronormative nation (and their genealogies) are contextualized through ongoing ethnographic fieldwork (begun in 2009) in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora around the forms of (im)mobilities experienced by queer people enmeshed these politics of nations. “Zonbi, Zonbi” references and underscores the creative responses of Haitian gender and sexual minoritarian populations to these discourses.

Margie Serrato
Texas A&M University

Gender and/in Soldiering: Examining Contemporary Deployment Experiences of Female Soldiers in the U.S. Army

The ground combat exclusion policy, which officially bars women from assignment into infantry, mechanized, and reconnaissance units, was established in 1993 to reflect the American public’s ideological concerns about the role of female soldiers in war. The policy was intended to limit women’s involvement to combat support units that were strategically located in areas far removed from danger. However, the reality of the ongoing War on Terror has made the exclusion policy obsolete because the differentiation of gender roles is irrelevant in asymmetrical wars with no established front lines. Over 255,000 women have deployed to the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts and many of them have engaged enemies in counteroffensive scenarios.

I conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with female and male U.S. Army soldiers who experienced combat in the ongoing conflicts. Participants were asked to provide a ‘tour’ of their military life, deployment, and combat experiences in order to understand whether gender is a factor in those contexts. Most female soldiers asserted that gender is not an issue; everybody is a soldier, a seemingly genderless, mission-focused agent who is a product of their training. The testimony of many female and male soldiers indicated that working with women downrange challenged their outdated beliefs about women’s capabilities. Most participants also argued that soldiers’ qualifications, not their gender, should be the deciding factor in any military assignment. The results of this study have the potential for immediate application to policies regarding military assignments for women and can also be used to enhance future institutional changes.

Wendy Vogt
University of Arizona

The Ordinariness of Violence: Central American Migration and the Struggle for Human Rights in Oaxaca

“The Ordinariness of Violence: Central American Migration and the Struggle for Human Rights in Oaxaca.” In recent years, the state of Oaxaca has become one of the most feared regions for Central American migrants in transit to the United States.  During the journey north, they are targeted by organized criminals, gangs, corrupt authorities, local residents and even other migrants who abuse, extort, exploit, kidnap, rape and murder. Such violence is not random but rather closely bound up with local industries that profit off vulnerability and the interpenetration of human and drug smuggling in Mexico.  As the train route through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to Veracruz has become the heart of much of this violence, increasing numbers of migrants choose to abandon the train and go through Oaxaca City on their way north. A network of migrant shelters has been critical to creating safer passage for migrants, offering humanitarian aid and working to expose the violations against them.

Inspired by the work of Michael Higgins who sought to make visible the ordinariness of marginalized groups and their struggles for social justice, this paper examines the lived experiences of undocumented migrants and shelter workers. I explore how violence operates and is reproduced at the local level, the complex social dynamics within migrant shelters and the social movement that has emerged in defense of migrant rights.  In parallel with Higgins’ earlier work, migrants and everyday Oaxacans currently struggle to create social spaces of civility and tolerance to combat what has become ordinary violence in people’s lives.