SEA Book Prize

The Society for Economic Anthropology Book Prize

The Society for Economic Anthropology is very pleased to announce the Winner of the 2014 SEA Book Prize:

Sarah Besky. 2014. The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India. University of California Press. (link)

BeskyThis book tells a story about the social life of Darjeeling tea – some of the world’s most expensive and sought after tea, which is grown high in the Himalayan foothills of Northeast India. Tea laborers, planters, and townspeople all know that Darjeeling and its tea are famous all over the world. Some trace this fame to the misty mountain climate or the loamy soils; others talk about the laborers’ nimble hands; and others mention the importance of the region’s spiritual geography. Whatever the reason, since colonial times, Darjeeling tea has been associated with luxury and refinement, and the region has been a romantic “outside” within India: a cool, mountainous complement to the plains, and a home to exotic Nepali-speaking tea pluckers, recruited by British planters in the 1850s to staff what came to be known as “tea gardens.” This book narrates how contemporary Darjeeling tea workers’ ideas about value, social justice, and the plantation emerged through their encounters with tea’s colonial legacy, culminating in a Nepali-led regional separatist movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland. Besky argues that Nepali-speaking women tea laborers in Darjeeling have developed both a deep attachment to the plantation landscape in which they work and a nuanced critique of the tea industry itself. In the book, Besky rethinks the plantation as space, as concept, and – crucially – as home to tea workers and tea bushes. Drawing on ethnographic research in the tea fields of Darjeeling, Besky frames the virtual and embodied spaces of fair trade, Geographical Indication, and subnationalist movements aimed to reform India’s plantations as “third world agrarian imaginaries” that depict plantations and their laborers as “in need” of development. Besky identifies the ways in which women workers push back against the competing and sometimes contradictory notions of justice in these imaginaries. Besky highlights that in order to formulate meaningful ideas and practices of justice in agriculture, critical analysis must attend to the lived experiences of laborers and to the material conditions that shape their everyday lives.

More info on the 2014 competition, including the other nominated books is here.

The SEA Book Prize recognizes an outstanding book in economic anthropology published over the last 3 years.

Previous winners of the Society for Economic Anthropology’s book prize are:

2014       The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-trade Tea Plantations in India by Sarah Besky

2012      Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair Trade Markets by Sarah Lyons

2008    Global Outlaws: Crime, money and power in the Contemporary World by Carolyn Nordstrom AND Home Cooking in the Global Village: Caribbean Food from Buccaneers to Ecotourists by Richard Wilk

2005    Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World by Ted Bestor

2003    Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia by Karen Tranberg-Hansen

The book prize includes a $500 award, and will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington, DC and during the SEA Friday afternoon business meeting.

If you have any questions, please contact the chair (Jeffrey H. Cohen at cohen[dot]319[at]osu[dot]edu).