2014 SEA Book prize winner announced

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.

A brief description of how the nominated book fits into economic anthropology:

The Darjeeling Distinction contributes to three key areas of economic anthropology: the ethnography of ethical trade in the context of neoliberalism, the role of law and economic nationalism in shaping economic development, and the interface between labor and ethnicity. It explores strategies for integrating India’s most prized agricultural commodity into a global market for ethically sourced and geographically distinguished goods. In the late 1990s, Darjeeling’s tea plantations became the first in the world to receive fair trade certification. Hope was high among certifying agencies that fair trade would alleviate the inequities of tea production and provide more sustainable livelihoods for workers. To date, this is the only study of fair trade certification on plantations. But this book is about more than fair trade. It situates fair trade amid two other moves to adapt Darjeeling tea plantations to a 21st century market for sustainable and ethically sourced commodities and to bring the Darjeeling region into a 21st century multi-ethnic Indian democracy. The first, WTO Geographical Indication status, uses international law to define the borders of Darjeeling, to “protect” the tea grown there as the intellectual property of the Government of India, and to stimulate demand. The second, the Gorkhaland agitation, is a longstanding movement to form an Indian state separate from West Bengal, which would include Darjeeling, its tea plantations, and its majority of Indian Nepalis, or “Gorkhas.” For many in Darjeeling, Gorkhaland was the only means by which economic development would ever be actualized. These movements were all strategies for reinventing the plantation, yet each only partially addressed the concerns of plantation workers themselves. For workers, concepts of justice were relational, based upon gendered experiences of plantation labor. Importantly, Besky seeks to understand not only how women tea workers understand each of these strategies for the improvement of the plantation and plantation workers, but also what the plantation means to workers themselves. Doing so, she shows how colonial economic formations bear upon postcolonial ethnic and national identities. For women workers, who comprised the majority of the plantation labor force, labor, management, and the actual tea bushes and plantation landscape supported one another reciprocally (if also unevenly) in what Besky calls a “tripartite moral economy.” Such a perspective calls attention to the persistence and meaning of the plantation as a material, social, and economic form. Fair trade and GI, propelled by universal notions of economic sustainability and hegemonic ideas about the region’s ecology and people, and the male-dominated Gorkhaland movement, driven by a desire to redefine Darjeeling’s place within Independent India, each presented challenges to this moral economy.

  • Cory-Alice Andre-Johnson, University of California Press

Honorable mention: David Stoll, 2012. El Norte or Bust: How Migration Fever and Microcredit Produced a Financial Crash in a Latin American Town. Rowman and Littlefield.

StollDebt is the hidden engine driving low-wage migration to the United States. So argues this ethnography of migrants, moneylenders, and swindlers in the Guatemalan highlands, one of the locales sending Latin Americans north in search of higher wages. Like many low-income rural populations, the Ixil and K’iche’ Mayas of Nebaj are growing rapidly in numbers. Particularly for young Nebajenses, it is ever more difficult to find employment that satisfies their needs and wants.   Aid agencies have provided microcredits to turn the Nebajenses into entrepreneurs, but credit alone cannot boost productivity in crowded mountain valleys, which is why many borrowers have invested the loans in smuggling themselves to the US. Back home, their remittances have inflated the price of land so high that only migrants can afford to buy it. Thus more Nebajenses have felt obliged to borrow the large sums needed to go north. So many have done so that, even before the the US financial crash in 2008, many Nebajenses were unable to find enough stateside work to keep up with their loans. This triggered a financial crash in their home town. Now many migrants and their families are losing the land and homes they have pledged as collateral. Migration, moneylending, and large families, this study argues, have turned into pyramid schemes in which low-income Guatemalans transfer risk and loss to their relatives and neighbors.

  • David Stoll, Author

 The 2014 book award committee reviewed 24 books published since 2012. Finalists also included:

  • Jessica Smith Rolston, Mining Coal and Undermining Gender: Rhythms of Work and Family in the American West.
  • Paige West, From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea.
  • Donald Wood, OGATA-MURA: Sowing Dissent and Reclaiming Identity in a Japanese Farming Village.

The SEA book prize is given biannually to the best (non-edited) book in economic anthropology. The book prize includes a $500 award, and will be presented at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington, DC and during the SEA Friday afternoon business meeting.

Thanks to committee members who gave of their time and energy: John Millhauser, Sandra Weinstein Bever, Joseph Lehner, Peter Redvers-Lee, Daniel Murphy, Nicole D. Peterson, Akiko Takeyama, Jennifer Vogt, Walter Little and Robert Marshall.

Jeffrey H. Cohen, chair, book prize committee.

2014 Halperin Awardees Named

The Society for Economic Anthropology is pleased to announce the awardees of the 2014 award of $1000 for PhD research and a second award of $500 to supplement the costs of traveling to the SEA spring conference.

The awardees for 2014:

RissingAndrea L. Rissing of Emory University’s Anthropology Department (Advisor Peggy Barlett): “Beginning Farmers and Agricultural Success in Iowan Sustainable Agriculture.” This project focuses on entrepreneurs running diversified, usually organic, vegetable operations who have been farming for less than ten years in Iowa.

Orelmanski1Katie Orlemanski of the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University (Advisor Dorothy L. Hodgson): “Poster (Girl)Child: Gendered Education Projects in Rural Tanzania.” This project looks at how and why the “girl-child” has become such a focus of interest (and resources) of international NGOs and donors, and how the reproduction and reification of that trope through various development and education efforts has shaped the lived experience and sense of self of young girls themselves.

Jilo2Samuel Dira Jilo, Department of Anthropology at Washington State University (Advisor: Barry S. Hewlett): “Resilience: Learning to save and ‘Producing Big’ among subsistence producers in Ethiopia.” This project addresses cultural resilience and other applied economic anthropology issues, as well as coevolution, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK studies), and biocultural evolution.

 

 

The Rhoda Halperin Memorial Fund celebrates the life and scholarly work of Rhoda Halperin by supporting PhD students in anthropology who emulate her love of economic anthropology and her concern for people living on the social margin. In memory of Rhoda’s convivial colleagueship, the Fund also encourages student professional development through participation in the scholarly meetings of the SEA and AAA. To meet these goals, students engaged in economic research focused on social exclusion and poverty are provided small research grants and subsequent travel money to present their findings at the Society for Economic Anthropology annual conference.

Jilo1
Photo from Samuel Dira Jilo, one of this year’s winners

The committee, composed of Martha Rees, Rudolf J Colloredo-Mansfeld, Patricia A McAnany, William Mitchell, Walter Little, and Suzanne Scheld, reviewed and ranked 29 applications in order to make the difficult decision about which projects to fund.

Orelmanski2
Photo by Katie Orlemanski, one of this year’s winners

More information about the competition is here.

Rissing2
Photo by Andrea L. Rissing, one of this year’s winners

 

2014 SEA Book Prize open for nominations!

SarahBookThe SEA Book Prize is an opportunity to showcase the variety of books published recently by economic anthropologists, and this year’s competition has just been announced. Please see the call for nominations here, and recommend your favorite single-authored book today.

Image is from Sarah Lyon’s book, which won the prize in 2012

2013 Schneider Prize winners announced

At the AAA meetings last week, the SEA announced the winners of the 2013 Schneider Prize, which honors outstanding papers written by undergraduate and graduate students.

Harold Schneider, Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, was known for both his path breaking research and his dedication as a teacher. Each year, the Society for Economic Anthropology invites both undergraduate and graduate students to submit papers on any aspect of economic anthropology or economic archaeology. The 2014 competition is open now.

The 2013 winners are:

2013 Graduate Winning Paper
Mengqi Wang, Brandeis University
The Moral Economy of Chinese Homeowners: Negotiating “the Right to Housing” in Post-purchase Conflicts
Faculty sponsor: Elizabeth Ferry

Mengqi was able to attend the meetings, and plans to present her paper at the 2014 SEA annual meeting.

2013 Graduate Honorable Mention
Jenny Diggins, University of Sussex
“Economic Runaways, on the Maritime Frontier”
Faculty sponsor: James Fairhead

2013 Undergraduate Winning Paper
Susan DiMauro, Washington University
“‘And Yet We Grew Beautiful Crops’: Reconstructing the Agricultural Economy of Shenandoah National Park Refugees”
Faculty sponsor: Glen Stone

2013 Undergraduate Honorable Mention
Shannon Smith, Reed College
“Shattering the economy of appearances: How land reforms facilitate land grabs in rural China”
Faculty sponsor: Charlene Makley