SCA is proud to award the fifth annual Gregory Bateson Prize to Elizabeth Anne Davis (Princeton University) for her book Bad Souls: Madness and Responsibility in Modern Greece (Duke University Press).
Among anthropology’s most distinguished experimental thinkers, Gregory Bateson (1904–1980) and his diverse body of work have long been emblematic of what the Society for Cultural Anthropology was founded to promote: rich ethnographic analysis that engages the most current thinking across the arts and sciences. Welcoming a wide range of styles and argument, the Bateson Prize looks to reward work that is theoretically rich, ethnographically grounded, and in the spirit of the tradition for which the SCA has been known—interdisciplinary, experimental, and innovative.
Elizabeth Anne Davis's Bad Souls is an elegant and highly textured ethnography of the dialogic negotiations between psychiatric professionals and patients, truth and deception, and culture and illness in the context of psychiatric reform in Thrace, Greece. In this at once poignant and humane book, Davis beautifully weaves together evocative stories from the hospitals and homes of the mentally ill and their therapists. These stories merge seamlessly with and through the theoretical unfolding. Here, mental illness is not only an object of analysis but a lens on which key social logics—truth, freedom, culture—are negotiated in the day-to-day of treatment and family life. Davis also shows how new subject positions are being constituted not only at the level of institutional reform but also through the constant negotiation of illness as a social category. The extremely complex historic and “ethnic” landscape of Thrace is never simplified as Davis explores people facing yet another moment of intense disruption. Theoretical rigor is worn lightly and always deployed in service of the subjects, their experiences, aspirations, and reflections. The reader is palpably connected to people and place. All in all, the book demonstrates the value of ethnography as a critical project in a strikingly graceful, empathetic and intimate fashion.
Akhil Gupta (University of California, Los Angeles), Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India (Duke University Press)
Akhil Gupta's Red Tape offers a powerful and richly ethnographically informed critique of the Indian state and the way poverty has remained unresolved. Here, Gupta takes on a core question of the modern state—why it fails to protect all of its citizens. He documents how the very logics of bureaucratic organization—contingency, corruption, statistical reasoning, and paperwork—work to undermine its effectiveness decade after decade. Gupta’s analysis of forms of bureaucratic writing is particularly rich and insightful, and he masterfully brings his ethnographic attention to the mundane into conversation with broader theoretical and policy debates about poverty, structural violence and development. All in all, Gupta's ethnography decisively complicates the conventional story of the transition from a welfare state to a neo-liberal state. This monumental achievement in the anthropology of the state will be read widely.
Natasha Dow Schüll (Massachusets Institute of Technology), Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (Princeton University Press)
Schüll's Addiction by Design offers a simultaneously critical and empathetic account of the world of machine gambling and machine-human interface, more generally. Schüll richly documents the crafting of an interiority that is highly attractive to the gambler and very profitable for the gaming companies and offers a comprehensive analysis of this deeply disturbing effort to engineer a psychic state through expert calibration of the human senses via machines. This highly engaging and accessible book is destined to serve as a model of ethnography for science and technology studies in the years to come.
Bateson Prize Committee
Hirokazu Miyazakim, Cornell University
Marianne Constable, University of California, Berkeley
Joseph Masco, University of Chicago
Diane Nelson, Duke University
The Bateson Prize is awarded annually at the meetings of the American Anthropological Association and carries a honorarium of $1000.