2011 Ruth Benedict Prize Winners Announced

AQA Awards the 2011 Ruth Benedict Book Prize to Evelyn Blackwood’s Falling into the Lesbi World: Desire and Difference in Indonesia

The American Anthropological Association’s Association for Queer Anthropology (AQA, formerly the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists, SOLGA) is very pleased to announce that Evelyn Blackwood has been awarded the 2011 Ruth Benedict Book Prize in the category “Outstanding Monograph” for Falling into the Lesbi World: Desire and Difference in Indonesia (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2010).

The Ruth Benedict Prize is presented each year at the American Anthropological Association’s meeting to acknowledge excellence in a scholarly book written from an anthropological perspective about a topic that engages issues and theoretical perspectives relevant to LGBTQ studies.

More about the book:
In Falling into the Lesbi World, Evelyn Blackwood takes us on a vivid ethnographic voyage to West Sumatra. Her evocative narrative allows us to experience the complex relationship between gender and sexuality in play among female-born persons whom we might be tempted to call “lesbians.” Given the global drift of language and culture, it’s perhaps not surprising that her protagonists often call their way of life “lesbi,” designating themselves variously as “tombois” and “femmes,” and with local words for “guys” and “girls.” She shows us, however, that it would be a grave error to assume that the lesbi world is equivalent to what we know as lesbianism, even as there are significant points where meanings and practices do intersect.

Tombois tend to discover their “maleness” when they are young, living very much as boys when they are children, and feeling masculine freedoms as embodied and authentic. But even as they can enact masculinity in their relationships with ideally compliant and domestic femmes, the path to full manhood is blocked at every turn. Establishing independent households as couples is rarely possible for tombois, and the pull of familial obligations often can draw them back into the role of daughter. Physical transformation is rarely imagined or desired; tombois live with their physical ambiguities, which they understand as part of who they are.

The title of the book is apt: the reader is plunged into a world where the meanings of words constantly shift and both compliance and resistance appear as lesbi sensibilities are enacted. Blackwood’s analysis comes from years of work in West Sumatra and reflections on her position as a femme in a previous relationship with a tomboi, an experience that first alerted her to the ways that Western lesbian and Indonesian lesbi existences merge and stray from one another. Not unlike the stereotyped roles of sharply distinguished expectations for butches and femmes in the West, tomboi-femme couples struggle with appropriate sexual behaviors. Only the tombois are definitively lesbi; femmes are “normal” women who are thought to really desire men. Even so, some femmes understand their attraction to tombois as more than merely situational or transitory, and thus struggle to understand whether they are authentically lesbi. Lesbi lives, then, while seemingly shaped by prevailing understandings of gender, with appearance, personal style, sexual preferences, and other attributes lining up, can defy the imperatives of gender, reconfiguring desire and identity.

Falling into the Lesbi World poses provocative questions about issues queer anthropology has on its front burner: how transgender subjectivities are imagined and enacted and how global flows of information and language shape queer experience. But Blackwood does more. She tells us that it’s not enough to say that women’s same-sex desires and relationships are less visible than those between men, and hence less worthy of analysis. We need to ask the right questions and fall into lesbi worlds if we are to better grasp the complexities of sex and gender across cultural divides. Blackwood guides us into these worlds and makes them come alive.

Evelyn Blackwood is Full Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Purdue University. Her books, edited volumes, and articles include award-winning scholarship on Native American female two-spirits and tombois in Indonesia. Much of her work critiques matrilineal theory, matrifocality, and marriage through rich ethnographies of gender, kinship, and political economy, focusing on rural and urban West Sumatra.

The Ruth Benedict Book Prize will be presented to the winning authors during the AQA Business meeting on Friday 18 November at the 110th American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting in Montréal. AQA would like to thank the Ruth Benedict Book Prize Committee for their thoughtful work, including former Benedict Prize winners Tanya Erzen and Ellen Lewin, and Graduate Student Representative, Richard Martin. For questions or additional information, please contact the Committee Chair, Mary L. Gray, at mLg@indiana.edu.

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AQA Awards the 2011 Ruth Benedict Book Prize to Roger N. Lancaster’s Sex Panic and the Punitive State

The American Anthropological Association’s Association for Queer Anthropology (AQA, formerly the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists, SOLGA) is very pleased to announce that Roger N. Lancaster has been awarded the 2011 Ruth Benedict Book Prize in the category “Outstanding Monograph” for Sex Panic and the Punitive State (University of California Press, 2011).

The Ruth Benedict Prize is presented each year at the American Anthropological Association’s national meeting to acknowledge excellence in a scholarly book written from an anthropological perspective about a topic that engages issues and theoretical perspectives relevant to LGBTQ studies.

More about the book:

At first glance, the shrill cable news program Nancy Grace might seem unrelated to the rise of mass incarceration in the United States.  However, in Sex Panic and Punitive State, Roger Lancaster brilliantly and provocatively argues that sex and sexual fears have been central to modern crime panics, engendering harsher forms of punishment for crimes based on unfounded accusations. In particular, the invocation of the endangered child enables a cycle of “perpetual punishment, presumption of guilt, unending vigilance,” begetting a vast system of punitive governance accepted as common sense by most Americans. Moving deftly between cultural critique, personal experience, law, historical narrative, and media analysis, Sex Panic demonstrates how fear and the allure of victimhood, which are always imbricated, fuel sex panics.  “We twenty-first century Americans seem to be exhilarated by fear; we relish the magical power of the accusation.”

The “magical power of the accusation” is hauntingly exemplified in the story of Lancaster’s friend, a gay teacher, who endured false accusations of sexual improprieties with his students, was instantly branded a criminal, exposed to a media frenzy and ended up without real justice or resolution.  The case is chilling and riveting, and it speaks most forcefully to Lancaster’s contention that sex panics thrive through misinformation, vindictiveness, and fear-mongering rather than truth. Lancaster also deftly traces the histories of sexual panics, particularly the accusations that childcare workers abused massive numbers of children like the infamous McMartin preschool case.  He illustrates how “fearfulness is frozen into law,” especially in the case of child abduction through sex-offender registries.  Legislation like Megan’s Law, he argues, conjure the specter of the white gay male sex predator when in fact most abuse of children is perpetuated by family members.

The other key insight of this complicated and wide-ranging book is how sex panics generate a new category of victimized citizens.  “Nothing causes the individual to stand out against the mass more than the story of suffering, and nothing evokes more empathy, goodwill and other signs of social support than the claim that one has been victimized.”  Rather than the usual story of the rise of tough on crime politics from the right, Lancaster shows how the perverse appeal of the role of victim and the oftentimes-zealous victim’s rights movement is also a product of leftist and feminist movements.

Elegantly written, methodologically innovative and theoretically courageous, Sex Panic exemplifies anthropology at its most cutting-edge.  It is also a necessary and timely political intervention in the wake of the ten-year anniversary of September 11th and the recent release of the Memphis Three.  Instead of the need to constantly rehearse our injuries, our suffering, our fear and our terror, Lancaster exhorts us to take a breath, examine the facts, and after we have allowed grief to do its work, begin to forget.  In this way, Sex Panic and the Punitive State challenges the way “a state of panic becomes the normal state of affairs.”

Roger N. Lancaster is Professor of Anthropology and Cultural Studies at George Mason University and is the author of several books, including Life Is Hard and The Trouble with Nature, both from UC Press.

The Ruth Benedict Book Prize will be presented to the winning authors during the AQA Business meeting on Friday 18 November at the 110th American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting in Montréal.  AQA would like to thank the Ruth Benedict Book Prize Committee for their thoughtful work, including former Benedict Prize winners Tanya Erzen and Ellen Lewin, and Graduate Student Representative, Richard Martin.  For questions or additional information, please contact the Committee Chair, Mary L. Gray, at mLg@indiana.edu.

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AQA Awards the 2011 Ruth Benedict Book Prize to Peter A. Jackson’s edited volume Queer Bangkok: 21st Century Markets, Media, and Rights

The American Anthropological Association’s Association for Queer Anthropology (AQA, formerly the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists, SOLGA), is very pleased to announce that Peter A. Jackson has been awarded the 2011 Ruth Benedict Book Prize in the category “Outstanding Anthology” for the edited collection Queer Bangkok: 21st Century Markets, Media, and Rights (Hong Kong University Press, 2011).

The Ruth Benedict Prize is presented each year at the American Anthropological Association’s national meeting to acknowledge excellence in a scholarly book written from an anthropological perspective about a topic that engages issues and theoretical perspectives relevant to LGBTQ studies.

More about the anthology:

Peter A. Jackson’s edited volume Queer Bangkok: 21st Century Markets, Media, and Rights offers an impressive array of perspectives – interdisciplinary, yet always anthropological – on the city’s queer cultures and communities.  Moving away from a focus on places frequented by international tourists, the contributors emphasize what queer lives are like in Bangkok for those who live there.  The book’s contributing authors take readers to key sites in this queer Bangkok, from the actual (saunas and clinics) to the virtual (cyberspace) to the fictional (films and novels).  This diversity of domains enables the consideration of a rich array of evidence: Jackson’s editorial gifts lead to a whole that adds up to even more than its individually already impressive parts.

The book moves from considerations of markets and media to global and regional networks to activism and rights.  Yet, throughout the volume, investment in analytic categories gives way to attentiveness to processes of queering, leading readers to envision an anthropology of contemporary worlds that remains geographically situated while also effectively documenting material and ideational flows.  Theoretically, the contributors build on key insights by Dennis Altman, Tom Boellstorff, Martin Manalansan, (and others), to provide a more adequate framework through which to consider how the complexities and nuances of concepts of gender and sexuality do and don’t translate in a place like Thailand, where processes of globalization and localization do not simply reiterate or resist Western hegemonic forms.  Indeed, this simultaneous sensitivity to located specificity and trans-cultural exchange manifests throughout the volume’s many chapters, as in Brett Farmer’s reading of “vernacular queerness” in the film The Love of Siam.  These pursuits are a testament to the promise of ethnographic possibility, so needed in a world where people are under much pressure to check themselves into boxes in which they may not feel at home.  The cruel ironies of the effects of such categorizations are pursued poignantly in Douglas Sanders’s discussion of kathoeys, military service, and marriage.

As a whole, this volume represents a significant contribution to queer anthropology. Simultaneously, it shows how the cultural processes at work in this particular milieu have broader implications for global geopolitical dynamics.

Peter A. Jackson is Associate Professor in the School of Culture, History & Language at the Australian National University. Jackson’s scholarship, which includes several single-authored monographs and edited collections, focuses on Thai cultural history, the history of sexuality and sexual cultures, and Buddhism and religious studies. Jackson is also past Executive Officer of the National Thai Studies Centre at the Australian National University.

The Ruth Benedict Book Prize will be presented to the winning authors during the AQA Business meeting on Friday 18 November at the 110th American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting in Montréal.  AQA would like to thank the Ruth Benedict Book Prize Committee for their thoughtful work, including former Benedict Prize winners Tanya Erzen and Ellen Lewin, and Graduate Student Representative, Richard Martin.  For questions or additional information, please contact the Committee Chair, Mary L. Gray, at mLg@indiana.edu.

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