2020 SMA Award Recipients

Award Committees

On 14 November 2020, the Society for Medical Anthropology held (by Zoom webinar) an Awards Ceremony to honor the winners of SMA and SIG prizes. Below is a list of this past year’s awardees. If you would like to see a PowerPoint file with images of the winners and award certificates and plaques, please download here.

Alcohol, Drugs, and Tobacco Study Group Graduate Student Paper Prize

SIG: Alcohol, Drugs, and Tobacco Study Group

Awardee: Parsa Bastani (Brown University)
Bastani’s award-winning paper, Feeling at Home in the Clinic: Therapeutics and Dwelling in an Addiction Rehabilitation Center in Tehran, Iran, examines the experiences of women residing at a free drug rehabilitation center in the Iranian capital. By focusing on community life at this center, he argues that patients’ abilities to form mutual relations of care and concern with others in therapeutic settings can serve as a key component of rehabilitation for women who have experienced family and social abandonment.
Link to publicly available version of the award announcement:

Complementary and Alternative Medicine / Integrative Medicine Graduate Student Paper Prize

SIG: Complementary and Alternative Medicine / Integrative Medicine (CAM/IM)

Awardees: Veronica Grigio (veronica.grigio@mail.utoronto.ca) and Hyemin Lee (hyeminlee@nyu.edu)

Veronica Grigio
Paper title: Botanical Sentiency and Health: Plants-as-People and Biomedicine in Upper Peruvian Amazonia

Grigio’s paper is part of her dissertation on knowledge translation dynamics during an HIV/AIDS epidemic in upper Peruvian Amazonia in 2016. In the paper, Grigio discusses plant medicine among Aénts Chicham (the preferred name of Jivaro groups) from a post-colonial “diffractive” lens (Barad 2007), arguing that this is more respectful to plant-human interactions than reflective approaches. The aim of this move is to help non-indigenous experts (especially health authorities) apprehend plants as aénts, or people, rather than as “cultural beliefs.” Mobilized as a form of “strategic kinship,” Grigio demonstrates how plant life is deployed by her indigenous interlocuters as a protective buffer against the state of precarity engendered by the groups charged with their wellbeing; a state supported by the current organization of the global political economy. Grigio’s work compels us to recognize that for (indigenous) health outcomes to improve, other-than-human consent must also become part of the conversation.

Hyemin Lee
Paper title:“Sounds of Healing”: Qualia and Medical Efficacy of Acupuncture in a Traditional Korean Medicine Clinic

In traditional Korean medicine (TKM) clinics in South Korea, acupuncture is a popular therapeutic practice used to remove physical discomforts. Inviting linguistic anthropological perspectives into the study of traditional medicine, Lee’s essay examines the cultural-semiotic rendering of an abstract, kinesthetic quality called “shiwŏnham” into medical efficacy through acupuncture treatments. “Shiwŏnham” in TKM, she argues, is the sign of medical efficacy expressed through the body, both in linguistic and synesthetic forms. Lee deftly examines an extended interaction observed in a TKM clinic, during which a young patient learns to experience and interpret the sense and sounds of “shiwŏnham” as signs of efficacy through conversations with an older family member and the doctor. Through analyzing this interaction, Lee reveals how central “shiwŏnham” is to the expressive evidence for TKM, demonstrating that medical efficacy is inseparable from modes of awareness, expression, and the value of sensations.

Moher Downing Distinguished Service Award

SIG: AIDS and Anthropology Research Group (AARG)

Awardee: Dr. Thomas Strong, Department of Anthropology at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth

The Moher Downing Distinguished Service Award is given to a living anthropologist in recognition of his or her exceptionally meritorious contributions to the improvement of the health of people living with or at risk of infection with HIV.
The nominee must be an anthropologist and AAA member. Criteria for selection includes the impact of the individual’s excellence in service work and duration of their service work. We will consider the degree to which the individual’s service work promotes anthropology as a field concerned with improving the quality of human life, as well as expected further contributions in service, but neither are essential for nomination.

Link to publicly available version of the award acceptance.: Thomas Strong AARG Distinguished Service Award

Disability Research Interest Group (DRIG) Essay Prize

SIG: Disability Research Interest Group (DRIG)

Recipient: Hannah Quinn

Hannah Quinn’s essay “Crip Intimacy” uses queercrip theory and notions of nonhuman intimacy and sexuality to ethnographically challenge medicalized/psychologized understandings of crip sociality. We find this a brilliant example of what disability anthropology can be.

Council on Anthropology and Reproduction Graduate Paper Prize

SIG: Council on Anthropology and Reproduction (CAR)

Awardee: Heather Wurtz

This award-winning paper, “The “Paradox” of Protection: Refugee Management and Gender-based Violence in the Southern Mexico Borderlands,” analyses the multilayered experiences of female refugees experiences of gender based violence as entangled with various aspects of social and physical reproduction including rape-induced pregnancy, pregnancy loss, familial separation and disrupted motherhood.

Rudolf Virchow Awards

SIG: Critical Anthropology for Global Health (CAGH)
Committee: Michelle Parsons (North Arizona University), Jennifer Carroll (Elon University), Ashish Premkumar (Northwestern University), Nora Kenworthy (University of Washington, Bothell)

Awardee: Chris Magana (UCSD, undergraduate award)

Paper title: “Beyond Family Separation: The (Anti)Politics of Care and Pathways of Resistance within U.S. Immigration Detention.”
This paper offers a stunning and particularly timely look at contemporary US immigration policies. With a laser-sharp analysis of policy documents, public statements, and investigative reports, Mr. Magana brings into stark relief the hypocrisy of moral outrage over family separations that places children in detention at the apex of a “hierarchy of suffering” that “delegitimizes the overtly political suffering—and agency—of people in immigration detention engaged in hunger strikes.” These questions of whose suffering matters—and is recognized—become all the more important as Magana examines the response to COVID-19 within detention facilities and resistance efforts among detainees. Written at a particularly uncertain time for detained immigrants and for in-person fieldwork, this paper offers a remarkable example of how anthropologies of policy and politics can tackle tough subjects intimately, humanely, but from a (physical) distance.

AwardeeEmily Vasquez (Columbia U, graduate student award)

Paper title: “Detecting diabetes risk: Philanthropy, technology, and epistemic power in Mexico.”
In a tightly crafted ethnographic analysis of public-private partnerships for public health in Mexico, this paper shows how the philanthropic activities of the financial elite can alter the scientific landscape of health. Rather than adopting the holistic approach to health endorsed by a public health approach, private foundations set up to distribute the financial largess of contemporary oligarchs—in this case the Carlos Slim Foundation—succeed in shifting biomedical inquiry away from structural drivers of health disparities and onto the microbiology of non-communicable disease, seeking to discover and leverage genetic testing strategies and metabolic biomarkers to build a public health system that privileges the individual—rather than the social and capitalist forces at play around that individual—as a site if illness. This paper paints a stark picture of what happens to public health when vital research funding is controlled by private interests—subverted from public coffers through lucrative tax laws and exempt from public accountability as it is spent. For elite philanthropists, this is a double win: their public reputation is improved through their charitable work and the broader public health agenda is drawn away from the structural features of the capitalist system that both produce health inequity and enable the financial success of the Foundation’s primary namesakes. Ironically, therefore, public health is made remarkably poorer by the injections of cash from these foundations, as necessary work in public health science is often left “undone” when private capital drives the agenda.

Awardee: Talia Weiner (University of W. Georgia, professional award)
Paper title: “Billable services and the ‘therapeutic fee’: On the work of disavowal of political economy and its re-emergence in clinical practice”
Dr. Weiner has captured a unique and innovative perspective: that of the role of transaction and capital within psychotherapy in the United States. Her meditation on the structure of exchange and the structuring of clinical therapy has important implications for how we, in critical medical anthropology, consider examining the experience of treatment – both from a phenomenological and a political economy perspective. Reviewers felt that this piece hailed from the best traditions of anthropological writing, describing it as “classic” in that it used a minute detail to deftly describe wider consequences of healthcare restructuring, governmental retrenchment, and, importantly, the economy of care. The work has crucial implications for how we think about repair, recovery, and the state of treatment of mental health not only in the United States, but also globally given the increased awareness and use of mental health professionals in a variety of clinical settings. This piece truly embodies the spirit of Rudolf Virchow by connecting social theory and critical public health in a nuanced and crucial way.
Link to publicly available version of the paper: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/734037

Medical Anthropology Student Association Graduate Student Mentorship Award

SIG: Medical Anthropology Student Association (MASA)

Awardee: Professor Nancy N. Chen (University of California, Santa Cruz)

The MASA Graduate Student Mentorship Award is an annual recognition of excellent mid-career and senior-level professors who have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to teaching and mentorship throughout their careers, particularly those who have taken the time to successfully guide their MA and PhD students through their research and the thesis or dissertation writing process and beyond. This year, we recognize Professor Nancy Chen at the University of California, Santa Cruz for her excellence in graduate student mentorship. From one nomination:

“She continues to be a beacon of light and inspires hope, especially for her most precarious students. With her, we have a fighting chance and the spirit and drive to aspire for whatever our hearts desire. It is because of her that I stand here today, and I hope that, in the end, I truly make her proud. It is an absolute honor and privilege to recommend Dr. Chen for [this award]. I cannot think of anyone else more deserving.”

Charles Hughes Graduate Student Paper Prize

Awardee: Aalyia Feroz Ali Sadruddin (Brown University)

Paper title: “Preparing for Death: Perspectives from Post-Genocide Rwanda”
Abstract: This essay is an abridged version of my dissertation, “After-After Lives: Aging, Care, and Death in Rwanda,” in which I explore how life is being reconstituted in the wake of the 1994 genocide. Specifically, I tell this story from the perspective of the elderly: persons 70 years or older, who, in addition to genocide, survived waves of ethnic and political conflicts between the late Belgian colonial (1957-1962) and post-colonial (1963-1994) periods.

Translated from the Kinyarwandan phrase kuzanzamuka, the notion of “after-after lives” conveys the cycle of violence and resurrection—the dying and the waking, the waking and the dying—that elderly Rwandans have experienced throughout their lives. My research shows that despite enduring multiple episodes of violence, elderly Rwandans from different ethnic and gender groups are building new civic and kinship bonds at the family and community levels by giving and receiving intimate bodily care from each other and preparing for death. This “sharing of life,” which takes place in private and public spaces, reveals the practice of a radical kind of humanity that transforms the hands that once authored conflict into the hands that are driving political reconstruction and reconciliation.

Dr. Sadruddin submitted the paper while a PhD Candidate at the Department of Anthropology at Yale University and is now a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs at Brown University. Dr. Sadruddin’s paper received enthusiastic reviews from the review committee. One reviewer described the paper as “a beautifully observed ethnographic paper about elderly people ‘preparing for death’ in Rwanda, against personal and national histories of genocide and mass death in prior decades.”

Steven Polgar Prize

Awardee: Alex Blanchette (Tufts University)

Paper title: “Living Waste and the Labor of Toxic Health on American Factory Farms”
Abstract: In the 1930s, erosion caused storms of dust to hurtle across the American Great Plains and Midwest. While agricultural conservation methods helped remediate this landscape, recent studies suggest the region is contending with a new type of particle cloud: desiccated fecal dust that renders the vitalities of factory farms airborne, potentially exposing those in their surrounds to various forms of illness while spreading antibiotic resistance genes. Thinking alongside these findings, and based on research within corporate hog farms, this article develops an ethnography of excrement by tracing the practices and knowledge of people who live and labor in proximity to late industrial lifeforms, such as confined pigs and resistance genes, and who are tasked with intimately shaping this unruly waste that has the potential to affect broader populations. In so doing, it analyzes the maintenance of American animals’ toxic health alongside the politics of labor with complex anthropogenic materials.

Eileen Basker Memorial Prize

Awardee: Elana Buch (University of Iowa)

Book title: Inequalities of Aging: Paradoxes of Independence in American Home Care (2018, New York University Press)
Description: Paid home care is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and millions of Americans rely on these workers to help them remain at home as they grow older. However, the industry is rife with contradictions. The United States spends a fortune on medical care, yet devotes comparatively few resources on improving wages, thus placing home care providers in the ranks of the working poor. As a result, the work that enables some older Americans to live independently generates profound social inequalities.

Inequalities of Aging explores the ways in which these inequalities play out on the ground as workers, who are disproportionately women of color and immigrants, earn poverty-level wages and often struggle to provide for themselves and their families. The ethnographic narrative reveals how two of the nation’s most pressing concerns—rising social inequality and caring for an aging population—intersect to transform the lives of older adults, home care workers, and the world around them.

The book takes readers inside the homes and offices of people connected to two Chicago area home care agencies serving low-income and affluent older adults, respectively. Through intimate portrayals of daily life, Elana D. Buch illustrates how diverse histories, care practices, and social policies overlap and contribute to social inequality.

Illuminating the lived experience of both workers and their clients, Inequalities of Aging shows the different ways in which the idea of independence both connects and shapes the lives of the elderly and the working poor.

Awardee: Dána-Ain Davis (Queens College)

Book title: Reproductive Injustice: Racism, Pregnancy and Premature Birth (2019, New York University Press)
Description: Black women have higher rates of premature birth than other women in America. This cannot be simply explained by economic factors, with poorer women lacking resources or access to care. Even professional, middle-class black women are at a much higher risk of premature birth than low-income white women in the United States. Dána-Ain Davis looks into this phenomenon, placing racial differences in birth outcomes into a historical context, revealing that ideas about reproduction and race today have been influenced by the legacy of ideas which developed during the era of slavery.

While poor and low-income black women are often the “mascots” of premature birth outcomes, this book focuses on professional black women, who are just as likely to give birth prematurely. Drawing on an impressive array of interviews with nearly fifty mothers, fathers, neonatologists, nurses, midwives, and reproductive justice advocates, Dána-Ain Davis argues that events leading up to an infant’s arrival in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and the parents’ experiences while they are in the NICU, reveal subtle but pernicious forms of racism that confound the perceived class dynamics that are frequently understood to be a central factor of premature birth.

The book argues not only that medical racism persists and must be considered when examining adverse outcomes—as well as upsetting experiences for parents—but also that NICUs and life-saving technologies should not be the only strategies for improving the outcomes for black pregnant women and their babies. Davis makes the case for other avenues, such as community-based birthing projects, doulas, and midwives, that support women during pregnancy and labor are just as important and effective in avoiding premature births and mortality.

Career Achievement Award

Career Achievement Award is given in recognition of extraordinary service to the profession.

Awardees: Emily Martin (Professor Emerita of Anthropology at New York University)

“Equal parts fierce and generous, Martin’s work has oriented the conditions of possibility for
scholarship within anthropology for decades. She has published seven single-authored monographs (with an eighth, Experiments of the Mind, under contract with Princeton University Press) and over 100 articles, many of which have multiple translations into other languages. She has spent her career pursuing difficult topics — money, the body, sexuality, race, pregnancy, immunity, mental illness, nationalism — always drawing upon her interest in the everyday practices of medicine and the health sciences to deliver valuable insights into the cultural contingencies of truth. Her legacy demonstrates a commitment to promoting social justice and fighting inequality. She has initiated many crucial conversations about the politics of power in medical anthropology and, more broadly, in anthropology today