ASAP GRADUATE STUDENT PAPER PRIZE
The Association for the Anthropology of Policy (ASAP) awards a prize of $250 annually for the best graduate student paper on any aspect of the anthropology of policy. A condensed version of the winning paper is published in the ASAP Anthropology News column.
2019 PAPER PRIZE WINNER: "'GOOD PRACTICES': HUMANIZED BIRTH, AND POLITICAL SUBJECTIVITY IN BRAZIL"
K. Eliza Williamson
Abstract: In this paper, I attend to the disconnect between current Brazilian maternal and infant health policy and the experiences of my interlocutors in Salvador da Bahia. I show that the state’s strategies to reduce medical interventions in birth were frequently interpreted by working-class Afro-Brazilian women and their families as a sign of the state’s disregard for their lives. The Rede Cegonha program, inaugurated in 2011, is a nationwide initiative designed to improve maternal and infant health in Brazil, in part by “humanizing” birth—implementing evidence-based, low-intervention obstetric practices. Drawing on 24 months of ethnographic research based in Salvador between 2012 and 2017, I show how my interlocutors’ understandings of and experiences with Rede Cegonha informed their political subjectivities—how they viewed themselves in relation to the state. I argue that their contestations of the “humanized” birth paradigm undergirding Rede Cegonha, and their refusals of low-intervention perinatal care, must be understood within a context of racialized social exclusions in Brazilian health care.
2018 PAPER PRIZE WINNER: "READMISSION POLICY AND STATE-NGO-FUNDER RELATIONS IN MALAWI"
Abstract: Within the anthropology of development, a rich body of work highlights the unintended—and gendered—consequences of development interventions. According to Mosse (2004), however, fewer anthropological studies explore the mechanisms through which relationships of power and authority are shaped and transformed among international development organizations, state, and non-state actors, and how these relationships then influence development policy and practice. In this paper, I draw on the anthropology of policy (Shore, Wright, and Pero 2011; Sutton and Levinson 2001) to explore power in development through one ethnographic case—the 2016 review of Malawi’s 1993 Readmission Policy. Readmission Policy, the first of its kind in the region, banned the permanent expulsion of pregnant girls from school. In Malawi, as in much of the world, schoolgirl pregnancy is a deeply contested social and moral issue. By focusing on the diverse actors involved in the government-led, and foreign-funded, policy review, I complicate scholarship on the African developmentalist state that highlights its weakening in relation to funders and NGOs. I show how state disempowerment in Malawi was not wholesale, even as aid bypassed the government. Rather, officials in Malawi’s Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MoEST) shaped the policymaking process in strategic and subtle ways. With “nothing but time,” MoEST actors controlled the pace of policy reform. They defined the parameters of legislative possibility around student sexuality. Attention to this creative leveraging can uncover shifting dynamics in development and state/NGO/funder relations that would be invisible in discourse analysis of official reports.
2017 PAPER PRIZE WINNER (SHARED): “'WE ARE NOT GOING TO VOTE AGAIN!': VIOLENCE AND THE POLITICS OF DEVOLUTION IN NORTHERN KENYA"
Abstract: In this paper, I explore how the implementation of decentralization policies has shaped violence in Samburu County, northern Kenya. In 2010, a majority of Kenyans voted in a national referendum to adopt a new constitution that promised more accountable regional governance and the protection of the rights of marginalized groups. As part of the implementation of the 2010 constitution, Kenyans elected new county governments in 2013. While at the national level the 2013 elections were largely peaceful, counties across Kenya experienced violence in the months and years before and after the elections. The process of devolution—transferring power to county governments—has been profoundly shaped by national politics and long-standing political debates in Kenya around independence, regional politics, marginalization, and citizenship.!
2017 PAPER PRIZE WINNER (SHARED): "THE NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL STIGMA: SCHOOL CHOICE, STRATIFICATION, AND
Julia Ann McWilliams
Abstract: Social scientists have begun to document the stratifying effects of over a decade of unprecedented charter growth in urban districts. An exodus of students from traditional neighborhood schools to charter schools has attended this growth, creating troubling numbers of vacant seats in neighborhood schools as well as concentrating larger percentages of high-need student populations like special education students and English Language Learners in these schools. In cities like Philadelphia, the maintenance of two parallel educational systems – one charter, the other district – has also strained budgets and contributed to fiscal crises that have further divested traditional district schools of critical resources. How are youth, teachers, and staff in neighborhood schools responding to these conditions and the moral associations that the “neighborhood school” has come to invoke within an expanding educational marketplace? What does it mean to attend and/or work in a traditional neighborhood school in the midst of the dramatic restructuring of urban public education? Using frameworks developed in anthropological and sociological studies of social stigma, I explore in this paper how the power of market stratification has come to influence the intensification of institutional stigmas around the traditional neighborhood school. Drawing on ethnographic data from a neighborhood school in Philadelphia, I center youth perspectives on their aspirations and life chances given their status as students in a non-selective neighborhood school in my analysis. I ultimately interrogate how notions of race, educational quality, and [lack of] school choice, impact this neighborhood school community’s sense of worth and future as individuals as well as an institution.
2016 PAPER PRIZE WINNER: "'OFF THE RECORD AND IN THE LOOP': EXCAVATING POWER IN THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN POLICY ESTABLISHMENT"
Abstract: This article traces the networks, practices, and forms of power of the "U.S. foreign policy establishment", which gives them authority on a wide range of policy issues. Drawing on over a year of fieldwork in Washington DC among foreign policy professionals focused on the "Middle East" and more than ten years' experience working and building relationships in this community, I set out in this article to demonstrate how power operates among foreign policy elites in the U.S. To do so, I interrogate the unique social geography of Washington DC along with the hierarchies, bureaucratic structures, affective relationships, subjectivities, and what I call the "in the loop and off the record" tools and techniques that reinforce the privileges and power of these policy elites. By ethnographically excavating these "insider" spaces, processes, and forms of power, this article contributes to our understandings of statecraft and policymaking, as it redirects our gaze solely from the "effects" of the state to the complex ways political subjects tied intimately with the state help produce and reproduce the "common sense" of foreign policy.