Society for Economic Anthropology Book Award

The Society for Economic Anthropology announced Sarah Lyon as the winner of the 2012 SEA book prize. Check out all the blurbs and books from the finalists:

Sarah Lyon Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair Trade Markets. University of Colorado Press (2011).
We are told that simply by sipping our morning cup of organic, fair-trade coffee we are encouraging environmentally friendly agricultural methods, community development, fair prices, and shortened commodity chains. But what is the reality for producers, intermediaries, and consumers? This ethnographic analysis of fair-trade coffee analyzes the collective action and combined efforts of fair-trade network participants to construct a new economic reality. Focusing on La Voz Que Clama en el Desierto–a cooperative in San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala–and its relationships with coffee roasters, importers, and certifiers in the United States, Coffee and Community argues that while fair trade does benefit small coffee-farming communities, it is more flawed than advocates and scholars have acknowledged. However, through detailed ethnographic fieldwork with the farmers and by following the product, fair trade can be understood and modified to be more equitable. This book will be of interest to students and academics in anthropology, ethnology, Latin American studies, and labor studies, as well as economists, social scientists, policy makers, fair-trade advocates, and anyone interested in globalization and the realities of fair trade.
Note: I also discuss Sarah Lyon’s recent paper “Growing the Market Town by Town: The Moral Ambiguity of the Fair Trade Towns USA Movement” in the context of the 2012 Society for Applied Anthropology meetings.

Michael Chibnik Anthropology, Economics, and Choice. University of Texas Press (2011).
In the midst of global recession, angry citizens and media pundits often offer simplistic theories about how bad decisions lead to crises. Many economists, however, base their analyses on rational choice theory, which assumes that decisions are made by well-informed, intelligent people who weigh risks, costs, and benefits. Taking a more realistic approach, the field of anthropology carefully looks at the underlying causes of choices at different times and places. Using case studies of choices by farmers, artisans, and bureaucrats drawn from Michael Chibnik’s research in Mexico, Peru, Belize, and the United States, Anthropology, Economics, and Choice presents a clear-eyed perspective on human actions and their economic consequences. Five key issues are explored in-depth: choices between paid and unpaid work; ways people deal with risk and uncertainty; how individuals decide whether to cooperate; the extent to which households can be regarded as decision-making units; and the “tragedy of the commons,” the theory that social chaos may result from unrestricted access to commonly owned property.

Carrie M. Lane A Company of One: Insecurity, Independence, and the New World of White-Collar Unemployment. Cornell University Press (2011).
Being laid off can be a traumatic event. The unemployed worry about how they will pay their bills and find a new job. In the American economy’s boom-and-bust business cycle since the 1980s, repeated layoffs have become part of working life. In A Company of One, Carrie M. Lane finds that the new culture of corporate employment, changes to the job search process, and dual-income marriage have reshaped how today’s skilled workers view unemployment. Through interviews with seventy-five unemployed and underemployed high-tech white-collar workers in the Dallas area over the course of the 2000s, Lane shows that they have embraced a new definition of employment in which all jobs are temporary and all workers are, or should be, independent ‘companies of one.’ Following the experiences of individual jobseekers over time, Lane explores the central role that organized networking events, working spouses, and neoliberal ideology play in forging and reinforcing a new individualist, pro-market response to the increasingly insecure nature of contemporary employment. She also explores how this new perspective is transforming traditional ideas about masculinity and the role of men as breadwinners. Sympathetic to the benefits that this ‘company of one’ ideology can hold for its adherents, Lane also details how it hides the true costs of an insecure workforce and makes collective and political responses to job loss and downward mobility unlikely.

Carolyn K. Lesorogol Contesting the Commons: Privatizing Pastoral Lands in Kenya. University of Michigan Press (2008).
Over centuries, African pastoralist societies have crafted institutions that enable them to survive in their harsh, semi-arid environment. Effectively managing communally held land has been one key to their success and a cornerstone of their social organization. Over the last two decades, however, a number of pastoralist communities have sought to transform their land tenure systems from communal to private ownership. In Contesting the Commons, Carolyn K. Lesorogol draws on eighteen months of fieldwork and ten previous years of work and residence among the Samburu to ask: What accounts for this challenge to an important, well-adapted, and seemingly highly functional institution? What are the effects of privatization of land on household well-being, individual behavior, and social relations? How can understanding the trajectory of institutional change in this case help us comprehend the dynamic processes of social transformation in general?

Jon B. Marcoux Pox, Empire, Shackles, and Hides: The Townsend Site, 1670-1715. University of Alabama Press (2010).
The late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries were an extremely turbulent time for southeastern American Indian groups. Indeed, between the founding of the Charles Town colony along the south Atlantic coast in 1670 and the outbreak of the Yamasee War in 1715, disease, warfare, and massive population displacements dramatically altered the social, political, and economic landscape of the entire region. This volume examines issues of culture contact and social identity by exploring how this chaotic period played out in the daily lives of Cherokee households, especially those excavated at the Townsend site in eastern Tennessee. Marcoux studies the material remains of daily life in order to identify the strategies that households enacted while adapting to the social, political, and economic disruptions associated with European contact. The author focuses on households as the basic units of analysis because these represent the most fundamental and pervasive unit of economic and social production in the archaeological record. His investigations show how the daily lives of Cherokee households changed dramatically as they coped with the shifting social, political, and economic currents of the times. He demonstrates that the community excavated at the Townsend site was formed by immigrant households who came together from geographically disparate and ethnically distinct Cherokee settlements as a way to ameliorate population losses. He also explores changes in community and household patterning, showing how the spatial organization of the Townsend community became less formal and how households became more transient compared to communities predating contact with Europeans. From this evidence, Marcoux concludes that these changes reflect a broader strategic shift to a more flexible lifestyle that would have aided Cherokee households in negotiating the social, political, and economic uncertainty of the period.

Dinah Rajak In Good Company: An Anatomy of Corporate Social Responsibility. Stanford University Press (2011).
Under the banner of corporate social responsibility (CSR), corporations have become increasingly important players in international development. These days, CSR’s union of economics and ethics is virtually unquestioned as an antidote to harsh neoliberal reforms and the delinquency of the state, but nothing is straightforward about this apparently win-win formula. Chronicling transnational mining corporation Anglo American’s pursuit of CSR, In Good Company explores what lies behind the movement’s marriage of moral imperative and market discipline. From the company’s global headquarters to its mineshafts in South Africa, Rajak reveals how CSR enables the corporation to accumulate and exercise power. Interested in CSR’s vision of social improvement, Rajak highlights the dependency that the practice generates. This close examination of Africa’s largest private sector employer not only brings critical attention to the dangers of corporate dominance, but also provides a lens through which to reflect on the wider global CSR movement.

Tagged With: , ,