Home » ProSeminar in Anthropology » 2013: Exploring the Canon » Miraculous books, or miraculous prizes? How to divine canonicity and canonization from cultural anthropology’s book awards

Miraculous books, or miraculous prizes? How to divine canonicity and canonization from cultural anthropology’s book awards

Miraculous books, or miraculous prizes? How to divine canonicity and canonization from cultural anthropology’s book awards

By Lillian G. Brown

Introduction

 

In a saint’s canonization, the Catholic Church requires that candidates must have performed two miracles, received nomination for and passed a formal inquiry into the validity of these miracles, and finally gained a favorable vote on their general sanctity from a congregation of cardinals. Similarly, in most award competitions, a book must first receive nomination and gained favorable vote from the selecting board or committee. For example, the website soliciting Margaret Mead Awards for Applied Anthropology states,

Nominees’ contributions will be judged using the following criteria: (1) intellectual quality (2) clarity and understandability (3) the extent or depth of impact and (4) breadth of impact. The selection committee consists of two persons appointed by the Society for Applied Anthropology and two persons appointed by the American Anthropological Association. (http://www.sfaa.net/mead/mead.html)

 

These criteria indicate that awardable books should have something important to say, communicate this message affectively, and have some impact on the anthropological community. Simply put, awards signify influence. Most awarding bodies make statements like this, outlining how books qualify for selection but offer no precise measurements. My question was whether or not this process in fact measures canonicity in books, or if this process empowers a books’ canonization.

Canonicity and canonization, in this context, have slightly different meanings. Some books have a kind of special substance to them, an intangible gift, or sanctity, something that makes them stand out in their message either for their ability to speak clearly about the state of the world, or stand apart in their ability to change the way we understand it—something like canonicity. But do book awards measure this canonicity? The intent of my project is to figure out what book awards say about the canon in cultural anthropology. (Un)fortunately, anthropologists have yet to define canonicity and the canonization process according to quantifiable measurement. Book awards themselves arise from a subjective, congregational process. Given this subjectivity, I wonder if book awards really measure canonicity, or if awards themselves in some way predicate a book’s canonization. My question is, do awards signify potential canonical candidacy in books, like miracles do for saints? Or do books perform miracles themselves, and awards simply acknowledge their achievements?

 

Methods

To measure the correlation between book awards and canonization, I calculated their influence according to citation frequency, and duration. I identified popular books from a group of twelve awards, medals and prizes directly associated with anthropology, making a list of books that appeared more than once. I then. Only eight books had more than one award, and only three had more than two. These three books each with three awards, were (by publishing date) i) Biehl, Joao. Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); ii) Rayna Rapp’s, Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America (Routledge, 1999); and iii) Nancy Scheper-Hughes’, Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil (University of California Press, 1992). Then, I measured their influence for frequency according to citations listed on Google Scholar. For duration, I charted citation growth rates from the first year the book entered public circulation up until 2012. In this chart, citations per year corrects for age effects per duration. As opposed to comparing for citation totals since publishing, this chart shows how citation rates grew over time. According to these three factors, I looked for evidence that book awards indicated their recipients’ canonicity.

 

Results

 

All three books’ influence increased in breadth according to frequency over time (duration). However, not all made the same progress. Scheper-Hughes’ book has the highest overall citation count and has made the most consistent progress before correcting for duration. Duration shows that Rapp’s book makes comparable progress to Scheper-Hughes over its first 14 years, in fact consistently beating Scheper-Hughes’ numbers for its first eight. At eight years though, Scheper-Hughes’ book makes a pass and starts climbing over Rapp’s number at an accelerated rate. What happened in Scheper-Hughes’ book’s ninth year? It won the J.I. Staley Book Prize. Rapp’s book also won the Staley prize, but earlier in its career, during its fourth year. Would Rapp’s book have made the same climb in influence without the Prize? Or was the Prize a miracle that counted toward its canonization? Did the Prize perform the miracle that Scheper-Hughes’ book needed to make its climb to sainthood? Or did the award simply divinize the book’s canonic gift, a miracle in and of itself? By the second year, Scheper-Hughes’ book and Rapp’s book more than doubled Biehl’s citation count. However, Biehl’s book still climbs in the influence chart, achieving close to two-thirds the citation frequency in its eighth year (2012) that Scheper-Hughes’ book and Rapp’s books did in their eighth years. I propose giving Bhiel’s book the Staley Prize in 2013, its ninth year in publish, the same year Scheper-Hughes’ book won. If Bhiel’s books’ Prize win launches it into the same citation frenzy that Scheper-Hughes’ Prize did, then I say that this particular book award performs miracles. If not, then Scheper-Hughes’ book must have performed a miracle of its own.

 

Conclusion

I was happy to see that book awards consistently recognized canonicity and/or canonized books with female authors and authors with diverse backgrounds. Mostly ethnographies, the books primarily address “real world” issues with contemporaneity. Many discuss practical problem-solving skills in the fieldwork context, addressing inequality and dominant ideological influences on society. However, University of California Press did publish a disproportionate number of the on my list, and Medical Anthropology dominated the subject matter. Some other major set backs in using book awards to measure canonicity lie in the fact that their selection processes yield little to no transparency. Many awards list previous recipients on their websites. But, if the award existed before the Internet, information about previous recipients remains limited. Furthermore, the awards do not identify their selection committee members. Nor do they publish the supporting evidence for their recipients’ nominations. In some cases, evidence exists that multiple competitors received consideration as honorable mentions. Others offer no such evidence. If I were to do this project again, I would like to sit in on a selection committee for the J.I. Staley Prize. With this insight, I would be better able to deconstruct the difference between canonicity in their books’, and canonization by their process. Until then, I will continue to monitor evidence for more miraculous books and miraculous prizes from my view outside the congregation.

 

 

 

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy (1992) Death Without Weeping, University of California Press, wins J.I. Staley Prize in 2000

 

 

 

Text Box: *Citation count according to Google Scholar

 

 

Top Three Awarded Books (by date published, with honors by year awarded):

Text Box:

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil (University of California Press, 1992)

 

1. 2000 J. I. Staley Prize, The School for Advanced Research

2. 1994 Wellcome Medal for research in Anthropology as Applied to Medical Problems Past

3. 1992 Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, The Society for Medical Anthropology

 

 

Rapp, Rayna. Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America (Routledge, 1999)

 

1. 2003 J. I. Staley Prize, The School for Advanced Research

2. 1999 Diana Forsythe Prize, American Ethnological Society

3. 1999 Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, Society for Medical Anthropology, American Anthropological Association

 

 

Biehl, Joao. Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005)

 

1. 2007 Margaret Mead Award, American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology

2. 2006 Stirling Prize, Society for Psychological Anthropology

3. 2005 Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, Society for Medical Anthropology, American Anthropological Association.

 

 

 

 

Complete list of Awards, Medals, and Prizes considered:

1. Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion (dates listed, 2007-2012)

2. Senior Book Prize, American Ethnological Society (2003, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012)

3. American Ethnological Society’s First Book Prize (dates listed 2003-2011)**

4. Julian Steward Award, Anthropology and Environment Society (2003-2011)

5. Diana Forsythe Prize, Society for the Anthropology of Work American Anthropological Association (1999-2011)

6. Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing, Society for Humanistic Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association (1990-2012)

7. J. I. Staley Prize, The School for Advanced Research (1988-2012)

8. Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, Society for Medical Anthropology, American Anthropological Association (1987-2012)

9. Ruth Benedict Award- Association for Queer Anthropology (1986-2012)

10. Margaret Mead Award, American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology (1979-2011)

11. Wellcome Medal for research in Anthropology as Applied to Medical Problems Past (1978-2010, even years only)

12. Stirling Prize, Society for Psychological Anthropology (1968-2012)

 

 

** The American Ethnological Society’s First Book Prize is now known as the Sharon Stephens book prize

 

Note: Some awards may not have their lists of previous recipients posted on the web. I consider this further indication that the temporal range for my analysis is limited to the last two decades, post- availability of the Internet.

 

 

 

All books with more than one award, (by total awards then alphabetical by author):

 

 

i) Biehl, Joao. Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005)

 

1. 2007 Margaret Mead Award, American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology

2. 2006 Stirling Prize, Society for Psychological Anthropology

3. Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, Society for Medical Anthropology, American Anthropological Association.

 

ii) Rapp, Rayna. Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America (Routledge, 1999)

 

1. 2003 J. I. Staley Prize, The School for Advanced Research

2. 1999 Diana Forsythe Prize, American Ethnological Society

3. 1999 Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, Society for Medical Anthropology, American Anthropological Association

 

iii) Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil (University of California Press, 1992)

 

1. 2000 J. I. Staley Prize, The School for Advanced Research

2. 1994 Wellcome Medal for research in Anthropology as Applied to Medical Problems Past

3. 1992 Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, The Society for Medical Anthropology

 

iv) Basso, Keith. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache (University of New Mexico Press, 1996)

 

1. 2001 J. I. Staley Prize, The School for Advanced Research

2. 1997 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing, Society for Humanistic Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association

 

v) Cohen, Lawrence. No Aging in India: Alzheimer’s, The Bad Family, and Other Modern Things (University of California Press, 1998)

 

1998 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing, Society for Humanistic Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association

1989 American Ethnological Society’s First Book Prize

 

vi) Cruikshank, Julie. Do Glaciers Listen?: Local Knowledge, Colonial Encounters, and Social Imagination (University of Washington Press, 2005)

 

1. 2006 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing, Society for Humanistic Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association

2. 2006 Julian Steward Award, Anthropology and Environment Society

 

vii) Price, Richard. Travels With Tooy: History, Memory, and the African Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2007)

 

1. 2009 Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion.

2. 2008 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing, Society for Humanistic Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association

 

viii) Sanjek, Roger. The Future of Us All: Race and Neighborhood Politics in New York City (Cornell University Press, 2000)

 

1. 2002 J. I. Staley Prize, The School for Advanced Research

2. 1999 Anthony Leeds Prize, Society for Urban Anthropology of the American Anthropological Association