2018 Douglass Prize Winner: Elif M. Babül

Bureaucratic Intimacies by Elif M. Babul

The 2018 William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology was awarded to Elif M. Babül for her book, Bureaucratic Intimacies: Translating Human Rights in Turkey. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press (2017).

Bureaucratic Intimacies makes a deeply original and highly timely contribution to the analysis of the interweaving of international bureaucratic standards and practices within the increasingly authoritarian context of contemporary Turkey. In a beautifully written and richly ethnographic monograph. Elif Bäbul outlines the way that the long-term process of Turkey’s application for accession to the European Union (EU) has become combined with efforts to reform the everyday practices of Turkish civil services, from the police to healthcare workers and in prisons. The book, which is based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork on training programs aimed at improving human rights practices amongst civil servants in Turkey, draws on the power of ethnography to examine the way that the formal aims of human rights discourse goes through a dense process of translation (sometimes literally) in the course of its encounters with contemporary Turkish governance practices and the informal intimacies that accompany any form of civil service.

The book is exemplary in the way it brings together rigorous scholarship and research to address a deeply important current issue, not only in Europe, but also many other parts of the world: how political ideals travel across borders, and what happens when there are attempts to standardise their implementation bureaucratically. In addition to bringing a refreshing new voice to the anthropology of bureaucracy, the book makes a highly important and innovative contribution to the study of the effects and implications of the politics and practices of the European Union in the contemporary world.

Honorable Mention was awarded to Naor Ben-Yehoyada for his book The Mediterranean Incarnate: Region Formation Between Sicily and Tunisia Since World War II. The University of Chicago Press (2017).

The Mediterranean Incarnate is a beautifully written ethnography of a Sicilian fishing vessel that combines Sicilian and Tunisian fishing crew. The book challenges and rethinks years of anthropological scholarship on the idea of the Mediterranean.

The book draws on the fishing experience, which is brilliantly described ethnographically, to both scale up and scale down the way that the idea of Mediterranean becomes constructed. In so doing, The Mediterranean Incarnate draws in all the debates over the last couple of decades in Mediterraneanist studies, and also adds something about the process through which the idea of the Mediterranean comes to take on a reality. The book is an excellent example of ethnography put to the service of further developing anthropological concepts at its best.

Honorable Mention was also awarded to Naomi Leite, for her book Unorthodox kin: Portuguese Marranos and the Global Search for Belonging. Oakland, California: University of California Press (2017).

This is a richly ethnographic, erudite and wonderfully written and mature work that engages the reader from cover to cover, inviting us to follow the footsteps, trajectories and identity imaginaries of the Marranos (ancestral Jews) of Portugal. The ethnography is primarily based Lisbon and Porto, and follows people who attempt to piece together a sense of who they are, with whatever mud and bricks they can find, as it were. The book concludes, perhaps unsurprisingly, that face to face connection is crucial in creating a sense of belonging.

The book’s contribution relates to the way it revisits the idea of authenticity – how the real is generated, how the truth about who somebody is and how they are connected to other people and other places, and how the classifications both work and are established.

In that sense, Unorthodox Kin is a study of the performativity of identity, and it also brings in contemporary and historically different ways of classifying and establishing relation and separation.

In sum, the book is a brilliant ethnography for drawing out the constantly revisited issue in anthropology concerning how people classify and bring themselves together.

Sarah F. Green, President-elect of the SAE and Chair of the Panel of Judges, University of Helsinki, Finland.

Catarina Frois, Panel Judge, Centre for Research in Anthropology, ISCTE – Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, Portugal.

Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov, Panel Judge, HSE, St. Petersburg, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Russia.