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).

Unorthodox Kin is a richly ethnographic, erudite and wonderfully written book about the Marranos of Portugal, and most particularly the urban Marranos of Lisbon and Porto, who struggled to locate their identification with Judaism and their place in the world. A fifteenth-century history of peoples who had been forced to convert from Judaism to Catholicism led to a complex interweaving of contemporary Portuguese, transnational Jewish, and local community sensibilities and social relations in the efforts that some Marranos made to locate themselves. The book concludes that ultimately, it is possible to forge close relations of belonging (even kin-like) through direct face-to-face interaction, even with people who come from the other side of the globe and visit Portugal as tourists, and that this direct contact, more than anything else, gives these people a sense of belonging. 

The book’s key contribution relates to how it revisits the idea of authenticity in processes of identification: how the real is generated, how the truth about who somebody is and how they are connected to other people and other places are forged, in spite of the challenges of counter-narratives that exist in their own environment. Leite brilliantly unfolds how urban Marranos interweave their national, religious and historical relations in forging simultaneously personal and social relations.

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.