AfAA at the 2017 AAA Annual Meeting

The Board of the Association for Africanist Anthropology wishes you a happy new year and a good, productive 2018. We have a lot for which to be grateful, as well as much work ahead. This column summarizes how the AfAA closed out 2017 by honoring Africanist anthropologists at various stages in their careers.

AfAA Awards and Distinguished Lecture, 30 November 2017. Jennifer Coffman

2017 AfAA Student Paper Awards

Drawing on an impressive applicant pool, the AfAA student paper award committees headed by Bennetta Jules-Rosette and J.R. Osborn selected the winners of the 2017 AfAA Student Awards. Jules-Rosette and Osborn also presented the awards during the AfAA reception at the 2017 AAA meetings.

The Bennetta Jules-Rosette Graduate Essay Award, replete with a check for $500, went to Brian Smithson of Duke University for his paper “A Voice from the Bush: The Orò Society at the Yorùbá Borderlands.” Smithson’s theoretically rich essay provids a thoughtful and refined analysis of the reception of popular film in Benin and the rising importance of Nollywood-related products on national and local levels. Smithson also tackles the religious subtext and undertones of these films, where beliefs in Christianity, Islam, and local religions intersect and collide. The submitted essay is a chapter from his doctoral dissertation, which applies theories of anthropology, religion, and film to studies of social and cultural change in Benin. We commend Brian for the depth of his analysis and his intellectual originality.

American University PhD candidate Joeva Rock earned Honorable Mention for her essay “Dark Continent, Green Revolution: The Making of an African Green Revolution in Ghana.” Rock’s analysis of how technology and ideology intersect in constructing Ghana’s Green Revolution drew upon original ethnographic research and detailed anthropological studies with a wide range of actors, from international donors to policy developers to consumers and activists, to provide a multi-layered discussion. Throughout the paper, Rock powerfully employs the metaphor of “lifeworlds” to emphasize the importance of food and agriculture in nurturing and sustaining local cultural and everyday practices. Rock’s essay contributes new perspectives on neoliberal agendas in relation to food and agricultural practices in Ghana.

Brian Smithson. School for Advanced Research.
Joeva Rock receiving award from Bennetta Jules-Rosette. Jennifer Coffman
Franklyn Odhiambo. Franklyn Odhiambo
Kaeli C. Green. Kaeli C. Green








The Nancy “Penny” Schwartz Undergraduate Essay Award ($100 cash award, plus AAA Annual Meeting registration) was presented to Franklyn Odhiambo of the University of California, Berkeley, for his paper “Speaking in Transcendence: Postcolonial Feminism, Sojourner Truth and the Combahee River Collective.” Odhiambo’s essay addresses Africana literary and cultural studies from a theoretical perspective, presenting a sophisticated undergraduate approach to new theoretical paradigms in African diaspora studies. Odhiambo questions the relationship and connections of black feminist thought to major African cultural and political movements, including Négritude and Pan-Africanism. In particular, he presents detailed, close, and insightful readings of texts by the Combahee River Collective, Sojourner Truth, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Mariama Bâ, and Ama Ata Aidoo. This essay lays a strong foundation for innovative future research, and we hope that this award will encourage Odhiambo to pursue these studies at the graduate level.

Honorable Mention for the undergraduate essay went to Kaeli Green of the University of California, San Diego, for “Intervention and Reinvention: Maasai Identity and Social Change in Kenya and Tanzania.” In this essay, Green tackles problems of social and cultural change among the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania. Inspired by the research of Dorothy Hodgson, Green explores the social construction of Maasai identity during the colonial and postcolonial periods and, in doing so, reflects a broad competency with anthropological studies of Kenyan and Tanzanian pastoral societies in transition. She skillfully addresses the contrasting frames of gender identity and cultural practices as Maasai people have moved away from nomadism and toward pursuing agriculture and commercial concerns, while interfacing with the development of tourism and public performance in Kenya and Tanzania. Kaeli is an international studies major who hopes to pursue further graduate research on social change in Africa.

Betty Harris, chair of the Elliott P. Skinner Book Award Committee, presents Yolanda Covington-Ward with the 2017 Book Award. Jennifer Coffman.

2017 Elliott P. Skinner Award

Yolanda Covington-Ward, University of Pittsburgh, won the 2017 Elliott P. Skinner Book Award for Gesture and Power: Religion, Nationalism, and Everyday Performance in Congo (2016). The next AfAA column will focus on her excellent book, as well as other top contenders in a year of many powerful book submissions.

2017 AfAA Distinguished Lecture

James Ferguson delivers the 2017 AfAA Distinguished Lecture. Jennifer Coffman

James Ferguson, the Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University, presented the 2017 AfAA Distinguished Lecture, “Working the Jobless City: Rethinking Labor and Distribution via Recent Africanist Ethnography.” A committed Africanist anthropologist specializing in southern Africa, Ferguson’s fieldwork has focused on Lesotho, Zambia, South Africa, and Namibia, spanning nearly four decades and a broad range of theoretical and ethnographic issues. His most recent book, Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Development (2015), earned the 2016 Elliott P. Skinner book award. Ferguson attracted an audience that packed the room, as he described recent Africanist ethnographies and his own thinking about the politics of distribution—how working age people are making it work (and the “it” takes many forms) beyond classic forms of wage labor—and how “presence” can be socially and materially binding.

Other events 

AfAA was very pleased with the range of topics and quality of papers and sessions submitted to the AfAA and reviewed by program committee members Kristin Hedges and Dave Turkon. Hedges and Turkon put forward a strong list, all of which were accepted by AAA. We look forward to your submissions in 2018!

The AfAA also participated in the Friday night ABA-AFA-AfAA-ALLA-AQA-SANA-SAW Joint Sections Reception, with a thumping soundtrack courtesy of DJ Ayes Cold. We had great fun and many worked up a sweat on the dance floor.

Planning ahead for 2018!

As usual, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the program committee, Kristin Hedges and Dave Turkon ([email protected]; [email protected]), if you are interested in pursuing an AfAA invited session or other submission. Reach out to any of us with your questions, suggestions, and other ideas ( We look forward to seeing you in San José!

Jennifer Coffman is contributing editor for the AfAA.

Cite as: Coffman, Jennifer. 2018. “AfAA at the 2017 AAA Annual Meeting.” Anthropology News website, February 8, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.756


I would have loved to participate in the AFAA event, but the room was so small that there was not even standing room. I wonder how that happened?

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Want to comment? Please be aware that only comments from current AAA members will be approve. AN is supported by member dues, so discussions on are moderated to ensure that current members are commenting. As with all AN content, comments reflect the views of the person who submitted the comment only. The approval of a comment to go live does not signify endorsement by AN or the AAA.