2019 Elliott P. Skinner Book Award Winner

The Association for Africanist Anthropology (AfAA) is pleased to announce the recipient of 2019 Elliott P. Skinner Book Award. Michael Lambek, Canada Research Chair in the Anthropology of Ethical Life at the University of Toronto Scarborough, received the book award for Island in the Stream: An Ethnographic History of Mayotte at the AfAA Business Meeting on Thursday evening, November 21 in Vancouver.His book, published by the University of Toronto Press in 2018, is set in Mayotte, an island in the Comoros Island chain located in the Mozambique Channel, where he conducted anthropological field research over a 40-year period between 1975 and 2015. The citizens of Mayotte, instead of joining the Republic of Comoros which includes the other three islands, voted to become a department of France, their former colonizer. The French superimposed a plantation economy onto a thriving Swahili culture with early historical ties to coastal East Africa, southern Arabia, and the Persian Gulf. With the benefits of European Union citizenship, the Mahorais moved from being participants in a bare subsistence economy to having improved material conditions and education, and a more cosmopolitan outlook. Nevertheless, Mayotte is not a member of the African Union.
Photo of a person sitting at a table smiling.
Michael Lambek 2019. Betty Harris

Through Lambek’s regular field visits, he came to know generations of the island’s inhabitants in two villages. In Island in the Stream, he discusses the “presentism” of conducting ethnographic research that became more historicized with each subsequent field visit to the two villages. In the course of the book, Lambek interrogates the relationship between ethnography and history at micro- and macro-levels.

The 2019 finalists for the book award were Mariane Ferme (University of California, Berkeley) and Jennifer Diggins (Oxford Brookes University), whose books focus on Sierra Leone.  Ferme is the author of Out of Warpublished by University of California Press in 2018. Beginning ethnographic research in Sierra Leone in 1985, Ferme defines and analyzes a political imaginary created in the aftermath of Sierre Leone’s protracted civil war, examining the collective history of war, individual psychological trauma, memorialization of traumatic events, war crimes, rural land privatization, and increasing urbanization. Diggins is the author of Coastal Sierra Leone, published by Cambridge University Press in 2018.  In Coastal Sierra Leone, a product of intensive ethnographic research, Diggins views Sierra Leone from the vantage point of Tissana, a coastal fishing village relatively unaffected by the civil war. The village served as an economic magnet for disaffected youth from war-torn areas of Sierra Leone, who sought new lives and livelihoods. Unfortunately, climate change is contributing to the depletion of Tissana’s fish supply and shrinkage of that industry.

Please join us in congratulating our winner and finalists of the 2019 Elliott P. Skinner Book Award.

Betty Harris is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma.

Please send column ideas, photos, research updates, and other relevant information for AfAA section news to thecontributing editor, Christian Vannier ([email protected]).

Cite as: Harris, Betty J. 2020. “2019 Elliott P. Skinner Book Award Winner.” Anthropology News website, March 10, 2020. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1355

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