Death Without Weeping
The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil
by Nancy Scheper-Hughes
2000 J. I. Staley Prize
Nancy Scheper-Hughes was named winner of the 2000 J. I. Staley Prize for her book, Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil (University of California Press, 1992). Douglas W. Schwartz, president of the School for Advanced Research (SAR), presented the award to Dr. Scheper-Hughes during a special ceremony at the American Anthropological Association meetings in San Francisco on November 17, 2000.
A medical anthropologist, Scheper-Hughes followed the narrative threads of infant mortality and the medicalization of social trauma to create a sweeping ethnography of poverty-stricken Northeastern Brazil. She studied the everyday life of sugar mill shantytown Bom Jesus da Mata for more than twenty-five years. At the core of Death Without Weeping are questions about the experiences of motherhood, malnourishment, and morality that revolve around the practice of what Scheper-Hughes has termed "selective neglect." Some mothers in Bom Jesus withhold food and nurture from infants that display sickly qualities, using the scarce supplies to feed healthy babies instead, in a desperate attempt to save at least some of their children from starvation.
Susanna B. Hecht of the New Left Review summarizes Death Without Weeping, "In this world of hardship, Scheper-Hughes through superb writing, sensitivity, and heart illuminates the tactics of social navigation, resignation, and accommodation that circumscribe the lives of these women, their transient men, and their children." Nominator Phillipe Bourgois stated that Death Without Weeping "is right where anthropology needs to be at the dawn of the new millennium. Its most powerful dimension is the intellectual as well as emotional evocation and analysis of the violence of hunger."
Death Without Weeping is one of 41 books reviewed by a five-member panel comprised of Frank Korom, Boston University; Thomas L. Leatherman, University of South Carolina; Kirin Narayan, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Michael E. Smith, University at Albany-State University of New York; and Kathryn Woolard, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California. The panel convened twice—once in December 1999 at the AAA meetings, and again in February 2000 at SAR. Selecting Death Without Weeping as their top choice, the panel submitted its recommendation to SAR's Board of Managers, which granted the award.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Berkely