The future of Us All
Race and Neighborhood Politics in New York City
by Roger Sanjek
2002 J. I. Staley Prize
Roger Sanjek was named winner of the 2002 J. I. Staley Prize for his book, The Future of Us All: Race and Neighborhood Politics in New York City (Cornell University Press, 1998). SAR President Richard M. Leventhal presented the $10,000 award to the author at a special ceremony on November 22 during the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association.
In The Future of Us All, Sanjek chronicles the Elmhurst-Corona neighborhood in Queens, New York, over a thirteen-year period in which social relations changed dramatically. Between 1960 and 1990, the white population of the neighborhood dropped from 98 percent to 18 percent, as immigrants and African American newcomers arrived in great numbers. By 1992, New York's Department of City Planning called Elmhurst-Corona "perhaps the most ethnically mixed community in the world," with over forty different ethnic groups and nationalities represented in its population of 137,000.
"My primary concern as a writer was to make this book readable to the people in Queens, the people the book is about," commented Sanjek. "I've had very strong and positive response from them. I'm also gratified that peers in my profession are recognizing the book as a significant and important book. Because the Staley prize represents a judgment from all four fields of anthropology, it's especially meaningful. I'm in august company," he added.
Sanjek's study, conducted with a multi-ethnic team of fifteen researchers, lasted from 1983 to 1996. While the study focused primarily on district-level politics and social relations, a secondary level tracked the changing position and perceptions of the older white population as the diversity of their neighborhood became increasingly more complex. What began as an ethnography of one neighborhood's majority-minority transition, writes Sanjek, "became a study of the roots, and weeds, of democracy."
One of the book's nominators hailed the work as a practical vision for "the transformation of the nation into a true multi-ethnic, rather than white-dominated, democracy." Of all the human sciences, the nominator continued, "cultural anthropology has eminent authority to address, explain, and even forecast such changes. Sanjek's volume boldly and publicly claims this ground for our field, with extraordinary brilliance, true anthropological craftsmanship, and great intellectual courage."
The Future of Us All is one of forty-one books reviewed by a five-member panel comprised of Susan D. Gillespie, University of Florida; Gary H. Gossen, Deep Springs College; George R. Milner, Pennsylvania State University; Yolanda T. Moses, American Association for Higher Education; and Bonnie Urciuoli, Hamilton College. After convening twice, the panel submitted its recommendation to SAR's Board of Managers, which granted the award.
Roger Sanjek, Professor of Anthropology, Queens College, City University of New York