The J. I. Staley Prize

Established in 1987, the J. I. Staley Prize has been awarded for more than 20 years to a living author for a book that exemplifies outstanding scholarship and writing in anthropology. The Staley Prize recognizes innovative works that go beyond traditional frontiers and dominant schools of thought in anthropology and add new dimensions to our understanding of the human species.

2010 J. I. Staley Prize was awarded to:

Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice
by Sally Engle Merry
University of Chicago Press, 2006

Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice by Sally Engle MerryHuman Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice by Sally Engle MerryUniversity of Chicago Press, 2006.Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice by Sally Engle MerryUniversity of Chicago Press, 2006.

2010 Staley Panel Citation:

“This innovative book examines the application of international human rights law addressing gender violence to local cultural contexts. In an ethnography that begins in the negotiating rooms of the United Nation and extends to five local case studies, Merry ranges from gendered inheritance rights in Hong Kong to conflict resolution practices in Fiji, from “husband-wife cruelty” in India to family violence in Beijing. Drawing on a sophisticated, multilevel analysis, she examines how global human rights discourse is translated from international organizations to local communities and families through the mediation of NGOs. In the process, she challenges the notion that local, traditional culture is an obstacle to the implementation of human rights and argues for a more complex and dynamic understanding of culture. In doing so, she reclaims ‘culture’ as a workable and usable framework for addressing contemporary global problems. This book is significant not only to anthropologists but to anyone interested in the theory and practice of human rights.”

Excerpt from pp. 28-29:

The ethnographic study of global reform movements is an important challenge for contemporary anthropology. How can anthropology, with its historic focus on local places, comprehend these processes in which the local and global are inextricably intertwined? The distinctive contribution of anthropology has always been its focus on small-scale, more or less observable, social units and the cultural meanings and practices that constitute them. But is this model appropriate now? Where can we find these units as we look at the new political and cultural configurations produced by globalization and the flows of capital and culture across national boundaries? The challenge is to study placeless phenomena in a place, to find small interstices in global processes in which critical decisions are made, to track the information flows that constitute global discourses, and to mark the points at which competing discourses intersect in the myriad links between global and local conceptions and institutions. One answer is to locate sites where global, national, and local processes are revealed in the social life of small groups. My approach is to focus on a single issue, the movement against gender violence, in five local places in the Asia-Pacific region and in the deterritorialized world of UN conferences, transnational NGO activism, and academic, legal, and social service exchanges of ideas and practices.

International Conference in Beijing, 2002International Conference in Beijing, 2002Speakers at a 2002 international conference on violence against women in Beijing, sponsored by the Domestic Violence Research and Intervention Program, a project to combat gender-based violence in China.International Conference in Beijing, 2002Speakers at a 2002 international conference on violence against women in Beijing, sponsored by the Domestic Violence Research and Intervention Program, a project to combat gender-based violence in China.

This is an effort to do an ethnographic analysis of globalization, or at least a corner of it. It is probably the most methodologically challenging field research I have ever done. How does one go about examining the globalization of human rights approaches to violence against women? Where does the researcher go to look for this? How can one person, or even a team of people, ever synthesize such a broad transformation without losing the genius of ethnography: its ability to look closely at a small social space, to listen to the language, to pay attention to the social linkages and information exchanges, to notice the power relationships, and to pay attention to the cultural constructions of social life at play in everyday interactions? This is hard to pull off on a global stage.

In my efforts to study such a transnational phenomenon, I am following George Marcus’s suggestion that anthropologists engage in multisided ethnography….Although his term implies a comparison among sites, Marcus’s model is not one of discrete comparisons. Instead, it is an ethnographic engagement with the fragments of a larger system that recognizes that the system is neither coherent nor fully graspable. I prefer the phrase “deterritorialized ethnography,” which comes closer to the notion that this is a disembodied space of social life, one that exists in various spaces but is not grounded in any one of them. My focus is on a social world whose locations are diverse but whose words and practices sound and look the same, whether in Geneva, New York, Delhi, or Beijing.

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