AIIS 2017 Book Prizes Awarded to Radhika Govindrajan and to Diane Coffey and Dean Spears

The Edward Cameron Dimock, Jr. Prize in the Indian Humanities was awarded to Radhika Govindrajan for Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relations in India’s Central Himalayas

The Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences was awarded to Diane Coffey and Dean Spears, joint authors of Where India Goes: Abandoned Toilets, Stunted Development, and the Costs of Caste

Radhika Govindrajan

Animal Intimacies, which will be published by the University of Chicago Press, asks what it means to live a life that is knotted with other lives for better or worse. Through an ethnographic exploration of multispecies relationships in India’s Central Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, the book traces how these knots of connection produce a sense of relatedness between human and nonhuman animals. The book argues that to understand these entanglements of human and nonhuman lives as constituting forms of relatedness is to acknowledge that one is not made alone, but through the enactment of relations – both desirable and undesirable – with a host of other beings whose paths crisscross one’s own in ways that defy the integrity of bodies, subjects and communities. One of the main arguments of the book is that the experience of relatedness is not restricted to humans alone, but is shared by nonhuman animals. Animals were not just a symbolic foil for human representation, but subjects whose agency, intention, and capacity for emotion were crucial in shaping the relationships they shared with humans. Throughout the book Professor Govindrajan charts how relatedness – the relational unfolding of life – was expressed and experienced in varied ways by different animals along the continuum in the course of their fleshy entanglements with one another. Instead of focusing on human entanglements with a single species, this book follows the lives of a variety of animals across different species, allowing it to complicate and disaggregate the all-too-capacious category of animal in ways that permit a recognition of the diversity of experiences and subjectivities among different animals.

Animal Intimacies follows multispecies relatedness as it emerges across a number of different terrains: through the ritual sacrifice of goats, an act of violence that is increasingly critiqued by animal-rights activists and has become the subject of legislation; right-wing political and religious projects of cow-protection that are frustrated by the fact that the bodies of cattle are too wayward and distinct to be contained within a stable and homogenous symbol; a contemporary politics of exclusion and belonging that has been sparked by the sudden and unwelcome appearance of monkeys translocated from cities to mountain villages where they feed circulating anxieties about the loss of cultural identity; wild boar whose protection by the state under conservation laws is contested by villagers on the grounds that the history of these animals’ wildness is fluid and contingent; and, bears who are believed to abduct and have sex with women, a tale of queer crossing that blurs the boundaries between species. Each of these chapters will trace a different form of relatedness, paying particular attention to how it is shaped by different animal lives within and across species that are engaged by people, and what kind of material and affective labor that engagement entails. In the Epilogue, the book turns to what the violent connection between leopards and the dogs they eat can illuminate about the nature of relatedness and its possibilities. Through its exploration of these grounded multispecies relationships, Animal Intimacies brings a novel perspective to longstanding themes of scholarly interest in South Asia, including environmental and agrarian change, religious politics, popular Hinduism, gender hierarchy and female sexuality, and the relationship between the postcolonial state and its margins.

Radhika Govindrajan is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington. She received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Yale University, an M.A. in Modern History from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a B.A. in History from Delhi University. She teaches courses on environmental anthropology, multispecies ethnography, comparative religion, and South Asia. Her articles have appeared in American Ethnologist, Comparative Study of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and RCC Perspectives. She was awarded the 2016 General Anthropology Division’s Exemplary Cross-Field Scholarship Award and the 2016 Anthropology and Environment Section’s Junior Scholar Award. She is currently working on two new projects: the first examines the nature of democratic village politics in Uttarakhand, and the second examines contemporary projects of regionalism in the Himalayas, with a focus on Nepali migrants to the region. Professor Govindrajan was awarded an AIIS Junior Fellowship to conduct her dissertation research in 2010-2011.

Diane Coffey

Where India Goes addresses the questions: Why are children in India shorter, on average, than   poorer children in sub-Saharan Africa?  Why are Muslims in India more likely to survive childhood than Hindus?  Above all, why is open defecation so persistently, stubbornly high in rural India — and what can be done to accelerate the switch to the sort of health-promoting latrines which are widely used in the rest of the developing world?  In their book, Coffey and Spears develop evidence that poor sanitation is an important determinant of the poor health outcomes of India’s children, and that the continuing relevance of the purity, pollution, and untouchability norms of the caste system keeps open defecation alive today despite decades of government latrine construction programs.  The book takes the reader on a tour through Indian villages, survey statistics, and government offices — ultimately, inviting the reader to join in thinking about the crucial open policy question: in a context where poor health is so enduringly tied to social inequality, what can state programs and policies do to help?

Dean Spears

The members of the AIIS Publication Committee noted the book’s dramatic ethnographic case studies and well-documented statistical arguments as being of great potential value to both policy makers and general readers unaware of the magnitude and public health implications of the lack of toilets and the practice of open defecation in much of South Asia. The Committee also remarked on the particular relevance of the issue to the career and social service of sociologist Joe Elder, Emeritus Professor at the University of Wisconsin, in whose name the prize was established.

Where India Goes will be published by Harper Collins India.

Diane Coffey is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Population Research at UT Austin and a visiting researcher at the Indian Statistical Institute in Delhi. She earned her Ph.D. in Public Affairs and Demography from Princeton University. She studies social influences on health in India.  One area of her research focuses on consequences of discrimination against young women for nutrition during pregnancy, child survival, and child growth.  She also studies the causes and consequences of widespread open defecation in rural India. 

Dean Spears is an Assistant Professor of Economics at UT Austin, where he is an affiliate of the Population Research Center, and is a visiting economist at the Indian Statistical Institute in Delhi.  He earned his Ph.D. in Economics from Princeton University. He is a development economist and economic demographer who studies early-life health and human capital formation, environmental economics, and population. 

Diane Coffey and Dean Spears co-founded and co-direct a research non-profit called r.i.c.e., a research institute for compassionate economics, which works towards evidence-based policy for child health and human development in India.