Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies

2014 Citation Recipient

Erin Koch

The Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies, established in 2008 and sponsored by the Kathryn W. and Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eurasia, or Eastern Europe in anthropology, political science, sociology, or geography in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Erin Koch
Title: Free Market Tuberculosis: Managing Epidemics in Post-Soviet Georgia (Vanderbilt University Press)

Free Market Tuberculosis is a groundbreaking book that makes important contributions to postsocialist studies, social studies of medicine, development studies, and others. In Free Market Tuberculosis, Erin Koch investigates the social life of tuberculosis and TB interventions in post-Soviet Georgia as she documents more broadly the intended and unintended consequences of global standardization in an era of neoliberal capitalism. The book is at once a detailed study of the TB crisis in Georgia and an impressive study of global health:  how a globalized system of treatment lands in a place that is lacking the resources – social, economic, and political – to implement it effectively, and how this affects both the treatment and the spread of the disease. Koch also interrogates the ways in which the standardized treatment program endorsed by the World Health Organization (Directly Observed Therapy, Short-Course, or “DOTS”) has articulated with on-the-ground historical and cultural understandings about public health concerns such as TB, and Soviet practices associated with how health care is delivered. Drawing on her own anthropological research conducted since 2000, as well as published historical sources, Koch illuminates the many paradoxes of standardization of global health protocols as she details the “social fight against tuberculosis” as a local project that is nevertheless imbricated in multiple historical, scientific, and rhetorical processes. Together, the perspectives of diverse actors—TB specialists, laboratory technicians, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Health Organization, prison officials, and the ethnographer herself—show how, as Koch argues, “tuberculosis is plural, not singular,” and as such demands interventions that go far beyond the primarily biomedical ones that comprise DOTS, the current global “gold standard” in TB treatment. Koch shows that the story of TB in Georgia today is one of structured uncertainties and competing logics of expertise amid the implementation of market-based health services, all of which are embedded in a vibrant culture of medicine that greatly pre-dates the Soviet period. Carefully researched and written in an engaging style, the book ultimately tracks how biopolitics and global governmentality operate as post-Soviet space is folded into and disciplined by global neoliberal capitalist institutions, systems and standards.

Honorable Mention: Anya Bernstein
Title: Religious Bodies Politic: Rituals of Sovereignty in Buryat Buddhism (University of Chicago Press)

Bernstein adroitly integrates the study of postsocialism, Buddhism, and transnationalism to investigate how Buryats have “collectively developed…a characteristically Buddhist ‘body politics’” that allows them to maintain “their long-standing mobility—across the spatial borders of national-states and the temporal horizons between life and death, as well as across multiple sites of belonging” (p. 6). Bernstein investigates this Buryat Buddhist body politics across time and space by following the trails of numerous “emblematic” and “exemplary” bodies, such as the dead bodies of famous monks, the celibate bodies of Buddhist monastics, the temporary bodies of reincarnated lamas, the virtually dismembered bodies of lay disciples, and others. This ambitious project necessitated intensive fieldwork in three locations—Buryatia, the Drepung Monastery in southern India, and Dharamsala, India—as well as archival historical research. In examining these “religious bodies politic” Bernstein explores key themes of broad interest in the social sciences: different manifestations and regulations of bodies; intersections of religion and politics; negotiations of morality, and how morality and religion are intertwined; moralities and money/economics; and transnationalism. In this finely-crafted, stirring book, Bernstein shows how “a characteristic mix of the Buddhist, Russian Orthodox, Soviet, and postsocialist body politics, developed by Buryats over the centuries of borderland existence both within the Russian state and across the larger Tibeto-Mongolian world, have enabled extraordinary mobility across space, time, and even across life and death” (pp. 209-210). She argues convincingly that these flows have in fact helped recenter world Buddhism in the postsocialist period.

Honorable Mention: Krisztina Fehérváry
Title: Politics in Color and Concrete: Socialist Materialities and the Middle Class in Hungary (Indiana University Press)

Fehérváry considers the material transformations to Hungarian domestic space from the 1950s to 2000 by tracking five successive “aesthetic regimes,” or “politically charged assemblages of material qualities that have provoked widely shared affective responses” (p. 3). The book investigates both how the aesthetics of everyday experience were politicized in socialist Hungary and how current standards of living—often assumed to be “new” articulations that emerged in the postsocialist period of neoliberalism—in fact have roots in late socialist consumer culture.  Fehérváry gracefully integrates an innovative conceptual framework with impressive methodology and thorough empirical analysis of the connections between socio-political systemic change, the shifting materialities of housing as imagined and materialized, and the production of socially mobilized subjectivities. The author offers an impressive treatment of how this played out in the planned steel city of Dunaújváros (Hungary’s first model socialist town), in greater Hungary, and in the Soviet bloc more generally through a series of postwar shifts. A defining contribution in the scholarship on material culture and changes over time in Soviet and post-Soviet cities, Politics in Color and Concrete is both a highly informative and thoroughly enjoyable read.