WAPA - Praxis Award

The Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists’ 2021 Praxis Award Co-winners Exemplify Effective Anthropological Responses to Natural Disasters Abroad and at Home

Bill Roberts, 2021 & 2023 Praxis Award Chair

The Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists held the 2021 Praxis award hybrid ceremony and in-person reception on Thursday, March 24 at the annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology in Salt Lake City, Utah.  This year’s co-winner awardees, appropriately enough, are anthropologists who led collaborative responses to natural disasters that demonstrated an effective translation of anthropological knowledge into action.  

Canadian anthropologist Jane Murphy Thomas, an independent consultant practitioner and social anthropologist who has worked with UN agencies, NGOs, governments and other donor agencies and consulting firms, was the first awardee to present her Praxis project.  Jane has over thirty years of experience working in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and specializes in anthropological approaches that generate community participation in conflict and disaster-prone areas.  Her award-winning project, “The Pakistan Earthquake Reconstruction and Recovery Program,” resulted from work funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in collaboration with the Government of Pakistan.  Her project demonstrated, as she described in her application “… how, even in conservative, heterogeneous, conflict-prone communities, people-centered approaches, along with strong construction management, can reduce the problems allowing construction to speed along on schedule, while local capacities are also built.”  Thomas’s project description is an excellent example of disaster anthropology in action that worked at multiple geographic, social and cultural scales.  Jane used beautiful photographs of project work that illustrated its scope and scales of impact.  As one Praxis juror commented “The anthropological difference in this project is very strong. One of the key goals of the project was a social set of goals: “to mobilize local people, prevent and handle conflict, and build on capacities for recovery and development.”.   Jane’s project emphasized the importance of anthropology for crafting truly participatory processes quite different from pro forma requirements for ‘participation’ in much development work.  The project design and implementation reflected her deep understanding of and respect for local values and customs.  The importance of understanding the local social structure from intersectional perspectives that took into account sect, religious, or ethnic identities were critical for anticipating and dealing with land issues that arose during the project.

Three 2021 Praxis co-awardees were recognized for their work with the California Institute for Rural Studies and leaders of community based organizations in response to the COVID-19 pandemics impact on farm workers.  Dr. Dvera Saxton, associate professor of medical and environmental anthropology at California State University, Fresno; Dr. Bonnie Bade, professor of medical anthropology at California State University, San Marcos, and founder of that department; and Dr. Lynn Stephen, Phillip H. Knight Chair and Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences, Professor of Anthropology, and faculty in Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies, Latin American Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Oregon, were co-winners for their project, “Collaborative Anthropology and the COVID-19 Farmworker Study.”  This is an ongoing project that is, as they describe in the project entry, “… a collaborative, rapid-response, research-to-action project collecting critical missing information on farmworkers’ lived experiences during the pandemic.”  Their video presentation provided many more details of an expanding, inclusive, ongoing project that continues to make positive impacts on three West coast states.  I want to give readers an idea of some jurors’ comments on this project.  “The project provides an outstanding example of thoroughly engaged anthropology carrying out collaborative rapid-response, multi-phase, research to action with local organizations to inform policy to address the needs of agricultural workers in the COVID context.”  Another juror stated simply that this project is an outstanding example of a collaborative approach.  This team of anthropologists were proactive and inclusive in building a community of practice across the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Additional Praxis recognition

The biennial Praxis Award relies upon volunteer Praxis committee members who raise awareness about the award and encourage their fellow anthropologists to submit an application. I want to extend my thanks on behalf of WAPA to each of the 2021 Praxis committee members: Laurie Schwede, recently retired from the US Census bureau and newly installed treasurer for WAPA; Eleanor King, professor of anthropology at Howard University; Tim Wallace, professor emeritus, department of anthropology and sociology, North Carolina State U; Adam Koons, former praxis award winner and WAPA president, now working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); Abigail Conrad, applied anthropologist with Results for Development; and Rachel Watkins, biocultural anthropologist, American University.

While the committee members reached out to prospective Praxis applicants and provided feedback on pre-application materials that were submitted, the full applications were reviewed and evaluated by a group of five, previously anonymous jurors, who I also want to thank for their contributions to the work that led to selection of this year’s winners.  Erve Chambers, professor emeritus University of Maryland College Park; Stanley Yoder, medical anthropologist formerly with ICF Macro; Mari Clark, senior gender consultant for many years with the World Bank.  Two of the 2021 jurors are in fact the founders of the Praxis Award, which was first awarded in 1981.  Robert (or Bob) Wulff is professor emeritus at George Mason University and served as the president of WAPA from 1980-81.  He cofounded the Praxis Award with his friend and our colleague Shirley Fiske, who was WAPA president from 1985-86, and is affiliated with the University of Maryland College Park and enjoyed a long and distinguished career in positions with the federal government.  Bob and Shirley were jurors for this year’s Praxis Award and co-editors of the excellent book, Anthropological Praxis: Translating Knowledge Into Action published by Westview Press in 1987.

More Praxis related news

I first used the Fiske and Wulff book Anthropological Praxis as required reading in early iterations of my undergraduate course on Applied Anthropology (I changed the course name to Practicing Anthropology early this millennia).  If you are teaching a course on applied or practicing anthropology, or teaching a course that includes sections on anthropological practice, then be sure to check out the new book, Profiles of Anthropological Praxis: An International Casebook edited by Terry Redding and Charles Cheney (2022 by Berghahn Books).  The book features Praxis award winning projects over the past 10 years.  I encourage anthropologists with an academic affiliation to consider two additional actions.  Most obvious is to recommend that your library purchase the book, and perhaps less obvious to ask the folks at your institution’s Career Center to purchase the book.  In addition to educating the students in our classrooms about anthropology’s practical uses, we need to make sure career center professionals have good examples of the work anthropologists do in the “real world.”

In additional news about new books, Berghahn published a monograph written by 2021 Praxis award co-winner Jane Murphy Thomas Making Things Happen: Community Participation and Disaster Reconstruction in Pakistan.  This is the detailed story of her work in Pakistan.  Anthropologists teaching courses in international development or disaster reconstruction will want to consider using this book.

Final Comments

The 2023 Praxis Award competition is just around the corner, so please look for more information in the next SfAA newsletter.  While the competition will take place next year, we plan to hold the award ceremony and reception at the SfAA’s 2024 annual meeting in Santa Fe.  If you have questions about the 2023 award, please contact me, Bill Roberts, wcroberts@smcm.edu.

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