Winner of the Public Anthropologist Award 2022

We are pleased to announce that the winner of the Public Anthropologist Award 2022 is Catherine Besteman for her book Militarized Global Apartheid.

Catherine Besteman is Francis F. Bartlett and Ruth K. Bartlett Professor of Anthropology at Colby College. Throughout her career, she has worked on issues related to power dynamics that produce and maintain inequality, racism and violence, as well as collective efforts for social change.
Militarized Global Apartheid effectively addresses key instances of exploitation, inequality, and division in the contemporary world. The book is a lucid and nuanced exploration of the global hierarchies that, whether we are aware of it or not, have a devastating impact on the lives of many while creating privileges for a few others.

Read below to learn more about Catherine Besteman’s work.


Antonio: Can you share with us your personal and professional trajectories that brought you to the publication of Militarized Global Apartheid?

Catherine: Militarized Global Apartheid is the culmination of several strands of research and praxis extending back to my first period of fieldwork in Somalia in the 1980s before the collapse of Somalia’s government and the eruption of civil war in 1991. My fieldwork was an interrogation of the impact of land tenure reform in the Jubba River Valley, which was really about the imposition of neoliberalism by Western aid agencies (Unraveling Somalia, 1999). As the war descended in the valley, the patterning of violence followed a neoliberal necropolitics of vulnerability. This latter question – how vulnerability to social abandonment and premature death is created and sustained – then also informed my next fieldwork in South Africa. That fieldwork engaged with the question of how a society consciously trying to address the legacy of apartheid can actually confront the history of intentionally structured inequalities and injustices in order to overcome them. South Africa’s inability to transform the history of racism and inequality in any overarching and significant way taught me a lot about how apartheid operates.

Concurrently, I was working with a group of anthropologists to form the Network of Concerned Anthropologists to oppose the use of anthropology by the U.S. military for counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This work helped me think about militarism, terrorism, security, insurgency, and counterinsurgency in new ways, some of which resulted in two collections I co-edited with Hugh Gusterson (The Insecure American, 2009, and Cultures of Militarism, 2019). The centrality of racial imperialism to the US-led occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan mirrored the imposition of neoliberal mandates I had tracked in Somalia and elsewhere, bringing into the same frame of analysis racial capitalism, imperialist militarism, and counterinsurgency broadly defined.

As I was finishing my book on South Africa (Transforming Cape Town, 2008), I learned that people from the small community in Somalia where I had lived in the 1980s were resettling to Maine as refugees. We began a decade of intensive community and ethnographic work together as they figured out how to survive in the U.S. while also supporting their family members in Somalia and in refugee camps.  This work, and writing Making Refuge (2016) about their experiences, added what Harsha Walia calls ‘border imperialism’ to my perspective.

Thinking through border imperialism in conjunction with my earlier work on neoliberalism, militarization, apartheid, and security brought a new focus to my understanding of how these structures operate together to create a set of global operations to manage labor and mobility for the benefit of capitalist and military objectives (which are often the same thing). Militarized Global Apartheid was my attempt to sketch out these operations as they iterate and support each other across the globe.

Antonio: How would you briefly explain the nexus of militarization and inequality in our world? 

Catherine: Nation-state, corporate, and parastatal militarism exists to maintain those inequalities against which people struggle who are labelled dissidents, revolutionaries, insurgents, irregular migrants, and/or terrorists. Militarism takes many forms, stretching from the creation of carceral institutions (prisons, jails, heavily policed migrant and refugee camps, detention centers, offshore holding facilities) to the maintenance of standing armies and military bases, and from the various forms of technosurveillance to the use of police in schools.  Military power is most often used to maintain unequal social orders and sustain an unequal and injust status quo.

Militarism begets militarism, so it is not surprising that revolutionaries or insurgents are also militarized in their efforts to overturn the state, overthrow imperialists, or reclaim resources lost to capitalist expropriation. That does not necessarily mean, of course, that revolutionaries or insurgents are always on the side of greater equality.

Antonio: How confident are you in the capacity of contemporary anthropology to effectively expose and face the profound hierarchies and injustices that affect individuals and collectivities?

Catherine: Well, I guess I would say that anthropology is one of the most powerful perspectives available in the academic world to expose the profound hierarchies and injustices of the world. Much contemporary anthropology seems, to me, to be fundamentally concerned with the operations of power, and the interest in what we now call public anthropology offers tools and methods for engaging others in these perspectives. I do believe this is our responsibility and purpose in anthropology. Anthropology itself is not a radical or revolutionary discipline but its insights can be critically valuable to radicals and revolutionaries. 

Antonio: What are your future plans?

Catherine: Researching Militarized Global Apartheid brought me to a much more nuanced and profound awareness of carcerality as a normative feature of contemporary life in the US. Contemporary carcerality, with its roots in settler colonialism, plantation slavery, and overseas imperialism, is an ongoing form of violence in the name of social control and securitization that operates, much like militarized global apartheid, to support the interests of white supremacy, racial capitalism, and militarization. I follow the lead of scholars like Ori Burton and Dylan Rodriguez who understand carcerality as war. It is war. After immersing myself in scholarship and activist work on carcerality and abolition over the past several years, last fall I built a statewide, collaborative public humanities initiative to promote abolitionist visioning for Maine called Freedom & Captivity. That project turned me toward efforts to expand educational opportunities for incarcerated students and to grow connections through education and the creative arts for incarcerated and nonincarcerated people to build community together. I expect to be thoroughly engaged in this work for the rest of my career.

Leave a Reply