Will the Next Margaret Mead Please Stand Up?

The SAPIENS-Allegra Competition to Discover New Public Anthropologists


The anthropologist is a peculiar creature. We study the world, yet too often do not share our insights with the world.

Our work explores some of the most exciting and relevant issues that face humanity. We study our collective origins, the origins of violence, economic injustice, health disparities, our relations to family, constructions of “race,” education systems, how cities organize themselves, how we talk, climate change, emerging digital worlds, and so much more. But all too often we conclude our research into these vitally important topics with texts that are accessible only to a narrow group of academics.

To encourage anthropologists to write about their work for a broader audience, Allegra and SAPIENS have partnered to launch a competition for more engaged types of anthropological writing.

We invite submissions for timely and engaging articles that are accessible yet authoritative, exciting yet not sensationalistic. In particular, we welcome narrative-driven submissions that will appeal to a broad, college-educated readership, while demonstrating how anthropology contributes to a shared understanding of our world.

The contribution that most aptly fits these criteria will be awarded 1,000 USD, and 500 USD each for second and third prize. The best pieces will be published in 2016 in SAPIENS and Allegra.

To get a sense of the kind of work we’re looking for, consider the following examples of successful popular anthropology: Graeber’s Debt, the First 5,000 Years, Gillian Tett’s Fool’s Gold, and T.M. Luhrmann’s regular columns in The New York Times. What unites the most inspiring and memorable anthropological accounts is not a common theoretical framework. Neither is it a shared subject. Instead, they are bound by the potency of their narratives.

You might also consider this recent piece in National Geographic, or a more personal essay, like this one in the New Republic. As illustrated in this piece in The Atlantic, even the topic of museum dioramas can be turned into a dramatic story that tackles an essential question: What do dioramas reveal about humans’ relationship with nature?

Anthropologists, more than other scientists, hold a pivotal role in improving our common understanding of our increasingly complex world. However, too often we hide our message behind a veil of obscure jargon, murky narrative, and muddled theoretical convolutions—all to the great detriment of our discipline. As experts who investigate the complexity of our contemporary world, we are ideally positioned to become its narrators. Now, let’s start writing!

2016 Winners

First Prize: Amy Starecheski, “The House Society on Avenue C”

Second Prize: Hannah E. Marsh, “The Biological Fallacy of American’s Race Problem”

Third Prize: Robyn Eversole, “Illogical Objects and What they Tell Us”


  • Anyone who holds a degree in anthropology (undergraduate or graduate) may enter the competition.
  • The subject may cover any branch of anthropology.
  • Contributions can be single authored, co-authored, or written by a collective of individuals.
  • Authors must be able to vouch that their text is solely their own work and has not been published elsewhere.
  • Texts should be no more than 3,000 words in length—and include no references, notes, or other scholarly apparatus.
  • Follow the SAPIENS Style Guide.
  • We encourage the use of photography (no more than 5 pictures can be used to illustrate the text) and other multimedia formats such as sound files and videos. Sketches and drawings are also welcome. All images should be uploaded on Flickr, and a URL link should be provided. Sound files should be uploaded on SoundCloud, short video clips on YouTube, and URL links should be provided.
  • Texts must be submitted as a double-spaced Word document. The first page should provide your name, address, and email.
  • By your submission, you are agreeing to Allegra’s and SAPIENS’ Terms of Use policies.
  • The deadline for submission of entries is yet to be determined for 2017. Texts must be submitted electronically, to [email protected].
  • Submissions will be read anonymously and adjudicated by a panel selected by Allegra Lab and SAPIENS editorial team members.
  • If you win, you are agreeing to work with Allegra and SAPIENS editorial staff for online publication.
  • Questions concerning the competition should be directed to [email protected].