Essay / Letters

Will the Next Margaret Mead Please Stand Up?

The winners of the 2016 SAPIENS-Allegra competition to discover new public anthropologists are announced.

Margaret Mead was among the 20th century’s most famous anthropologists. She not only helped shape the discipline but also made significant contributions to public dialogues about culture, power, and sexuality.

Anthropology explores some of the most exciting and relevant issues facing humanity. Anthropologists study human origins, the roots of violence, how we talk, economic injustice, health disparities, family and kinship, constructions of “race,” how cities organize themselves, education systems, climate change, emerging digital worlds, and so much more. But all too often anthropologists conclude our research into these vitally important topics with scholarly papers that are accessible only to a narrow pool of academics.

SAPIENS is part of a movement to make anthropological research, theories, and thinking relevant to the public. From magazines like Anthropology Now and PopAnth, to books like David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years and Gillian Tett’s Fool’s Gold, to T.M. Luhrmann’s regular columns in The New York Times, anthropologists are emerging everywhere with new public voices.

To encourage anthropologists to write about their work for a broader audience, Allegra and SAPIENS partnered earlier this year to launch a new competition for popular anthropological writing. An impressive 68 articles were submitted from scholars living and working around the world. We are thrilled to announce the winners.

First prize goes to Amy Starecheski’s “The House Society on Avenue C,” a searing and intimate portrait of the world of squatters in New York City. Second prize is awarded to Hannah E. Marsh for her essay “The Biological Fallacy of America’s Race Problem,” a playful and personal view of the very serious subject of race. Third prize is awarded to Robyn Eversole for “Illogical Objects and What They Tell Us,” which explores physical things that don’t seem to serve a logical purpose but are nonetheless considered necessary.

We congratulate the winners and thank all of those who submitted an entry. Please stay tuned for the publication of the winning pieces on Allegra and SAPIENS!

Chip Colwell

Chip Colwell is an anthropologist and the founding editor-in-chief of SAPIENS. He was the senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science from 2007 to 2020. He received his Ph.D. from Indiana University and has received grants and fellowships with the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Rockefeller Foundation, U.S. Fulbright Program, National Endowment for the Humanities, and National Science Foundation. His research has been highlighted by the BBC, C-SPAN, and The Wall Street Journal, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Salon, Aeon, Foreign Affairs, and elsewhere. He has published 12 books, including Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture, which has received six national awards. Follow him on Twitter @drchipcolwell.


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