James Howe Prize

MIT Anthropology James Howe Prize

2016 James Howe Prize winner: Paige Omura


MIT Anthropology is pleased to announce the winner of the 2016 James Howe Prize is Paige Omura.  An anonymous review of 12 high-quality submissions led the committee to a decision to award two first-place winners — and it turns out that Paige is the author of both!

“Shifting Smartness: An Exploration of MIT Students’ Perceptions of Wall Street” was originally written for the subject 21A.461, What is Capitalism? The paper draws on a review of the anthropological literature and the author’s own experience working in Financial Services last summer to analyze qualitative data that Paige collected for this paper by interviewing 21 MIT students about their knowledge and perceptions of the financial industry. Her findings indicate that the financial crisis of 2008 has in fact had a durable effect on MIT students’ perceptions of Wall Street. In contrast to the lure of joining the “best and brightest” that brought ivy league students to Wall Street in the 2000s, as characterized in Karen Ho’s Liquidated, today a previaling view among MIT students is that Wall Street attracts students interested in “making money.” “Smartness” is no longer so closely associated with fianancial industries. It’s an impressive piece of ethnographic research, interpretive analysis, and writing.  

Paige’s co-winning paper, “ADDTabz for Harvard Students: A Case Study Exemplifying the Hidden Complexities of our Chemical Generation,” was originally written for the class 21A.305/STS.062, Drugs, Politics and Culture.  The essay examines how a designer Adderall alternative called ADDTabz, a synthetic form of amphetamine, is being marketed to college students as an over-the-counter study aid. Taking an advertisement that appeared in the Harvard Crimson newspaper as a launch point, Paige explores the much broader social and political issues this example encodes, creatively applying insights drawn from ethnographies like Joseph Dumit’s Drugs for Life and Kris Peterson’s Speculative Markets to examine issues such as drug authenticity and the regulation of both legal and illegal synthetic derivatives, the rise of neuroenhancing drugs and “cosmetic neurology” across affluent and resource-poor contexts, and the interpersonal dimensions of these questions for negotiating contemporary identities.  

By tracing a shift in perceptions about Wall Street among MIT students after financial crisis and by illuminating the workings of the pharmaceutical system via a careful single case study of a drug ad, Paige’s nuanced essays are exemplary of the promise of interpretive, anthropological analysis of emerging social phenomena.

The James Howe Prize is awarded each spring — students interested in submitting work for the Prize can check back on this page for updated deadlines and information at the beginning of the spring semester.

About the Prize

The annual James Howe Prize honors the contributions of Professor of Anthropology James Howe, who retired in 2012. Professor Howe's scholarship has focused on the history and political struggles of the indigenous Kuna population in Panama. He has also promoted human rights throughout his distinquished career. A renowned photographer and political activist, Howe has undertaken ethnographic work to support the rights of the Kuna people. He is a longstanding board member of Cultural Survival — an organization that provides support to and advocates on behalf of the linguistic, cultural, and property rights of indigenous populations around the world.


 

Guidelines for Submission

 

Students may submit multiple entries. The topic is open.

Entries written for MIT Anthropology classes or as part of an undergraduate anthropology thesis (i.e. a thesis chapter) are eligible. Papers may be revisions of essays written and graded for MIT Anthropology subjects.

Works that have been published previously are not eligible for submission.

Papers should be at least 10 double-spaced pages in length, but must not exceed 25 pages.

Submissions must include a title, as well as a consistent and thorough citation style and bibliography. The student’s name should not appear anywhere on the paper itself.

Each paper should be submitted with a cover sheet that includes:

  • Student name:
  • Submission title:
  • Anthropology subject for which the submission was produced:
  • Major:
  • Expected year of graduation:
  • Email address:
  • Phone number:
  • Student ID number:

Please submit entries and cover sheets to: jhprize@mit.edu.

Please address questions to jhprize@mit.edu.


2015 James Howe Prize winners: Andrei Klishin and Peter Haine

MIT Anthropology is pleased to announce that the 1st place winner of the 2015 James Howe Prize is Andrei Klishin for his paper, “Trade of the Futures.” Andrei’s paper was originally written for the subject 21A.461 What is Capitalism? The paper explores the very different understandings of mathematical modeling employed by Wall Street traders and “quants” and its implications for the Financial Crisis of 2008. The review committee was especially impressed by the creativity and insightfulness of the analysis and the author’s ability to offer a specifically anthropological take on the problem even while drawing upon insights from a wide range of academic disciplines. This commitment to the importance of ethnography in making sense of crucial problems in the world fits in well with the legacy of Professor Howe’s scholarship.

We are also delighted to announce that the 2nd place prize winner is Peter Haine for his paper, “MOOCs & STEM Fields: Rethinking Assessments.” Originally written for 21A.150 Teaching and Learning: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, this paper offers a nuanced account of the way educators adopt and adapt new educational technologies. The committee was particularly impressed by the author's use of qualitative data (in this case, based primarily on interviews) to build theoretical interpretations. This is crucial component of sound ethnographic analysis, richly exemplified in the work of Professor Howe.

Congratulations to both awardees!


 

2014 James Howe Prize winner: Sofia Essayan-Perez

 

Howe Prize winner Sofia Essayan-Perez with Anthropology facultyMIT Anthropology is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2014 James Howe Prize is Sofia Essayan-Perez for her paper, “The Role of Physicians in Distributing Resources to Autistic Patients: Perspectives on Knowledge Flows, Biosociality, and Triage.” Sohpia's paper was originally written for the subject, 21A.300 Practicum in Global Health and Development.  Based on interviews with physicians working with pediatric autism as well as clinical observations of patient-family-clinician interactions, Sophia’s paper traces the multiple, bi-directional knowledge flows between physicians and patient families that, together, help to constitute autism diagnosis and care.  The selection prize committee recognizes the originality of Sophia’s field research, the thoroughness of her engagement with relevant literature, and the clarity of her writing. 

We are also pleased to announce an honorable mentioned award to Natalia Guerrero. This paper was originally written for 21A.501 Art, Craft, Science. The selection committee was impressed by Natalia’s use of anthropological theories of art to illuminate the cultural resonance of photography as a “technique of enchantment.” Focusing on captivating scientific images produced by Harold Edgerton, Bernice Abbott, and the Hubble Space Telescope, the paper carefully analyzes the magic behind the photographer’s craft—and the craft behind the photographer’s magic. The committee felt that this topic, and the writer’s thoughtful treatment of it, beautifully reflected the spirit of James Howe’s own commitment to using photography as a medium of ethnography and a mode of engagement.
Congratulations to both awardees!


2013 James Howe Prize winner: Iris Sheu

Howe Prize winner Iris Sheu with Anthropology facultyMIT Anthropology is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2013 James Howe Prize is Iris Sheu for her paper entitled “Patient Barriers to Mental Health Care for the Cambodian Population in Lowell, MA.” Iris's paper was originally written for the Spring 2012 subject, 21A.300 Practicum in Global Health and Development. The selection prize committee recognizes the caliber of Iris's writing, the originality of her field research, her attention to history and judicious use of social theory, as well as the paper's contribution to contemporary literatures on immigrants and refugees. By suggesting interventions to improve communications between Cambodian populations and health care providers, her paper offers practical solutions to reduce disparities of health status and treatment affecting these populations in the United States. Finally, Iris Sheu's essay demonstrates how ethnographic methods can contribute to understandings of social experience more generally. In so doing, she has embodied the spirit of James Howe's exemplary writings. Congratulations!