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Book co-edited by ILR professor wins prize

A book co-edited by Associate Professor Sarah Besky has received the 2021 Society for the Anthropology of Work Book Prize.

How Nature Works: Rethinking Labor on a Troubled Planet, edited by Besky and Alex Blanchette of Tufts University, was published in 2019 by SAR Press and the University of New Mexico Press as a product of the School for Advanced Research seminar series.

Described by the Society for the Anthropology of Work as “an impressive breakthrough in the anthropology of work,” the book explores boundaries between human and nonhuman labor across multiple sites and disciplines. 

“This is a really humbling honor, and Alex and I are grateful to the SAW for recognizing research that pushes the boundaries of what it means to study work today,” said Besky, a member of two ILR departments, International and Comparative Labor, and Labor Relations, Law, and History.

“This intellectually original volume outlines new ways of envisioning labor, those who perform it, and those upon whom it is performed. The authors offer persuasive and logical, yet compassionate renditions of the labor of human and not-human agents who feed humanity, culture microbial communities, and pollinate our fields. These authors paint vivid portraits of those who tend and resist efforts to make nature work,” the Society for the Anthropology of Work said in a press release. 

SAR Press says the book “develops an anthropology of labor that is sharply attuned to the irreversible effects of climate change, extinction, and deforestation. The authors of this volume push ethnographic inquiry beyond the anthropocentric documentation of human work on nature in order to develop a language for thinking about how all labor is a collective ecological act.”

As Besky and Blanchette write in the book’s introduction, “We now live on a planet that is troubled—even overworked—in ways that compel us to reckon with inherited common sense about the relationship between human labor and nonhuman nature. ”

Mary Catt is director of communications for the ILR School.

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