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Sue Benson Prize for Best Part IIB Dissertation 2017

last modified Jul 26, 2017 04:16 PM

Winner: Neria Aylward, Pembroke College



Every year, the Division awards a prize of £200 to the most outstanding IIB dissertation. The prize is named in memory of Dr Sue Benson (1955-2005), an anthropologist who lectured, supervised and directed studies in Cambridge for 26 years and was an inspiration both personally and intellectually for generations of students.

We are pleased to announce the winner for this year’s Sue Benson prize is Neria Aylward (Pembroke College) with her dissertation;

Selfies and #Sealfies: Recent Inuit activism and technologies of self-representation in Nunavut, Canada’.

On receiving the prize, Neria commented, 'Many Europeans have heard of the Canadian seal hunt. For most, it conjures images of bloody, senseless slaughter and teary-eyed seal pups. Indeed, the perceived barbarity of the hunt has elicited public criticism from celebrities including Brigitte Bardot, Paul McCartney, Pamela Anderson and Ellen DeGeneres, to name just a few. Public outcry mobilized by animal rights organizations led to an EU ban on seal products in 1983, and a reaffirmation and tightening of that ban in 2009.'

'Fewer people, when they think of the seal hunt, think of Inuit. In many ways, however, Inuit have suffered the most from the EU bans. Inuit are a circumpolar indigenous people who have relied on the seal for food, shelter, and clothing in some way or another for millennia. Since increased colonial interest in Arctic Canada took hold in the mid-twentieth century, the sale of seal furs into the international market had been a crucial lifeline for Inuit. The seal bans thus had a disastrous impact on Inuit communities that is felt acutely to the present day.'

'For my dissertation, I interviewed Inuit activists in Nunavut, Canada, who were using film, social media, and political organization to tell their side of the story. The activists I interviewed, all of whom were women, saw the seal bans as a facet of colonial oppression. They found themselves thriving as indigenous women when they spoke out for their communities, rather than having to put these identities to the side to participate in the polis. Rather than representing a place of in-betweenness, the political space itself is more than one, but less than many; indeed, this has important consequences for anthropological notions of politics and resistance.'

'I am truly honoured and grateful to be the recipient of this year’s Sue Benson prize. First and foremost, my most heartfelt thanks go to the women I interviewed - Alethea, Aaju, Rachel, Elisapi and Killaq - for their generosity with their time, tea, and knowledge. Thanks also to Barbara Bodenhorn, my supervisor, for waking me up both literally and figuratively, and to Hildegard Diemberger who (among other things) tried to convince me to learn Inuktitut in my first DoS meeting. This project was challenging, fun and world-expanding from start to finish; Qujannamiik to everyone who made it that way.'