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Winner of the Sue Benson Prize in 2019

last modified Jul 04, 2019 11:20 AM

Every year, the Department awards a prize of £200 to the most outstanding IIB dissertation. The prize is named in memory of Dr Sue Benson (1948-2005), an anthropologist who lectured, supervised and directed studies in Cambridge for 26 years and who 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 for the best Undergraduate dissertation.  Johanna Kinnock, Queens’ College, is the winner this year for her dissertation, ‘“The glass box”: accommodating addicted bodies in a café in Copenhagen.’ This year’s joint runners-up are Frederikke K. Schwarz (Robinson College) for her dissertation, ‘“Nothing happens here”: exploring uneventfulness in Munkebo, Denmark,’ and Jake Kroeger (King’s College) for his dissertation, ‘“A city with pride”: narratives of belonging and self-understanding among gay men in Tel Aviv.’

Our winner Johanna Kinnock says about her dissertation:

“I began thinking about care, the state and homelessness during a particularly cold winter in the U.K., which resulted in a skyrocketing of homeless people dying on the streets. Even though this was extensively reported on, austerity seemed to chug along unabashed. Whilst “they do it better in Scandinavia” has become a cliché statement that is thrown around uncritically, this fact made me all the more interested to see how similar social issues were actually tackled back home in Denmark, in the nitty-gritty.
 My dissertation ended up taking a detour from the topic of homelessness explicitly, but was still centred upon the ways that vulnerable subjects are institutionally treated at a micro-cosmic scale. My fieldwork was carried out at a café located in Copenhagen’s decriminalised drug zone which hands out three free meals a day as well as free and anonymous drug paraphernalia to its guests. This constitutes a form of “harm reduction” which is an approach to drug users that does not aim to get the user “clean”, but rather reduce the immediate dangers of drug use and make his everyday life more enjoyable. Harm reduction occurs in many places: Switzerland, Portugal, Canada - this year it is being trialled in Wales. Nonetheless, coupling needle dispersal so intimately with food and sociality is something rather unique to Café Dugnad.
Although the idea of a café where people consume e.g. a nutritious lasagna and class A drugs in one sitting seems absurd to many, the café was in a way quite “hyggelig” (the zeitgeisty Danish term for cozy sociality). Music played, people socialised freely and spoke both seriously and jokingly about drugs, love and life. Whilst I aimed to never romanticise the difficulties faced by long term hard drug users, I still found great significance in what the guests at Café Dugnad repeatedly told me during my 6 weeks there: that the Café was somewhere they could talk freely and enjoy peace and relative safety. In these casual, safe social settings, their position as “addicts” was de-stigmatised thus that they could muse, free of judgement, upon their own subjectivity. They experienced, in moments, hope amongst hopelessness, calling into question the ways our belief in the necessary linearity of progress underpin understandings of health, rehabilitation and success more generally. Although the guests of Dugnad lived life in an apparently bleak limbo on the outskirts of Danish society, this did not entail that social life at the café became meaningless. Rather, the highly specific institutional attitudes they encountered at Dugnad had tangible positive effects on their experiences as ethical subjects.
I am happy I got to be part of Dugnad, a humbly radical institution, and I hope I have done justice in representing both staff and guests there. I am honoured to win the Sue Benson prize and I thank my supervisor Johannes Lenhard as well as the kind and wise people of the anthropology department for three formative years at Cambridge.”