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Department of Social Anthropology


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.  The 2020 Sue Benson Prize Winner – Jacob Seagrave, for his dissertation, entitled, "Protest in the face of catastrophe: Extinction Rebellion and the politics of grief”.

Speaking about his dissertation, "I began my fieldwork preoccupied with how Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists might subjectively and politically sustain and mobilise themselves against a catastrophe seemingly so inevitable and inescapable. I found that within the movement beyond their eccentric public image, XR activists perceive ecological grief as a way to combat hopelessness and stimulate action in the world. The work of mourning informed by New Age theory is central to the movement; activists first mourn the loss of nature and then seek to cultivate an existential intimacy with the threat of the future. Activists then take this grief and perform it in their protests as an emotional force which authenticates the truth of climate breakdown. The simple reiteration of this truth confirms XR activists as doomsayers who proclaim the truth of the catastrophic future so as to stir action to avoid the worst of it. I found that their focus on the truth is articulated through a specifically humanistic and emotive anti-politics which seeks the transcendence of politics-as-usual. 

I hope my dissertation is able to speak to the current moment we are living through, in the midst of a viral pandemic and in the shadow of climate catastrophe, both caused by the systematic destruction and exploitation of the natural environment. Extinction Rebellion’s model of protest and transformation is one response to the problems posed by the future. I hope most of all that my exploration of their project can prompt a critical questioning about how we collectively respond both subjectively and politically to the catastrophic horizon.

I am very grateful to have been awarded the Sue Benson Prize. I would firstly like to thank all the Extinction Rebellion activists I met and spoke to for their warmth in welcoming me into the movement, their openness in sharing their ideas and activism, and their enthusiasm about my fieldwork. I would also like to thank my supervisor Dr Rupert Stasch for all his consistent guidance and support both throughout my undergraduate degree and dissertation process, especially in always illuminating the deeper structural complexities at play. Finally, I would like to thank Anne Monk for her incisive critique of my dissertation as it developed from start to finish.