2018 Honorable Mention
Denial and Belonging among White Kenyans
by Janet McIntosh
Prize Committee: Roberto Gonzalez (San Jose State U, chair), Jacqueline Solway (Trent U), Anne Allison (Duke U), and Tania Murray Li (University of Toronto).
Janet McIntosh’s book is a major ethnographic achievement that explores the topic of whiteness in one of Africa’s most ethnically and politically complex countries. It is far more than a contribution to the field of critical whiteness studies; Unsettled promises to have a long-lasting impact in fields as diverse as postcolonial African studies, sociolinguistics, and the anthropology of subjectivity. McIntosh draws on an eclectic array of influences ranging from W.E.B. DuBois and Franz Fanon to Vincent Crapanzano and Johannes Fabian. She also demonstrates a keen ability to write compelling ethnographic prose. Unsettled is innovative in theoretical terms, and McIntosh makes effective use of two conceptual frameworks. In her terms, she “bends” DuBois’s notion of a moral “double consciousness”; to understand the contradictory responses of white Kenyans attempting to reconcile Kenya’s growing rhetoric of autochthony with their entitlements and status as descendants of British colonizers. Another theoretically original approach is McIntosh’s concept of structural oblivion: a state of “ignorance, denial, and ideology that emerges from an elite social structural position constituted by the refusal of certain implications of social structure.” Unsettled demonstrates an extraordinary level of intellectual maturity and sophistication, and establishes a high standard for any anthropologist seeking to elucidate the connections between race, inequality and privilege.