Daniel Jordan Smith

2008 Margaret Mead Award Recipient

mead_smith.jpgThe Boards of the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology have selected Daniel Jordan Smith, an associate professor at Brown University, to receive the Margaret Mead Award for 2008.  Smith was selected for his book, A Culture of Corruption. Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria.

The Margaret Mead Award is sponsored jointly by the two associations and presented annually.  The Award is presented to a young scholar for a particular accomplishment which employs anthropological data and principles in ways that make them meaningful and accessible to a broadly concerned public.

The Award honors the memory of Margaret Mead who in her lifetime was the most widely-known woman in the world and arguably the most recognized anthropologist.  Mead had a unique talent for bringing anthropology into the life of public attention.  The Award was initiated in 1973 by the Society and with Mead's approval.  It has been presented jointly with the American Anthropological Association since 1983.

In the spirit of the Mead Award, A Culture of Corruption. Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria is a fascinating, timely, and compelling ethnography about how fraud and scams are a critical source of income in Nigeria as well as a part of the country’s domestic cultural landscape. Based on extensive field experience, Smith documents and analyzes how various types of corruption permeate Nigerian society, how Nigerians live with andcreatively manipulate corruption, and the dilemmas Nigerians face daily to survive in a society riddled by corruption and their ambivalences about the situation. The theoretically sophisticated book, with its clear articulation of the author’s engagement in the research situation, tackles head on the issues and feelings about corruption so that it becomes understandable from the Nigerian point of view as a topic used to vent frustrations with dysfunctional bureaucracies, an embedded moral economy, as an example of the tension between individual entrepreneurialism and power, an extension of kinship, and as cultural production. This book will also help dispel essentializing assumptions that corruption causes poverty in developing African economies and bring new understandings of how individuals think about, live with, fight, manipulate, and criticize corruption. Smith’s bold and courageous study of corruption at the micro and macro levels shows the messiness of daily life and opens discussion about an area that anthropologists want to keep at arm’s length. In the tradition of Mead, Smith’s work will speak to a large audience, in part because it is well written, understandable, and often witty, but also because everyone with a computer has received an email proposing the need for an urgent business relationship from a Nigerian and wonder why these attempts at fraud so often originate in Nigeria. A Culture of Corruption speaks to a broad readership, including policymakers and the international media, who will see commonalities with corruption in other cultures around the world, especially those based on systems of patronage.

Dr. Smith has worked in Nigeria since the late 1980s as a public health adviser with an NGO and as a research anthropologist. He has shown a solid commitment to service and public engagement in issues ranging from demography, disease (HIV/AIDS), international health, fertility, and violence to social organization, migration, ethnicity, social status, gender, religion, and human behavior and their articulation in culture.

The Award will be formally presented at the 69th Annual Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology in Santa Fe, New Mexico.