Peter Benson Wins 2013 Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff Memorial Prize

Peter BensonTobacco Capitalism: Growers, Migrant Workers, and the Changing Face of a Global Industry
Winner of the 2013 Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff Memorial Prize for the Critical Study of North America, Society for the Anthropology of North America / American Anthropological Association

The Jones and Sharff Memorial Prize is given for an outstanding single or multiple authored book (not edited collections) that deals with an important social issue within the discipline of anthropology; has broader implications for social change or justice; and is accessible beyond the discipline of anthropology.
For more information about the award, click here.

Tobacco CapitalismTobacco Capitalism tells the story of the people who live and work on U.S. tobacco farms at a time when the global tobacco industry is undergoing profound changes. Against the backdrop of the antitobacco movement, the globalization and industrialization of agriculture, and intense debates over immigration, Peter Benson draws on years of field research to examine the moral and financial struggles of growers, the difficult conditions that affect Mexican migrant workers, and the complex politics of citizenship and economic decline in communities dependent on this most harmful commodity.

Benson tracks the development of tobacco farming since the plantation slavery period and the formation of a powerful tobacco industry presence in North Carolina. In recent decades, tobacco companies that sent farms into crisis by aggressively switching to cheaper foreign leaf have coached growers to blame the state, public health, and aggrieved racial minorities for financial hardship and feelings of vilification. Economic globalization has exacerbated social and racial tensions in North Carolina, but the corporations that benefit have rarely been considered a key cause of harm and instability, and have now adopted social-responsibility platforms to elide liability for smoking disease. Parsing the nuances of history, power, and politics in rural America, Benson explores the cultural and ethical ambiguities of tobacco farming and offers concrete recommendations for the tobacco-control movement in the United States and worldwide.

Peter Benson is assistant professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the coauthor of Broccoli and Desire: Global Connections and Maya Struggles in Postwar Guatemala.