New member of staff Dr Nayanika Mathur has won the Sharon Stephens Award for her book Paper Tiger

paper tiger by nayanika mathur

Congratulations to Nayanika Mathur, our new Associate Professor in the Anthropology of South Asia, who has won the Sharon Stephens Award from the American Ethnological Society (AES) for her first book, Paper Tiger: Law, Bureaucracy and the Developmental State in Himalayan India (Cambridge, 2015).

The prize citation states:

Paper Tiger uses the sensational story of a man-eating big cat on the run to tell a much more subtle story of the everyday life of law and bureaucracy on the Himalayan borderland. It reveals the complexity of bureaucratic practice as it unfolds in its most ordinary everyday embodiment—in the way government officials read and write letters, hold meetings, file, produce and circulate documents, reflect on their official postings, and the spaces officials occupy. The point of it all is to demonstrate the myriad ways in which the state presents itself through and by the laws it intends to implement. 

The committee was impressed with the detailed account of paper and its circulation, which works to reveal the unintended consequences of reforms, the problems with implementing new programs and the inability of state officials to act when faced with crises. The book was simply a joy to read: rich, lively, and theoretically compelling. Paper Tiger pushed us to rethink how the state operates in India and beyond.

The committee felt that a major strength of this book was that its theories can and (we believe) will be applied to a vast number of ethnographic contexts. Although it presents a unique explanation for what progressive laws can and cannot do in post-liberal India, the way Mathur theorizes the Indian state’s effort to render itself more transparent and accountable will be helpful to many anthropologists as they wrestle with the double-edged effects of reform in a variety of settings. 

In the way Paper Tiger shifts the frames of the debate on state failure and opens up a fresh, new understanding of the workings of the contemporary state governance, we deemed it innovative, theoretically astute, ethnographically rich—and thus an ideal fit for the Sharon Stephens Book Prize.