Professor David Zeitlyn wins Curl Essay Prize 2023

Professor David Zeitlyn has been award the Royal Anthropological Institute's Curl Essay Prize for his essay  The judges praised it as a "sophisticated and well-written essay on an important debate within anthropology".

A "sophisticated and well-written essay on an important debate within anthropology"

In the essay Zeitlyn uses the work of the historian of science Peter Galison to suggest that anthropology must use thin description as well as thick description. Thin accounts provide the scaffolding within which thick descriptions sit. Galison uses the idea of a 'trading zone' between different communities who despite their differences (possibly including different ontologies) manage to coordinate joint activity. This works well for anthropological accounts of many societies, not least the instance of silent trade in which exchange occurs without direct communication so there is literally no sharing of meanings!  Anthropology consists of mosaics of thick descriptions, held in thin structures, interacting as trading zones. Ideas from complexity theory, emergence and autopoiesis, can help avoid forms of positivistic reductionism. Finally Zeitlyn gives a summary account of change in Mambila traditional religion in terms of sparsity and a trading zone of influences.