The 2012 Leeds Prize is awarded to Danny Hoffman for his book The War Machines: Young Men and Violence in Sierra Leone and Liberia (Duke University Press 2011). Dr. Hoffman is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Seattle, Washington.
This gripping and upsetting, but beautifully produced, photo-ethnographic analysis of the young men fighting the Mano River War in Sierra Leone and Liberia forces us to confront an urgent chronic tragedy in a troubled moment of history. It renders more visible the desperate vulnerability of violent, young fighters who need to be better understood as fuller humans caught up in global logics of capital accumulation and unsuccessful local survival strategies. Conducted at the height of the on-again-off-again, all-too-bloody regional wars, it is a rare accomplishment of extraordinarily difficult and dangerous fieldwork. Originally trained as a documentary photographer, the author weaves often beautiful even if sometimes disturbing photographs into his anthropological analysis and his clearly explicated theoretical text and vividly written narrative. He works with a complex theoretical concept (Deleuze and Guattari’s “War Machine”) that the reader does not necessarily have to fully agree with to find interesting and provocative.
Hoffman demonstrates the tragic productivity of even the most ostensibly incomprehensible warfare and brutality, and most importantly, he traces the global connections. His sensitive ethnographic account of the expectations of the young fighters reveals how specific urban populations–glossed in the globalized media as violent black male pathological bodies–are detached and freed-up for dangerous, hard and violent labor regimes that work against both their own possibilities of reproduction as well as that of their societies. Of particular interest to the Leeds Award is his argument that these West African wars–often located in the rainforest–need to be understood as urban wars generated by predatory global regimes of extractive capital accumulation exacerbated by the intervention of international agencies and the devastating imaginaries of global media. We congratulate Danny for engaging in such challenging fieldwork and for bearing bad news with humane dignity and for courageously confronting a difficult, violent topic that implicates the globe.
(Leeds Committee Citation)