2017 Leeds Prize

The Society for Urban, National, and Transnational Anthropology (SUNTA) is pleased to award the 2017 Anthony Leeds Prize to Yukiko Koga for his book Inheritance of Loss: China, Japan and the Political Economy of Redemption after Empire (University of Chicago Press, 2016). Inheritance of Loss offers a complex meditation on how injuries sustained under colonialism may be incorporated into, and even gird, a present in which symbols, experiences, and even post-memories are contradictorily redeemed in market economies and related ethical spheres. Weaving together the personal and the public, the visible and the invisible, this painstakingly documented account of how different mobilizations of the rhetoric and concept of “inheritance” come to produce iconoclastic means of capturing value, and thus new forms of capital and associated forms of charting loss and progress in the face of enduring signs of past violence, breaks new ground in a variety of areas. These include anthropologists’ understandings of the interfaces between market and moral economies, between the past and the present, between UNESCO cultural heritage initiatives and ostensibly “local” urban reconstruction initiatives, and, especially, between colonizer and colonized as expressed in unruly or duplicitous harnessings of the signs of contested pasts. This painstakingly researched study of political economic and moralizing revitalization of colonial remainders at a neoliberal moment at which Japanese and Chinese citizens, municipalities, and nation-forms cobble together different genres of recovery is thus helpful to all those who seek to hold onto the injuries of colonial domination while paying attention to how people necessarily make do–and may even flourish–in that world of unequal, and often troubling, inheritances.

Without downplaying the violence of colonialism, the sophisticated approaches to refraction and mirroring developed in Inheritance of Loss, and thus to the images of selves and others such reflections grant differently-empowered actors, add significantly to the historical ethnography of empire and ongoing global inequalities. The book resituates recent debates over memory and post-memory, colonialism and postcolonialism, and the historical ethnography of markets and human agency in relation to tourism, expert commissions aimed at assessing historical responsibility, and a contemporary heritagescape in which landscape, identity, and history itself may be commodified and capitalized. And this analysis of the interplays of capitalist modernization programs and contested remainders from a time some actors seek to overcome by forgetting, but which others struggle to remember, illustrates in turn how the urban, the national, and the transnational are co-constituted through the reconstitution of memories that are both offered up by the past and overdetermined by the forms of mediation dominant in the present. Nonetheless, by resisting monosyllabic renderings of loss or a narrow story of market-based commodification and neat appropriation by one side or the other, the refiguring of trauma, its pain, and its productive possibilities put forth in Inheritance of Loss provoke readers to think ethnographically about the real nature of loss and its aftermath. In the process, it provokes readers to uncover the shape and status of responsibility in a modern world in which ultimate reparation has too often presented as some form of neatly bounded substitution or clemency. The result of such dexterous gymnastics is an account that takes risks, provokes new insights, and offers up creative models for future ethnographies grounded in affective and material transformations of the city, shifting imaginations of nation, and transnationally-negotiated senses of identity, loss, and future promise.

Past Leeds Award Winners