Anthropology Professor Wins Prestigious Award for Book

After more than 20 years of ethnographic research on women, entrepreneurship and marketplaces in Vietnam, Ann Marie Leshkowich, professor of anthropology and director of the Asian studies program, authored Essential Trade: Vietnamese Women in a Changing Marketplace (University of Hawai’i Press, 2014). This engaging examination of the lives and businesses of women market traders through four tumultuous decades was not only well-received, but awarded the prestigious 2016 Harry J. Benda Prize in Southeast Asian Studies by the Association for Asian Studies.

The Benda Prize is given annually to an outstanding scholar from any discipline or country specialization of Southeast Asian studies for a first book in the field.

“The book will certainly influence how anthropologists and historians write about everyday life, citizenship and social identities in Southeast Asia and beyond,” the Benda Prize citation reads.

Using ethnographic fieldwork, life history interviews and archival materials, Essential Trade explores how women cloth and clothing traders in Ho Chi Minh City’s famous Bến Thành market have sold their goods since the end of the war in 1975. It offers a person-centered view of how significant political and economic transformations—first to socialism, then to a market economy—have actually happened in daily life, Leshkowich explains.

Leshkowich became intrigued by the prominent role of women in markets during a study tour to Vietnam in 1988, a time of dramatic socioeconomic change in the country, while completing her undergraduate degree in history at Harvard University. This interest led Leshkowich to graduate studies in social and cultural anthropology, earning an M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard. Leshkowich joined the anthropology faculty at Holy Cross in 2000. Her research focuses on gender, economic transformation, neoliberalism, middle classness, fashion, social work and adoption in Vietnam. She has also co-edited two other books, as well as written numerous scholarly articles.

The major book award has been presented 32 times since 1977. “It is a tremendous honor to have my work recognized alongside that of path-breaking scholars whose ideas have profoundly shaped my own,” says Leshkowich.

The Benda Prize distinguishes Leshkowich as a leading anthropologist of Vietnam and scholar in Southeast Asian studies, shares Jennie Germann Molz, associate professor sociology and chair of the sociology and anthropology department.

“Our students and colleagues alike benefit enormously from the expertise Professor Leshkowich brings to her courses, to the department and to the College,” says Germann Molz. “This prestigious award reflects the high caliber of scholarship in our department, and we are delighted that her scholarship has garnered such a well-deserved honor.”  ■

—Evangelia Stefanakos ’14