Heonik Kwon Receives Clifford Geertz Prize
For his book 'Commemoration and Consolation in Ha My and My Lai'
Announcement made by Michael Lambek of Toronto University during the award-giving ceremony at the Association of American Anthropologists meeting and on behalf of the Geertz Prize Committee.
Heonik Kwon conducted ethnography in communities that were the victims of terrible massacres in 1968, during what Vietnamese refer to as the American War. This moving, fascinating, and highly original book is about the work of grieving, recuperation, mourning, atonement, and consolation that continues to take place as bodies are recovered and reburied and as spirits of the dead are brought in from the cold and resettled. The troops who carried out one of the massacres were South Koreans, the country from which Heonik comes, so that his study could also be seen in some small part as a work of consolation and perhaps even atonement on the part of the ethnographer. It is also thereby an important take on the Cold War that, viewed from this perspective, was actually extremely hot. Kwon analyses both the national rituals, in the form of commemoration of war heroes, and the domestic rituals or the work of the everyday that refuses to take sides or discriminate between heroes and villains but seeks consolation for all the deceased, regardless of national origins or attributed past actions. These domestic rituals recognize the great ambiguity the war forced on ordinary people. After the Massacre is a study of moral practice in which the dead are called upon as ancestors or call on people as ghosts and it evokes the creative labour entailed in the rebuilding of a moral world. This book combines vivid historical narrative and rich ethnography in a manner always attuned to theory but without being overwhelmed by it. It is a compelling and sensitive book, outstanding in its theoretical, ethnographic and literary qualities.