Assistant Professor Sasha Newell’s 2012 book The Modernity Bluff: Crime, Consumption, and Citizenship in Côte d’Ivoire (University of Chicago Press) recently won The Amaury Talbot Prize for the most valuable work relating to African anthropology in 2012. The award comes from the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, which is “the world’s longest-established scholarly association dedicated to the furtherance of anthropology.” Newell discussed the content of the book in a December 2013 Faculty Interview with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Of the book he says:
“Many urban young Ivoirian men called themselves bluffeurs based on the word “to bluff.” This idea of a bluff fascinates me. In poker, a bluff is meant to produce something out of nothing by making people think you already have the cards to make it happen, and that is precisely what the bluffeurs do. They produce an illusion of success that persuades people to treat them with respect, even though they have almost nothing to their name: no job, no money, not even necessarily a stable place to live. At the same time, most people know they are bluffing, that this is ultimately a performance, and that is a real puzzle since in American culture we tend to scorn the poseur who pretends to be something they are not. But in Côte d’Ivoire the art of performing this mask of wealth is respected in its own right, in part because it indicates to their peers that they have the cultural capital to live like Americans or Europeans, if only they had the money. And then there is a kind of fantasy involved, of living temporarily in another magical kind of world. The friends of the bluffeur know that the bluffeur will be begging for money to get some food the next day but a successful act of bluffing transcends all of that and reaches for the space of the imagination, of the possible and it also produces doubt in the minds of those who don’t know you- maybe this is one of those people who has come back from Europe who really is rich now, a ‘parisien.'”
Congratulations on this prestigious award!