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Jennifer Mack’s The Construction of Equality (2017) is an innovative foray into urban design, architecture, and anthropology, combining meticulous archival research of nation-state building and modernization in Sweden and rich ethnography of the daily life of Syriac immigrants living in Södertälje on the periphery of Stockholm. Mack illustrates how design aesthetics and urban planning principles, housing size and style imagine an ethnically homogeneous “equality” framed by Swedish “values.” These are in sharp contrast to the styles and communities of the assyrier and syrianer, enacted through cultural associations and football clubs, Syriac Orthodox and other Christian churches, theatre, and the architecture of the homes of those who have realized economic success and of those who have not. In a compelling and beautifully written account, Mack weaves together cultural intimacy, migrant enclaves, and city planning, and in doing so she demonstrates how ordinary acts and everyday life resignify space and belonging.
At a moment when ideals of multiculturalism and diversity are rapidly being replaced in Europe and elsewhere by nationalist policies, state techniques of exclusion, and border security, Mack’s monograph is timely. Her account of urban planning, its execution through the settling of Syrians within a Swedish city, and its materialization of debates over migration, belonging, and identity, would have made Margaret Mead proud.
The Margaret Mead Award is awarded jointly by the Society for Applied Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association.
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