David Hakken Graduate Student Paper Prize

Since 2015, the Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing (CASTAC) has awarded a graduate student paper prize in recognition of excellent work by rising scholars. In 2016 the prize was renamed in honor of the memory of David Hakken, for his pioneering work at the intersection of ethnography and cyberspace.

The prize is awarded to a paper that exemplifies innovative research at the intersection of anthropology and science and technology studies, demonstrating theoretical sophistication and an appreciation of the methodological challenges facing the anthropology of science and technology.

The winner of the prize will be recognized during the AAA meetings and is sponsored by the AAA’s General Anthropology Division. They will also receive written feedback from the Prize Committee’s review of their paper.

2024 Submission Guidelines

  • Papers should be blinded, with the author’s name and any implicating citations removed.
  • Papers should have numbered pages.
  • Papers must be between 7,000 and 8,000 words, not including references.
  • Papers must be unpublished and not yet submitted for publication.
  • Papers must follow the guidelines for human subjects protocols as outlined by the American Anthropological Association and the author’s institution.
  • Submissions must be written during graduate school by current graduate students or recent graduates (no earlier than Spring 2023).

The committee will be unable to consider any paper that does not follow these guidelines.

Submissions must be received using the online submission form by June 15, 2024 at midnight (Central US time) to be considered for this year’s prize. Any questions can be directed to CASTAC Co-Chair Svetlana Borodina at co-chairs@castac.org. The award will be presented at the CASTAC business meeting (date and time to be determined).

For more information about CASTAC, please browse our website. CASTAC also awards the Forsythe Prize, for the best book or series of published articles in the spirit of Diana Forsythe’s feminist anthropological research on work, science, or technology, including biomedicine. For more information on the Forsythe Prize, see the Forsythe Prize page.

2023 Prize Winners

Matthew Raj Webb for “Compositing the Body: Ethics of Mediation Among Professional Photographic Retouchers”

This compelling and well-written paper examines how professional photo retouchers, despite common public ideas that refraining from photo manipulation is a positive ethical imperative, instead see expertly engineered and thoughtfully engaged retouching practices as generating a more ethical and inclusive media world. Drawing on ethnographic research with professional photo retouchers in New York City, the paper deftly illuminates how retouchers work to produce “natural” looks. In doing so, these interlocutors and the author critically reveal “natural” as not a naively conceived lack of mediation, but a socially conventionalized genre of style with its own political commitments and ethical evaluations. Arguing how retouchers thus create “composite” images and ideas of bodies, the paper creatively interweaves anthropological and media studies to challenge lay and scholarly assumptions alike about how the “natural” is produced and valued when it comes to bodies. The prize committee especially appreciated the author’s detailed descriptions and nuanced analyses of their interlocutors’ retouching processes: they write ethnographic examples in a way that clearly illustrates their argument and drops the reader into the world of professional photo retouching as if we, too, were looking over photo retouchers’ shoulders. Their subsequent analysis clearly reveals their nuanced arguments, revealing how retouchers’ compositing work proves more than meets the eye.

Spencer Kaplan (Hon. Mention) for “Facing Blockchain’s Double Bind: Trustless Technologies and “IRL Friends” in Berlin’s NFT Community”

Through vivid ethnography and layered argumentation, this paper examines what the author calls the “double bind of blockchain”: that in order to build technologies that allegedly remove the need for interpersonal trust, deep relations of trust are needed to create and maintain the conditions of possibility for these technologies. The paper interweaves clear description of the technologies and philosophies undergirding NFTs and blockchain with ethnographic analysis of the Berlin NFT enthusiasts, artists, and community builders. It does so while drawing on anthropological discussions around trust to argue how this double bind is nonetheless more productive than contradictory for blockchain actors so invested in a so-called “trustless” technology and its futures. Namely, this dilemma enables them to hold onto the futures they desire despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges they face pursuing it. The prize committee found the argumentation careful and thought-provoking and appreciated the discussion of the challenges of in-person and virtual field methods. As the author’s interlocutors grapple with the dilemmas of trustless technologies that for the most part do not yet exist, the paper successfully considers the predicaments of a popular if still emergent topic.

Previous Prize Winners


Katie Ulrich for “Redesigning the Substance of Growth: Sugarcane, Biotech, and Sustainable Futures in São Paulo, Brazil”

Adam Fleischmann (Hon. Mention) for “Telecommuting and Remote (Field)work: A Reluctant Neologism for a Time of Climate Change”


Rae Jezera for “I’m not this Person”: Racism, Content Moderators and Protecting and Denying Voice Online

Caroline White-Nockleby (Hon. Mention) for “A resource in and of itself” Grid-scale batteries and the politics of storage


Liliana Gil for “A Fablab in the Periphery: Decentering Innovation from São Paulo”

Jia-Hui Lee (Hon. Mention) for “Rodent Trapping and the Imagination of the Just Possible in Tanzania”


Alexandra Middleton for “The Datafication of Pain: Trials and Tribulations in Measuring Phantom Limb Pain.”

Stephen Paff (Hon. Mention) for “Anthropology by Data Science: The EPIC Project with Indicia Consulting as an Exploratory Case Study.”


Timothy McLellan for “Comparing Theories of Change: The Temporal Transformation of Scientific Practice.”

Laura Meek (Hon. Mention) for “The Grammar of Leprosy: Temporal Politics and an Impossible Subject.”


Nicole Welk-Joerger for “Achieving Eden in the Amish Anthropocene”

Héctor Beltran (Hon. Mention) for “Staging the Hackathon”


Kellie Owens for “Too Much of A Good Thing?: American Childbirth, Intentional Ignorance, and the Boundaries of Responsible Knowledge.”

Shreeharsh Kelkar (Hon. Mention) for “Platformizing Pedagogy: MOOC Infrastructures and the Transformation of Roles.”


Risa Cromer for “Saved: Stem Cell Science, Christian Adoption, and Frozen Embryo Politics in the United States.”

Beth Reddy (Hon. Mention) “Misfires and Missed Opportunities: Personal and Population-Oriented Technologies Interface to Disseminate Mexico’s Earthquake Early Warning System Alerts.”