Middlebury

Carolyn Barnwell receives American Anthropological Association's National Association of Student Anthropologists Award

January 11, 2007

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - Middlebury College senior Carolyn Barnwell has received a 2006 Carrie Hunter-Tate Award from the National Association of Student Anthropologists (NASA), which is the student component of the American Anthropological Association. This year, three students - two undergraduates and one graduate student - received the $200 Tate Award.

Carolyn harvests organic rice in Thailand.

Barnwell, who will graduate from Middlebury in March 2007, received the award for her outstanding approach to anthropology research, including her research on organic rice communities in Thailand and their relationship to the Fair Trade economic model as well as the dissemination of her findings through her published writings and documentary video, "Grains of Change." The awards were presented during the American Anthropological Association's annual meeting in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 17.

Barnwell is pursuing a joint major in human ecology in sociology and anthropology and environmental studies.
"Carolyn's application was of high quality with a clear commitment to public service and outstanding academic performance," said Ryan Thomas Adams, chair of NASA's Carrie Hunter-Tate Award Committee. "Her nomination materials quite honestly were, for an undergraduate, astounding. Her academic accomplishments were matched by her obvious dedication to service and the application of her work to the concerns of those with whom she labored in the field."

Carolyn and members of one of her host families prepare to harvest their rice fields in Ban Thab Tai.

Barnwell's thesis advisor Middlebury College Assistant Professor of Anthropology Professor Michael Sheridan said, "In the years since I first met Carolyn in 2003, she's done impressive work."  Sheridan, who nominated her for the Tate award, added, "Carolyn's perspective is not the standard 'rice-to-how-many-kilos' farm systems approach. She is writing about how the organic movement is perceived subjectively by Thai farmers, which is an important, innovative position. Carolyn's work exemplifies an anthropology that is not just about people, but specifically for people," he said.

Barnwell won an award from Freeman Awards for Study in Asia, which is administered by the Institute of International Education with support by the Freeman Foundation to increase the number of American undergraduates who study in East and Southeast Asia. Using the award, she studied in Thailand during the 2005 fall semester with the Council on International Educational Exchange. Barnwell entered a program on social and political contexts of globalization and development, cultural immersion and the Thai language. Throughout the semester, she conducted dozens of interviews to discover the economic and environmental challenges most relevant to the rice farmers, and during her final month, she did independent ethnographic field work on an organic rice cooperative.

"My goal was to learn, by establishing rapport and building trust through involvement and an effort to understand local customs, how self-sufficient the farmers were and how they used the money from the Fair Trade economic model to make social and environmental improvements at the community level."  While in Thailand, Barnwell lived with a number of farming host families. "Harvesting in the fields with them, I gained a much greater appreciation for village life and the challenges of research across language barriers," she said.

Before returning to the United States, Barnwell accepted the multifaceted job of editor-in-chief, photographer and writer for Common Ground, a magazine published by the students in a program in Thailand organized by the Council on International Educational Exchange, a nongovernmental organization. Her work has also been published in the Fall 2006 issue of Glimpse, an international news, travel and culture magazine that features themes tackling international issues that delve into daily cultural realities. She will also write a column for the upcoming Feb. 15 issue of Anthropology News, in which she will discuss the themes of applied anthropology, and how even successful, socially and environmentally responsible development projects are subject to the destructive prospects of climate change.

"The single largest challenge we face is how we protect each other and the environment from the harmful effects of climate change, which means, essentially, offering protection from ourselves," she said. "Confronting these issues has been a process of grappling with hopelessness and guilt as well as motivation and empowerment. My experiences have shaped my path toward career aspirations as a scholar-activist or policy maker focused on human rights and environmental justice."

Barnwell also filmed and produced a video titled "Grains of Change," a short documentary on Thai agricultural communities producing organic rice for the Fair Trade market. According to Barnwell, her video brings to audiences important issues of livelihood and the disconnected relationship between producers and consumers. "Grains of Change" premiered before an audience of 300 people at the International Fair Trade Convergence at the University of Denver in February 2006. It was also shown at the World Fair Trade Day festival in San Francisco last May and at a number of other schools, foundations and symposiums across the nation. Barnwell's video can be viewed on the Web site of the Educational Network for Global and Grassroots Exchange (ENGAGE), a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization which also produced and distributed the film in DVD format: http://www.engagetheworld.org/. Alter Eco Fair Trade, a California corporation that promotes awareness of fair trade amongst organic rice consumers in the northern hemisphere, showed "Grains of Change" at a Fair Trade Festival in San Francisco in May 2006. Barnwell plans to take her video to the Fair Trade Convergence in Boston next month as well.

Barnwell is now in the midst of writing her senior thesis at Middlebury. "My thesis explores how communities practicing organic agriculture are achieving independence from the corporate, chemical-driven agricultural cycle and are utilizing social capital at a community level to recreate healthy, local agricultural communities under the auspices of expanding  international markets," said Barnwell, who hopes to continue her studies in the future at graduate school.

"At Middlebury, I developed an appreciation for the human ecology approach to considering global issues, a paradigm that centers on how humans interact with their natural or created environments," she said. "Consequently, I now look at the natural world not as numerous individual organisms but as an interconnected web of relationships. I've become interested in the intersections between environmental problems and human rights."