Sam Dubal Memorial Award for Anti-Colonialism and Racial Justice in Anthropology

This award honors the legacy of Sam Dubal, M.D., Ph.D., an anthropologist, activist, medical doctor, professor, and beloved contributor to many vibrant intellectual communities. Sam courageously centered the struggle against structural violence–including the everyday violences of colonialism and racism–in his thinking and in his scholarly research and writing. Modest, endowed with a lovely self-deprecating humor, and yet brilliant, radical, and brave, Sam left a legacy that is as much about his intellectual contributions as it is about his ethos towards life.

This international award honors an individual anthropologist (or multidisciplinary groups or organizations with at least one anthropologist) or projects that have demonstrated a deep commitment to anti-colonial and racial justice in any world region. Awardees should demonstrate outstanding accomplishments in identifying and fighting structural violence, or promoting anti-racist institutional change, and embody some of Sam’s attributes–his caring membership in academic and activist communities, and his unflinching commitment to social justice. Projects may take the form of scholarly work and/or activist projects, and can be ongoing at the time of award entry. However, no more than 5 years should have passed between the project conclusion and the award entry receipt. The award is open to people at all career stages, although preference will be given to scholars and practitioners in the early stages of their careers. This is not a career or lifetime achievement award; rather, it recognizes the value of applying anthropology to specific problems and projects.

The Award is open to any AAA members. The award recipients are selected by a panel of AAA Awards Committee members.

This award is made possible by a gift from The Dubal Family.

The Submission Guidelines and Eligibility for this award

  • The nominee(s) must be a current AAA member at the time the application is submitted.
  • The nominee(s) may be an individual, a project team member, or an organizational member/staff engaged in a project of anthropological significance (if a project team, only one team member needs to be an AAA member).
  • Award recipients’ work should demonstrate its significance for anticolonial projects and for racial justice.
  • Projects may include both academic as well as non-academic projects.

Nomination packet requirements:

  • A brief 2-part nomination essay (written by either the nominator or nominee) summarizing the nominee’s (or small group’s) work and how it contributes to theorizing structural violence and leads to anticolonial activism for racial justice.
    • Part 1: An overview (up to 500 words) of the anthropological project, the research objectives or main questions under investigation, and a description of how the work promotes anti-colonial and anti-racist activism.
    • Part 2: A brief description (up to 500 words) that details how the nominee or project team exhibits a commitment to social justice.
  • Two letters of support (up to 750 words per letter) that contextualize the nominee’s accomplishments and demonstrate the nominee’s qualifications. In the case of activist work, at least one letter should be from stakeholders, community groups connected to the social justice work of the individual(s) being nominated.

All entries and inquiries should be directed to Meagan Shirley. Awardees will be announced at the Annual AAA meetings. Recipients will be recognized on the AAA website and in the Annual Report. They will receive an award plaque, a cash prize in the amount of $1,000 and partial support for travel and lodging at the AAA Annual Meeting.

About Sam Dubal

While still a PhD student in the Medical Anthropology program at UC-Berkeley/ UC-San Francisco and medical student at Harvard University, Sam mobilized against one of the first “viral” social media campaigns: the “Kony 2012” call for the violent suppression of the Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony, for the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Sam insisted on understanding and respecting the LRA soldier’s radical differences, noting that they were a group of people whose humanity had been questioned and denied. He believed that to understand their epistemologies and their military actions, one must refuse to be bound to Western philosophy and morality, a critique that led to equal criticism of the NGOs and activists calling for a violent response to the LRA in the name of humanitarian values. This was an important early step in what became Sam’s sustained critique of humanitarian interventions and scholarship, particularly in and about African war zones–work that culminated in his path-breaking dissertation and book entitled Against Humanity: Lessons from the Lord’s Resistance Army.

In Against Humanity, Sam took a radical position into anthropology and medicine at a time when this was neither politically nor professionally advantageous for him to do so. In the process of researching and writing the book, Sam became a central pioneer in the creation of the field of Radical Medicine. He believed that to be of use, one must remain vigilant as a critical thinker and willing to engage diagonally with conventional forms of care. Morality is not affixed to one kind of action, he argued; even the most well-intentioned humanitarian and medical efforts can lead to violence when deployed without a deep understanding of the contexts in which they are enacted. Against Humanity illustrates his radical medical approach, as do his other publications and his burgeoning explorations of the world of sports—activities he was inspired toward by his own love of adventure, the out-of-doors, sport, and gardening.

In 2020, Sam Dubal went missing during a weekend hike on Mount Rainier, in Washington State, where he had just moved to take up his position as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Washington, Seattle. He left a large community of bereaved family, friends, scholars, and activists who deeply admire and revere him.


Submission Deadline: March 15, 2024

Questions and concerns should be directed to Meagan Shirley.

Previous Recipients

Read about past award recipients.