Eric Wolf Student Prize for the Best Essay in the Anthropology of Work

The award is $250 and publication in the SAW Anthropology of Work Review.Essays should be no more than 30 pages and of publication-ready quality.The deadline is May 30, 2004.Interested persons should address their concerns and/or forward a copy of their paper entry to Professor David Griffith, Institute for Coastal and Marine Resources, Mamie Jenkins Building #3, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858.Email:

The first Wolf Prize recipient was Ariana Hernandez-Reguant for her paper "Artistic Labor and Contractual Citizenship in the Cuban Culture Industries," Anthropology of Work Review XXIII(1-2):3-7.


Domestic Violence and the Police in Kazakhstan: Working for Change


  Between 1999 and 2003, together with Dmitriy Vyortkin (Florida State U) and Evelyn Zellerer (San Diego State U), I served as a co-director of a development project funded by the U.S. State Departmentís Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). The aim of this project was to train police in Kazakhstan to combat domestic violence and to link them with new non-governmental organizations (NGOs), groups that did not exist prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a cultural anthropologist specializing in post-socialist societies, I found the challenge of creating an effective training program was best solved by directly involving local stakeholders. Rather than simply shipping in U.S. police officers to train, the INL project resulted in a curriculum crafted together by U.S. police and activists and their Kazakhstani counterparts. Pilot training was performed by all of these groups, then followed by gradually more prominent roles for Kazakhstani partners in both law enforcement and the womenís movement.

Domestic violence is difficult to solve, regardless of the culture, society, or political system one is situated in. In Kazakhstan, a routine response is a fine, which often penalizes the entire family rather than holding a perpetrator accountable. Many police officers fail to intervene altogether. One reason for this lack of intervention according to police is a reluctance to pry into private family spaces when no explicit crime is evident. Similar to the U.S. experience some 20 years ago, police hold to ideas within the profession that domestic abuse is not a convictable crime, does not result in serious danger to victims, and that they do not possess nor have access to tools that can help solve the problem.

The INL project took local perspectives, customs and the existing criminal code as a starting point to change these attitudes. Police officers discovered that, in a society where state services are strapped for resources, NGOs can directly assist victims and families, supplementing the demands of their own jobs. With the help of womenís organizations, police have also begun to question their own role within the legal system, recognizing that they face limitations when it comes to the law, but that they may also serve as purveyors of new gender ideologies that can change cultural stereotypes. As a result they have begun to lobby (if quietly, and conservatively) law makers and judiciary to make changes to the existing system.

Surprisingly, in addition to helping reshape the law enforcement mission, womenís NGOs have also been changed by their experience working with police. Activists have come away from training with a better understanding of the challenges that police face, not only from victims and abusers but from their own professional institution of the Ministry of the Interior. The transition from socialism in Kazakhstan has been accompanied in some areas by a resurgence of traditional views on gender, power and authority. One vestige of state socialism counter balancing this backlash may be the centralized structure of the police force, which could help to expand the outcomes of training to other regions of the country. Reforms within the police can (at least in theory) be implemented at all levels of law enforcement. Training projects such as that funded by INL may be an important resource for a Soviet-style profession that is seeking to change its operations and relationships with an emerging civil society. So far, the domestic violence project has met with success. Police officers who participated in the first rounds of training are now instructing their colleagues at local precincts. Law enforcement has come to realize that in the transition period they are not alone in their mandate to serve communities and can partner with civic leaders to promote awareness about violence against women, at the same time increasing their scope and effectiveness as servants of the law.†††


[Edward Snajdr <> is assistant professor of anthropology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY.]