A paper that examined the concept of structural violence on migrant labor conditions earned an Eastern anthropology student researcher the top prize in a prestigious academic publications competition.
Lark Cummings, an EWU undergraduate who is pursuing degrees in both geography and anthropology, beat out 11 other finalists to win the Northwest Anthropological Association (NWAC) undergraduate student paper competition. He received a cash award of $450.
Cummings’ paper, which will be published in a special issue of the journal, titled 2022 Northwest Anthropological Society Proceedings, argues that migrant workers, particularly those without immigration documentation, are routinely subjected to forms of violence that go unrecognized by a society that benefits from their exploitation.
“There’s a set of violent practices out there that are used to siphon people into this really highly exploitable workforce, particularly into agriculture,” says Cummings.
Cummings, who grew up in Washington’s farm country, says his analysis of migrant workers and social justice arose from what he saw as a link between unsustainable, environmentally unsound agricultural practices and systemic violence against immigrants.
“That’s what pulled me in,” says Cummings. “This is important; this is something that matters.”
Cummings’ paper argues that the structure of violence includes the physically-taxing, often chronic-illness-inducing working conditions common to farm labor itself. He also points to the stress and anxiety of potential arrest and deportation, and instances of “old school American racism,” as common forms of structural aggression suffered by workers.
Recent border-enforcement actions pushing undocumented migrant farm workers toward the most dangerous parts of the southern frontier, Cummings says, are an additional form of violence; i.e., an institutionalized method of intimidation that instills fear of repeated crossings and quells workers’ willingness to advocate for better conditions on this side of the border.
Cummings entered his winning paper, Violence, Structure, and Agency in Labor Market Segmentation Among Mexican Migrant Farmworkers, at the 2022 Northwest Anthropological Conference, which included faculty and student researchers from Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Alaska, and British Columbia.
Cummings’ achievement comes amid a time of increasing awareness of the brutal conditions and health consequences that many migrant farmworkers experience while serving in this vital food production role. Eastern’s College Assistance Migrant Program planned several weeks of activities in support of National Farmworker Awareness Week, which was March 25-31. C.A.M.P.’s efforts included a drive to raise long-sleeve shirts to protect farmworkers from pesticide and sun exposure, and a display at JFK that ran through April 12.