Lochlann Jain recognized for Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us

Malignant book coverLOCHLANN JAIN, associate professor of anthropology, has been named the winner of the 2016 J. I. Staley Prize for the 2013 book, Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us, by the School for Advanced Research.

The annual $10,000 award honors authors of books that represent the best writing and scholarship in anthropology.

The book weaves Jain’s research with memoir and aims to start a new conversation about cancer as a cultural, not just medical, phenomenon.

In the award announcement, the prize committee praised Jain’s “vast amounts of cultural analysis across a range of material that includes history, oncology, law, economics and literature.”

“As an anthropologist and a patient, [Jain] exposes the complexity of cancer – its inscrutability, ubiquity and power to remake bodies and selves.”

Jain, a specialist in medical anthropology, was diagnosed with cancer at 36 after three misdiagnoses.

“I didn’t expect to write about cancer. I just thought I’d get this treatment over with and go back to my work,” Jain said in a 2013 interview. “But then I realized the whole experience was just so full of paradox that I couldn’t let it go. These paradoxes were tied to the structural issues of how American science and culture, so successful in so many arenas, deals with one of its largest failures.”

Lochlann Jain
Lochlann Jain

As part of the research, Jain spoke with survivors, examined lawsuits about toxic exposures and misdiagnosis, looked at oncology trials and talked to economists, policymakers, industry representatives and others.

Jain found that everyone truly does understand cancer differently – from the lawyer trying to prove a case against a company processing a known carcinogen to a scientist putting together the latest clinical trial. Their understandings, or misunderstandings, have major consequences for everyone trying to treat, cure and research cancer.

Jain, who has been a faculty member at Stanford since 2000, has previously authored Injury: The Politics of Product Design and Safety Law in the United States. Jain’s research is concerned with the ways in which stories get told about injuries and in exploring the political and social significance of these stories.

Jain’s book has won several other awards over the years, including the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ 2016 June Roth Book Award, the Society for Social Studies of Science’s 2015 Ludwik Fleck Prize, the Society for the History of Technology’s 2014 Edelstein Prize, the Society of Humanistic Anthropology’s 2014 Victor Turner Prize and the American Anthropological Association’s 2014 Diana Forsythe Prize.

Read more on the School for Advanced Research website.