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The Behrouz Boochani Award recognizes and celebrates exceptional work that contributes to public and critical understandings of Australian society in the spirit of the discipline of anthropology. It is an occasional award of the AAS and includes a prize of AU$1,000.

The award has its origin in one such extraordinary endeavour to witness, record and interpret social worlds that are suppressed and misunderstood in Australian public discourse: the award-winning book No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani, the Kurdish-Iranian sholar, writer, poet, journalist, filmmaker, cultural advocate, and Associate Professor at UNSW. In 2013, he fled Iran and became a political prisoner of the Australian Government incarcerated in the Manus Regional Processing Centre (Papua New Guinea). In November 2019 Behrouz escaped to New Zealand where he now resides. Dr Omid Tofighian, a philosophy scholar and community advocate based at the American University of Cairo and University of Sydney, played a critical role in the translation of No Friend But the Mountains; a collaboration that matured into "a shared philosophical activity" as described in his introduction to the book.

For an anthropological review of No Friend But the Mountains see Ethnography of a nightmare: Public anthropology, indefinite detention, and innovative writing by Dr Mahnaz Alimardanian, published in American Ethnologist.

Mr Behrouz Boochani, Award Recipient 2019

On 3 September 2019 the AAS announced the creation of this new award to be named after inaugural recipient, Behrouz Boochani. The Award was created in honour of Mr Boochani, in recognition of his remarkable contribution to public understandings of contemporary Australian life.



Boochani’s account of detention on Manus Island is a work of art, an ‘insider ethnography’, a phenomenological analysis and philosophical reflection that reveals the workings of Australian governance and bureaucracy in its most destructive mode. It is testimony to the lives of thousands of refugees who arrived on Australian shores seeking asylum from wars, violence and repression elsewhere and who have been incarcerated by our Australian government. Hundreds, including children, remain indefinitely detained, their lives and deaths managed by private companies charged with their control. Boochani has weaponised words in order to defend the humanity of these detainees. The AAS is proud to honour Behrouz Boochani by way of initiating an award in his name.

In presenting the award to Mr Behrouz Boochani, the AAS sought to emphasise the ways that No Friend But the Mountains delivers much needed social insight and analysis in the spirit of anthropology.

President of AAS, Associate Professor Jennifer Deger, said “Boochani has been an unwilling participant in a social system that is impossible to know from the outside.

“His insistent emphasis on what it takes to hold onto humanity in the face of systematised abuse, is both extraordinary and exemplary.

“Anthropology brings a sustained attention to questions of what it is to be human. It asks, under what circumstances do we become who we are? There is no sharper edge to who we are as nation than that shown by our treatment of those who come here seeking safety”, concluded Associate Professor Deger.

The Award, and $1000 prize money, was presented to Mr Boochani at the national AAS conference in Canberra in December, 2019. The Award will continue into the future, established in Mr Boochani’s name and in honour of his legacy.


An occasional award of the Australian Anthropological Society

Criteria for the award

  • Recipients can be working in and across a variety of fields within the arts, humanities, social sciences, Indigenous studies, education and health; they need not have formal training in, or any official affiliation with, anthropology.
  • Recipients can be nominated for a particular work, or a body of work, including fiction, non-fiction, film and other art forms.
  • The recipient’s work must have achieved significant public impact within Australia.
  • The work must be “in the spirit of anthropology” as elaborated in a statement by a primary nominating Fellow.

Nomination guidelines

Nominations must be submitted by a Fellow of the Society in the form of a formal statement of nomination that addresses the above criteria (no more than three pages). The submission must also include short supporting statements from an additional ten Fellows (50-100 words each).

Submissions must be at least three months prior to the annual AAS conference to be eligible for consideration for the current year.

The AAS Executive Committee will evaluate all nominations and determine an outcome. When a nomination is successful the award will be presented at the AAS annual conference.

Behrouz Boochani Award Nomination