Benda Prize

Harry J. Benda Prize

The Harry J. Benda Prize of the AAS is given annually to an outstanding newer scholar from any discipline or country specialization of Southeast Asian studies for a first book in the field. The award, which honors one of the pioneers in the field of Southeast Asian studies, has been presented since 1977.


$1,000 to the author.

Guidelines for Submission

  • Original, scholarly, nonfiction works in English with a copyright date of 2021 or 2022 are eligible for the 2024 prize.
  • Reference works, exhibition catalogs, translations, textbooks, essay collections, poetry, fiction, travel books, memoirs, or autobiographies are not eligible.
  • Publishers must complete the book nomination form. Each press may nominate a maximum of six books for the Benda Prize.
  • Only publishers may nominate books.
  • Upon receipt of a completed nomination form, publishers will be provided with addresses for prize committee members. A copy of each entry, clearly labeled “Benda Prize,” must be sent to each member of the committee.


The nomination deadline has passed. Award recipients will be announced in early 2024.

Benda Prize Committee

Christina Schwenkel (Chair)
University of California, Riverside

Taomo Zhou
Nanyang Technological University

Alice Beban
Massey University

2023 Awards

Winner and Citation

Alice Beban, Unwritten Rule: State-Making through Land Reform in Cambodia (Cornell University Press)

Alice Beban’s Unwritten Rule: State-Making through Land Reform in Cambodia is a first-rate study of the politics of land redistribution. Challenging the idea that land reform strengthens land tenure, Unwritten Rule shows that instead it entangles citizens in patron-client relations, creates anxiety, and actually undermines title to land. Citizens in Cambodia must contend with a state that, Beban argues, is not so much lacking in state capacity but actively making things illegible through obfuscation, secrecy, and unwritten rules. Through multiple methods, including in-depth ethnography, survey research, as well as comparative analysis within Cambodia, Unwritten Rule provides a sharp, unique, and counterintuitive perspective on land reforms in an autocratic regime. This is a superb book from which political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, and historians can all gain deep and grounded insights.

Honorable Mention

Past Awards

Harry J. Benda Prize

The Harry J. Benda Prize originated in 1977 as a biennial award to a young scholar in recognition of the promise shown in their entire body of work. From 1991 onward, the Benda Prize has been given annually as a book award.

1977 Sartono Kartodirdjo

1979 Lim Teck Ghee

1981 Huynh Sanj Thong

1983 Renato Rosaldo

1985 Reynaldo C. Ileto

1987 Victor B. Lieberman

1989 Chandra Muzzafar

1991 Ward Keeler, Javanese Shadow Plays, Javanese Selves

1992 Ann Laura Stoler, Capitalism and Confrontation in Sumatra’s Plantation Belt, 1870-1979

1993 Not awarded

1994 Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen: Marginality in an Out-of-the-Way Place

1995 Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation

1996 Janet Hoskins, The Play of Time: Kodi Perspectives on Calendars, History, and Exchange

1997 Nancy Florida, Writing the Past, Inscribing the Future: History as Prophecy in Colonial Java

1998 Kenneth George, Showing Signs of Violence

1999 Laurie Sears, Shadows of Empire: Colonial Discourse and Javanese Tales

2000 Suzanne April Brenner, The Domestication of Desire: Women, Wealth, and Modernity in Java

2001 Annella Cannell, Power and Intimacy in the Christian Philippines

2002 Mark Bradley, Imagining Vietnam and America

2003 Peter Zinoman, The Colonial Bastille: A History of Imprisonment in Vietnam, 1862-1940

2004 William Cummings, Making Blood White: Historical Transformations in Early Modern Makassar

2005 Andrew Hardy, Red Hills: Migrants and the State in the Highlands of Vietnam

2006 Mary Callahan, Making Enemies: War and State Building in Burma

2007 Eric Tagliacozzo, Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States along the Southeast Asian Frontier, 1865-1915

2008 Matthew Cohen, The Komedie Stamboel: Popular Theatre in Colonial Indonesia, 1891-1903

2009 Penny Edwards, Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation, 1860-1945

2010 Justin Thomas McDaniel, Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words: Histories of Buddhist Monastic Education in Laos and Thailand

2011 Jeffrey Hadler, Muslims and Matriarchs: Cultural Resilience in Indonesia through Jihad and Colonialism

2012 Karen Strassler, Refracted Visions: Popular Photography and National Modernity in Java

2013 Ronit Ricci, Islam Translated: Literature, Conversation and the Arabic Cosmopolis of South and Southeast Asia

2014 Erik Harms, Saigon’s Edge: On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City

2015 Charles Keith, Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation

2016 Ann Marie Leshkowich, Essential Trade: Vietnamese Women in a Changing Marketplace

2017 Kimberly Kay Hoang, Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work

2018 Rachel Leow, Taming Babel: Language in the Making of Malaysia

2019 Doreen Lee, Activist Archives: Youth Culture and the Political Past in Indonesia

2020 Sumit Mandal, Becoming Arab: Creole Histories and Modern Identity in the Malay World

2021 Christian C. Lentz, Contested Territory: Điện Biên Phủ and the Making of Northwest Vietnam

2022 Teren Sevea, Miracles and Material Life: Rice, Ore, Traps and Guns in Islamic Malaya