Monday morning I conversed with staff at the AAA about the procedures for organizing an interest group. They were very helpful and it seems that getting our new organization off the ground will be fairly easy. Basically we need to produce a short statement that justifies our existence and demonstrates that we are sufficiently different than any current AAA group. If we can turn that letter in by the end of March the bureaucracy should spit it out after the executive board meets in May, meaning if we take steps now then we could “officially” exist by the end of the semester.
In last week’s post I asked readers to make a wish list of what they wanted such a “Digital Anthropology” group to do. Today I’d like to consider whether, given what we can realistically hope to accomplish, we still want to put our proposed group under the aegis of the AAA. I will start by laying out some of the pros and cons of being AAA affiliated.
Please refer to the Association’s protocols for establishing a new interest group. Notice that the AAA provides the option of self-organization as an interest group so that members may have a “vehicle for coming together.” Since it is the case that the web provides so many other platforms for pursuing our goals and shared interests, we don’t really need the AAA to help us make our group. There are plenty of other vehicles out there.
Most importantly calling ourselves a AAA interest group limits our potential membership and circumscribes our activities (see the AAA by-laws). One reader described this as “parochial” direction for us to take and that’s an apt turn of phrase. By forming within the AAA we will be, by definition, exclusive. Broke grad students and the un/underemployed, people outside the US, non-cultural professionals who belong to other associations may all be left out if they are not already AAA members. However, I would suggest that this limitation is not as consequential as it seems, more below.
There are still some good reasons why we should accept these limitations and proceed to organize within the AAA. Many of us are dissatisfied with the current state of our professional organization. On this very blog there have been calls to boycott and abandon the Association for what we perceive as its bad behavior. We want a different publication regime that includes Open Access principles and more recognition paid towards legitimating online activities for hiring, promotion, and tenure; we want everyone from the rank-and-file to Big Name Professors to join us in using net platforms for teaching, research, and communication.
These changes are not going to happen on their own. The AAA is not going to see the light unless WE flip the switch. Instead of giving up on our admittedly stodgy professional association, I am suggesting that we get inside the damn thing and take it over.
If the primary focus of this interest group lies outside the AAA then we shouldn’t organize under the AAA in the first place. If everyone is envisioning a collective that joins forces with international, cross-disciplinary organizations embracing all the net has to offer in linking everything and everyone in a new and truly global anthropology… fine. But then we’re talking about a whole other ball of wax. In that case the AAA would be a burden and we should just bypass it entirely.
If people want a AAA interest group then we’re going to have to be much more circumspect in what we actually do. As a AAA interest group our energies must be directed towards (1) fomenting change within the AAA, to bring it kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, and (2) serving the AAA membership, so that those of us who are wired can share our expertise and that others might be educated on why the issues that matter to us are important.
Is this parochial? Indubitably. Is this going to change the world? No, its only going to change our small part of it. But you gotta start somewhere, right?
I was and still am in awe of all the great ideas people floated in last week’s column. And being ambitious is great, in fact its encouraged. Our proposed AAA interest group does not have to curtail our dreams of
global domination a truly transnational anthropology. Remember, we can always get together and talk about Anthropology 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever ’till our faces turn blue. An interest group does not preclude continued discussion and debate, nor does it limit who we can converse with. We can talk about anything, but what we do, the actions we take as a collective, are going to be rather narrow.
Ultimate and proximate goals.
Alright people, let’s all be realists now. Everyone has 101 things to do in their professional lives not counting all our personal obligations. Grad students gotta write, adjuncts gotta teach, junior faculty gotta make tenure. How much time are we really going to put into this thing? And given that our time is so precious, what are the most effective actions we can take?
If you’ve accepted my premise that the interest group needs to be “parochial” in its aims, then the ultimate goal is fomenting change within the AAA. Politically speaking, in order to accomplish that there are some steps we’re going to need to take in order to raise our profile and burnish our prestige so that the “powers that be” cannot ignore us. These comprise our proximate goals and, basically, they consist of serving the AAA membership.
Using the AAA annual meeting we can host panels, workshops, and roundtables that focus on how net platforms are challenging the way anthropology is taught, the way research is done, and how anthropologists communicate with each other, the public, and our subject communities. Technophobes can learn to tweet. Why blogging is awesome will be explained. The advantages of shared data can be considered. OA principles will be defended. Why do this in meatspace? Because our intended audience is not the choir, but the unconverted.
What about the anthropology of cyberworlds? I’m glad you asked. The people who study social networks and digital worlds can help shape our pedagogy and communication strategies. These are folks who have considered the consequences of the net for anthropology in depth and can help us develop best practices to disseminate to the membership at large. The number of people interested in, say, gender diversity in WoW is small, the number of people who can benefit from understanding what implications MMORP’s have on research methodology or making class assignments is, potentially, everyone and inclusive of non-cultural anthropologists. We want to harness the latter.
Using a website and blog we can archive everything we do, sharing our activities and insights with non-members. Annual meeting events (with the exception of the inevitable pub crawl) can be shared and white papers circulated to everyone who cares to point their browser at us. We’ll be one of the more public faces of the AAA and we can talk to whomever we want about everything under the sun. Will it matter that some people won’t be able to “join” us? Well, the fact that I am not able to “join” the faculty in your department does not mean we cannot collaborate. The same will be true here. You don’t have to be a member to see a website or leave a comment.
Once a year the Section Assembly meets and the Digital Anthropology Group (let’s call it DANG for fun) must file a memo accounting for everything we’ve done in the past year. The section chairs will see our report and say, “Wow, these DANG anthropologists are really useful to have around. Look at how they’re building connections across subfields.” This makes us look good in front of the Executive Board.
Later, once we’ve shown ourselves to be worth two shakes and we want to submit a resolution before the Board about recognizing online work or preserving OA principles the Board will say, “Oh yeah. I know these guys. They know what they’re talking about.” And board member Dick will say, “I picked up a great class assignment idea at their workshop.” And board member Jane will say, “I found out about this great journal HAU through their website.” That’s how you get people to listen to what you have to say and bring them into your sphere of influence, by gift giving, here the gift of our expertise.
As we serve more AAA members our organization will grow, especially if we remain as an dues free interest group. At the same time we’re helping people, we’re creating a political constituency of voters who are educated on the issues that matter to us. If we get big enough we might be able to recruit a viable candidate to run for the Executive Board and really start to push for change. Normally an associate professor at Name Brand University would probably prefer to have her eyes plucked out than try to win some popularity contest. But what if we’ve already got the emails for, say, 200 people who will check the box on the ballot? Now that ring is within reach.
The AAA office staff was enthusiastic about our idea to start a new interest group. I was told that interest groups are growing in popularity (because they’re free) and that the Association is considering doing more to promote this medium. There are no elected officials or governing documents for the interest groups, only a “convener” who serves as a point of contact with the AAA. I am volunteering to serve as convener for a year or two and Daniel Lende is willing to serve as convener for a year or two after that. There’s already a group of us willing to work together to write a mission statement which we will share with you here and on Neuroanthropology.
It won’t be that hard to make this thing happen inside the AAA. The question is, before we proceed, are we sure that’s the direction we want to go in?