[Savage Minds is honored to publish this essay by Faye V. Harrison who is currently Professor of African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and President of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. She is the author of numerous articles and books, including the landmark volumes Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology for Liberation (American Anthropological Association, 1994) and Outsider Within: Reworking Anthropology in the Global Age (University of Illinois Press, 2008).] Continue reading
On Monday, December 8, 2014, the Association of Black Anthropologists issued a Statement Against Police Violence and Anti-Black Practices. The Statement followed from recent events in the USA discussed and acted upon at last week’s annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington, DC (#AAA2014): a die-in held on Friday, December 5 at 12:28 pm in the main lobby of the conference hotel, and later that same day, a section assembly motion on Michael Brown and Eric Garner, racialized repression and state violence was presented and approved by the AAA membership at the AAA business meeting. The die-in was planned and motion drafted Thursday by a group of anthropologists at special sessions on Ferguson, racism, and violence; this organizing work continues at the #BlackLivesMatterAAA website. Both the Statement and the Motion are published in full below. Continue reading
As c.10,000 anthropologists descend upon Washington, D.C. this week for the annual American Anthropological Association conference, my colleague Jonathan Marion (University of Arkansas) and I, alongside an international cadre of researchers, have joined a long-standing conversation about the relationship between digital cultures, visual media and ethics that will fully manifest on Saturday, but that exists online in multiple forms too (more below). That conversation is a complicated one, known to induce frustration, confusion, feelings of helplessness, despondency and, at times, defiance among those who engage in it. By this I refer to the business of negotiating (1) the ethical implications of our own research programmes, (2) the experience of formal ethical review, and (3) ethical issues borne out of the everyday actions of our communities of study. Such ‘business’ is seemingly made even more complicated when digital and visual media are brought into the fold.
Indeed, more than ten years ago Gross, Katz and Ruby published Image Ethics in the Digital Age, a pioneering volume whose topical concerns – privacy, authenticity, control, access and exposure – are arguably more conspicuous now than in 2003. Today, their complexities appear to be extending as digital interactions themselves extend, and the consequence is an inevitably fraught landscape of practice with debatable outcomes.
We would like to thank the editors of Savage Minds for inviting us to kick off this important conversation on a potential AAA resolution in support of BDS. Over the past four posts, we have tried to highlight some of the key reasons for why anthropologists in particular should honor the call to boycott that was originally issued by a united Palestinian civil society in 2005. From our analysis of the role archeology plays in the dispossession of Palestinians to our overview of historical boycotts within the AAA and discussion of academic freedom, we made the case that BDS is the only sensible, effective, and appropriate response to the current situation.
That being said, the conversation on BDS is far too important to be fully covered in four short blog posts. We would like to thank everyone who took the time to read carefully and respond respectfully, either in the comments or privately, to seek out further clarification on these important issues.
In this last post, we will attempt to answer some of the most common questions we have received. If you have a question that is not answered below, please leave a comment and let’s continue to have this serious conversation about how best to respond to ongoing Israeli mass violations of human rights. Continue reading
In our previous posts, we made the argument that the American Anthropological Association (AAA) ought to endorse the united Palestinian call to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel for its ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories and systematic legal discrimination. Over the past few weeks, we have unfortunately received more horrifying reminders of why this sort of external pressure needs to be brought to bear and urgently. The situation requires the sort of exigent and effective external pressure that BDS can provide, and so the AAA ought to do what it can. Full stop.
That said, as a great many anthropological writings remind us, we should still look to our past as an organization – both our successes and our failures – to guide our response to the present situation. In the last of our regular posts, then, we will argue that endorsing the united Palestinian call for BDS represents a continuation of the best principles and traditions of the AAA. Continue reading
Recently, the television network NBC started filming Dig, a new archeology drama set in Jerusalem. Normally, we’d be ecstatic to see our fellow archaeologists getting such media fanfare. But there is nothing normal about this venture. Filmed on-site in illegally annexed East Jerusalem, the show is underwritten by 6.5 million dollar grant from the Israeli government. For comparisons sake, this means Israel is spending more to film Dig than on the yearly education budget for all K-12 Palestinian schools.
So why is the Israeli government, currently in the midst of a budget crisis, throwing millions at NBC to get Dig on the air? Because they know something we’ve been reluctant to own up to: archeological knowledge remains one of the Israeli state’s most powerful weapons. If Dig unearths anything, it is that in Israel archeology is neither a neutral nor innocent enterprise. Instead, it has become just one more tool in the occupation of Palestinian lands.
As anthropologists and archeologists, we should be especially concerned when we see our discipline being misused to promote discrimination and occupation. By endorsing Palestinians’ call for BDS, the AAA has a unique opportunity to highlight the misappropriation of our scholarly techniques and defend the good name of our profession.
This is the second post in a series advocating that the AAA endorse an academic boycott against Israel. For more general information on BDS, see our first post.
This past May, Palestinian students at Haifa University requested permission to hold a formal commemoration on campus for the more than 600 Palestinian villages destroyed in the course the Nakba (the mass expulsion of Palestinian residents that accompanied Israel’s founding). When administrators denied their request, students decided to gather informally without flags or banners. They were not in violation of any university policy.
But even this silent commemoration was too much for administrators. Haifa University organized a raucous dance party on the quad to disrupt the informal gathering. During the event, representatives of the student union taunted those present and police officers were sent in to intimidate and later disperse the Palestinian students.
I have just got back from the Association of Social Anthropologists Decennial conference. The ASA formally represents anthropologists from the former Commonwealth countries, including the UK. Like the AAA for those such as myself, who are neither resident in nor citizens of the United States, it’s now more than this- a forum for anthropologists to get together to discuss practice, organize conferences and share ideas.
The ASA holds annual conferences, some of which are in commonwealth countries. This year’s conference was Edinburgh, a fabulous city as well as a pertinent choice given the forthcoming referendum which will determine whether or not Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom. This nationalist moment informed the theme of the conference which was structured around the intellectual contributions of the Scottish enlightenment- to modern thought in general and to contemporary concerns in anthropology.
These big ideas were intended to be explored in some of the plenaries, depending on the contributors, many of whom did as academics will and explored their own big ideas. This wasn’t a particular problem. As in any conference of this sort, themes are primarily ways of organising the order of events and putting people together. And, this being anthropology, there was less orientation to coherence than to the presentation of highly individual points of view which we were presented with in abundance.
If anything, there was slightly too much on offer. I am not sure exactly how many delegates attended, maybe somewhere between five hundred and one thousand, but there were so many panels, almost eighty, over three full days that the audiences were often very small. On the plus side, this gave the event an intimate feeling, which was reinforced by the social buzz of the coffee breaks. In contrast to the social awkwardness induced by the overwhelming scale of the American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings where delegates huddle over flat screens as they try to work out with whom to seek a connection this was a meeting which encouraged face to face interaction. The setting, a University campus in a part of the city near to downtown, was suitably informal.
The content on offer was not very different from that presented at other social or cultural anthropology meetings elsewhere. There were, for example, panels on animal human relations, on issues of care and gender , on forms of modern knowledge, on utopias and on waiting. Ontology and neoliberalism as terms were invoked with an unsurprising regularity (I even managed to invoke them in my own presentation on religion and David Hume!) , as were emergent keywords struggling to become dominant as the next wave of fashionable theory.
A number of strong papers foregrounded field findings presenting insights on observed social practice as it is being reconfigured in the face of rapid change. Others foregrounded an analysis which preconfigured the interpretative framing of a story, generally including the anthropologist, as ethnographic insight. I left the conference having learned far more about my fellow anthropologists than I learned about the worlds which they had experienced first hand.
This isn’t a comment on this specific conference. Far from it. It’s a reflection on the current preoccupations of anthropology. Good anthropology should both reflect on itself and our own theory and on real social practice in the world. The whole point of ethnography and of spending an extended time in the field was to use observation of how people lived in the worlds they made as the building blocks of the theories which could to describe and explain them in different settings.
As a professional showcase of what social anthropology currently is and what social anthropologists think its important to talk about I enjoyed the conference enormously. Its appeal to those outside the discipline is less certain. As long as our concerns are driven fundamentally by the models and imaginaries of social theory we will continue to have the kinds of conversations which characterise our conferences. These are fascinating and erudite for sure, but if we are really concerned with wider society should we be having them only with ourselves?
[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger, JANE EVA BAXTER]
November’s AAA meetings are a distant memory after a season of holidays, finals, grading, and course preparation for round two of the academic year. Before they slip away completely, I wanted to share some thoughts about assigning 30 anthropology seniors the task of writing a brief ethnography based on time spent at the AAA annual meetings. That’s right- a small contingent of undergraduate ethnographers was among you. They may have handed you your conference program at registration, sat next to you in a session, or been at the next table at Kitty O’Shea’s or Starbucks. So think back, while you were busy conferencing you were being observed, perhaps were engaged in casual conversation, and certainly were studied thoughtfully by students in a senior capstone seminar trying to learn what it really means to be an anthropologist in 2013.
Teaching “The Anthropological Life” Using the AAA Meetings
The anthropology senior seminar at DePaul is titled, “The Anthropological Life” and is a course designed to help students simultaneously reflect on four years of education, and contemplate the transition from life in school to life without school. Each faculty member who teaches the course takes a different approach, but I’ve always embraced the seminar as an opportunity for students to connect with anthropologists working in a variety of vocational capacities. Usually, this means in a ten week quarter I invite four guest anthropologists from outside academe to come to campus, give a public lecture, have dinner with our seniors, and then have the seniors interview them for about 90 minutes where they can talk about their “anthropological life.”
My two main goals for the course are really quite simple. First, I want students to recognize that anthropology is not a particular vocation, but rather a way of engaging the world. I ask them: How do people with anthropological training see the world differently from those without such training? What are the core values of the discipline and how do those values become actualized in the daily practice of lived lives? Second, I want students to reflect actively on their own “anthropological lives” and consider how anthropology will shape their future regardless of their career or life path. In many forms we engage question such as: What does anthropology mean in the context of your life? How has anthropology shaped who you are as a person and how do you see anthropology shaping your future?
The AAA coming to town was a pretty remarkable opportunity in the context of this course. Where else could students gain so much exposure to contemporary anthropology so efficiently? And so, for the 2013 permutation of the course, it was decided to substitute a guest speaker with a somewhat structured encounter with the AAA meeting that would result in a very brief piece of ethnographic writing.
I thought I would kick off the last morning of the year by chiming in on the comments to Dr.LibertyBell’s very generative second post on empathy here at SM. But I seemed to have found the post and comments so generative, that I now find myself rounding off the last afternoon of the year by posting this companionate redux instead.
On the Particularity of the Empathetic Subject
*North American Dialogue; with apologies in advance for acronym abundance
Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Lindsay A. Bell
I recently became the Associate Editor of North American Dialogue (NAD). Part of the AAA Wiley-Blackwell basket of goodies, NAD is the peer reviewed journal of the Society for the Anthropology of North America (SANA). I was brought on to help with the journal’s “brand issues”; namely its recent conversion to a peer reviewed publication and its history as being, um, well CUNY-centric. I am pretty excited about working with SANA on NAD. As a relatively recent section of the AAA, SANA has done much in the way of establishing anthropologies of North America as politically and theoretically important. As the incoming Associate Editor, I am hoping to pick your savage minds about publishing, social media and related issues. In particular, for those of you whose work is North American (and we mean that as broadly as possible), what would you like to see from this publication? From the digital gurus in the crowd, I want to hear about how or if social media should be used to draw a broader public to scholarly work?
[This is an invited post by Lavanya Murali Proctor. Lavanya is a linguistic and cultural anthropologist who believes that the academic class system is incompatible with the principles and ethics of anthropology, and therefore we can—and should—be at the frontlines of this battle. She lives online at @anthrocharya].
Many contingent faculty have noted that the AAAs are very expensive, and therefore exclude those who cannot afford to go—a fairly large number of anthropologists. At the Chicago meetings, I spoke to a few members of the AAA governance on this issue. They said that the AAA aims to increase accessibility broadly defined. This is no bad thing considering the meetings are inaccessible in a variety of ways to a variety of people, which problems anthropologists rehash every year (for example, unaffordable to adjuncts or hard to navigate for anthropologists with disabilities). The focus, in increasing accessibility, is on media and technology.
The question I’d like to throw open to the readership of this blog is this: do you have any suggestions for participatory media technologies that can be used at the meetings that would allow those currently excluded to be included as presenters and collaborators and not just audiences (within the parameters of limited bandwidth)?
[Savage Minds welcome guest columnist Andrea Morrell, Assistant Professor of Urban Studies at Guttman Community College in NYC. Andrea was our eyes and ears at the AAA business meeting as the Executive Committee received the Committee on Labor Relations’ resolution on contingent faculty. Ironically underpaid adjuncts are the very group least likely to afford to attend professional conferences, so we are very grateful to Andrea for her contribution that a more inclusive audience might learn about our Association’s ongoing efforts.]
It will likely come as no surprise to readers of Savage Minds that the number of adjunct and contingent faculty (a group that includes part-time or adjunct faculty, grad students and teaching assistants, postdoc appointments, and full-time non-tenure track faculty) teaching courses in U.S. colleges and universities has nearly doubled since 1975. The predominance of contingent and adjunct academic faculty has serious implications for the integrity of college teaching and for academic freedom, but for adjunct and contingent faculty members the most pressing issue is often the material difficulties of making only $2500 per course. Teaching a full load—at many colleges three courses per semester—an adjunct would earn a mere $15,000 a year. Sometimes it is far less.
In addition to the poverty of these wages, the nature of the adjunct or contingent academic’s relationship to their employer is by definition precarious: wages cannot always be relied upon semester to semester and year to year. This precarity is hard for our families, it is hard on our bodies, and it is, quite simply, hard to pay the rent.
So what does this mean for us as anthropologists and for our largest professional organization, the AAA?
“The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.”
—Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism
Sarah Kendzior’s interview from the summer over at PolicyMic started making rounds again on my facebook feed recently. If anything, it seems to resonate more now.
I spent this past Thanksgiving with a bunch of orphaned activists and grad students. At some point, I foolishly started asking people for advice on grad school, assuming I’d find similar sympathies with more perspective. But I was shocked: several people told me it wasn’t that bad, that they enjoyed it, that it was better than anything else they could be doing—and even that finding jobs wouldn’t be that much of a problem.
My god, who are all these people? I never knew there were so many anthropologists! And so many books, panels, sub-fields, panels, etc. how to navigate it all? Maybe I’ll run out and do some sight-seeing instead…
I’m giving a paper this time, but luckily it’s scheduled at a time nobody except my adviser will be there. Now that I’m in grad school I know some people who can help me navigate. I follow them around like a baby chicken. Continue reading