Neoliberalism: Good. Spy Museum: Better.

The AAAs this year were like those huge inflatable castles that kids jump around in at county fairs: fun enough, but ultimately exhausting and frustratingly difficult to move around in. Of course, all anthropologist have a love-hate relationship with the crippling reflexivity and desperate networking that is the AAAs, but this year seemed particularly half-cocked. One acquisitions editor that I talked to opined that we still had not fully recovered from last year’s debacle in San Francisco, and that seemed about right to me. The job market was not particularly exciting this year, and it was hard to find exciting panels. Even particularly popular panels, like ‘the neoliberalism one’ were not as heavily attended as it could be since, as one grad student put it, “the “spy museum”: was cooler.” I am not sure whether this says more about the spy museum or neoliberalism.

I have to confess that I’ve never really enjoyed DC as a town and, with the exception of an exceptional Long French Dinner, I didn’t stray very far from the hotel — I suspect that this is true of most people. DC is really not the kind of city that, say, San Francisco or New York is, where you are too busy getting out and seeing the place to actually bother going to any of the panels. Regardless of one’s opinion of DC you have to admit that next year’s location, San Jose, will offer neoliberalism even less competition than did DC.

In other news, the Savage Minds party was an unqualified success. We ran out of booze, lots of people came by, someone called security, and at around 12:30 or so in the morning the person in the room next door began banging angrily on the walls. So we must have been doing something right. Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement! Next year I am hoping for even more jouissance and better appetizers. Also more music.

Did anyone get a sense of the books that everyone at AAAs “had been meaning to read?” I heard some talk about Bill Maurer’s “Mutual Life, Ltd.”: and Jenny Reardon’s “Race to the Finish”: but then again this is not the first time these have come up in conversation. In terms of other juicy political moments, I shared a table with George Marcus at the hotel bar and noticed that he had blacked out the word “Rice” on his name badge and written in the words “UC Irvine” so I guess that happened. My most outside guess is that the bloom is about to come off the rose of STS, which means we probably have a decade more or so of it to go. What else seemed to be up? Governance and governmentality. ‘The Biotic’ (whatever that is). The linguistic anthropologists continued to march forward with sessions on hybridity etc. The “Parsing Culture” panel was also quite good — gratz to all responsible for that.

So overall, like Kerim, I had a good time at AAAs but feel like we are still reving up. Whether San Jose will see us shifting into high gear or stripping the gears I don’t know. All I can promise are better appetizers at the SM party.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

5 thoughts on “Neoliberalism: Good. Spy Museum: Better.

  1. Pingback: P.T.S.D.
  2. I drove down to the AAA mtg for Fri & Sat. After the 2004 Atlanta disaster, DC was great! Like a little Manhattan. Visited the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum on Sunday and was blown away by their Apollo exhibit. I think DC has more to offer than is assumed. I do hope members got a chance to explore it.

    I attended two particularly interesting events–Sat. morning’s “Design Anthropology” workshop and an afternoon panel about incorporating Anthropology theory & methods into the hard sciences, which included 3 fascinating lectures by anthros that had been employed at NASA for various projects, including the recent Mars Rover mission. Although I would agree that the panels chosen for this meeting overall didn’t spark my imagination, and that’s a shame since Anthropology is so holistic.

  3. You all have to start asking about conference venues *before* you go there. There’s a lot of good music and food in DC, excellent art, and entertaining neighborhoods, but not in the immediate vicinity of conference hotels.

  4. My fiancee used to live in DC and I’ve spent a lot of time in the city (16th and Columbia represent!) visiting her. So, um… how shall I put this? It’s not _lack_ of familiarity with DC that grounds my judgment of it. The city is not without its charms but let’s face it: it’s not San Francisco (or even Portland) much less Manhatten.

  5. Well obviously not Manhattan, and OK maybe a step below San Francisco, but Portland? *Portland?* You joke. I mean Portland’s nice and all, but how many top-quality South Indian restaurants, how many El Grecos, how many jazz venues with audiences that understand what they’re hearing? You’ve got a half dozen world-class art museums within a taxi ride, and people are going to tourist kitsch like the spy museum?

  6. You should start talking about Portland *after* you go there. There’s a lot of good music and food in Portland, excellent art, and entertaining neighborhoods, and all in the immediate vicinity of conference hotels. 😉

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