Making Communities is Work

Reading Rex’’s comments on the challenges of creating on line communities made me feel guilty. I have been a slothful poster of blogs, and hence something of a peripheral member of the minds community. But it also made me think about the work and time involved in building communities in general, the labour of making relationships and making relationships work (something Latour makes much of in Reassembling the Social). As anthropologists and as academics we have to do this in several ways simultaneously; through interpersonal contacts and conversation, as when we teach or engage in person to person debate and fieldwork; and through our relations with texts, in the form of books, posts and articles, and increasingly through the on line exchanges with their authors which may follow. And then there are the formal events at which we are supposed to achieve a presence which is both personal and textual as in the conference presentation season which is fast coming upon us.

This week, after my holiday reading, I am struggling to make a presentation for a workshop session at the European Association of Social Anthropologists Conference to be held in Bristol in the UK next week. This is a new event for me. Although not a mega conferencer, I have tended to go to the AAA meetings. AAA, whatever its shortfalls, is inclusive and open to all anthropologists, whatever and wherever their fields. I was somewhat disconcerted to see that the EASA states that it exists for anthropologists working on or trained in Europe. Why the limitation? Is there anything unique about being trained in Europe? Is there a European tradition of anthropology which renders the inclusion of others trained elsewhere inappropriate? What is included in `Europe’? Does Euro America count? Other places influenced by Europe? Or rather where are boundaries drawn between kinds of relations which are categorised as somehow pertaining to Europe?

I wonder how systematically these boundaries are policed and enforced. I also wonder what the purpose is, especially since the logic of a place based anthropology community has been largely trascended by the combination of cheap air travel and the internet. Personally, I would like to see more inclusive and open organisations which confront and discourage boundaries , whether these are regional, disciplinary or whatever. I think we see the kind of synergy and innovation that results from this kind of openness in the ways that anthropology is changing and in the kinds of things which we now study. As a person qualified in Europe, I will go to the conference and presumably find out more about their regionally exclusive rationale. I will do my presentation and make my limited contribution to face to face community building. After that I hope to have more time to get on with the virtual sort.


Maia Green works on issues of social transformation in East Africa and the anthropology of international development. She has written on diverse topics ranging from anti-witchcraft practices to the proliferation of NGOs. She teaches at the University of Manchester.