Getting our effervescence on: AAAs 2006

Ah, the AAAs: the only event I know of that combines endless reflexivity with overwhelming and alternating senses of total abandomnent and total communion. And yet if there was anything that struck me about the 2006 AAAS it was that we as a collevtivity had some trouble getting our effervescence on.

A lot people that I know blamed the venue. The San Jose convention center is huge. As a result, there was massive amounts of acreage at the front of the space where people could hang out, sit, check their email, and buy and drink coffee. There was even a large patio for the smokers! And there were three or four (or five or six) hotels where people could stay at, rather than one massive hotel and a couple of outliers.

Now, it is true that a lot complain about the terrible aquarium-like sensation of milling around in an over-packed hotel lobby amongst thousands of other anthropologists desperately looking for someone else to go out to lunch with between the morning and afternoon sessions. But was I the only one who missed the opressive, punishing meat-market atmosphere of the lobby? And that wasn’t all that was missing…

The multiple hotels also meant multiple hotel bars, which meant that there was no scene the way that there is the usual AAA scene. Even the parties seemed under-attended, a fact attributed by many to the way they were spread out across all the hotels, which inhibited party-hopping.

I am not saying that the AAAs was not fun, or that the parties did not rock. They did. Vomitting, I have been assured by more than one person, occurred. But that “oh yeah baby, swing the churinga FASTER” sort of Durkheimian bubbly feeling was, I thought, a little absent.

Partially this may have been me, since I am making the transition from being a grad student to being a professor, and this entails all sorts of psychological re-tooling. Although, I have to say, this was a great AAA for Melanesianists.

The reason was that there were two sessions dedicated to scholars who have been central to Melanesian anthropology — Nancy Munn and Buck Schieffelin. All of the papers presented at these panels were very strong, and people flew in from all over, including Australia. Best of all, Roy Wagner raised the roof as the discussant for the Buck Schieffelin panel, where he presented a one page poem/braintwister that summarized each paper. These included lines like “I come from the place of Thomas Jefferson [UVA], the guy who has his head on one side of the nickel and his house on the other,” “the mirror steals your eyes so that it can see itself,” and — my favorite — “this paper reminds me of the process for my divorce.”

There were other good panels as well. The “anthropology and security” panel was the only one that was so crowded that it had people spilling out into the hallway. I myself didn’t attend. Instead I sat in on the -We Really Really Hate Jared Diamon- “Popular Accounts of Civilization Collapse” panel. I really like the papers there, and I think it is a pity that they are not all immediately available online in open access form complete with a press kit. So much for ‘public anthropology.’ Still, I hope they find someplace to appear before too long.

I spent more time than usual in the book exhibit this year. Partially this is because I was shopping around the manuscript of my dissertation (note to publishers: PUBLISH MY MANUSCRIPT). But partially I was trying to figure out what the purpose of exhibits like these were in the age of the Internet, where it is easier to find out about new books, and purchase them for much less than the usual 20% AAA discount.

The answer, insofar as I had one, is that at AAA you get a very clear sense not of what the publishers were selling or what people were reading, but what the publishers thought you should be reading. Not many surprises for me — although “Do Glaciers Listen”: was one of them. I also thought it was interesting to see who discounted there books and who did not on Saturday afternoon. Princeton and California sat by while Michigan other presses issued forth up to 50% discounts for the books — a margin that even the the Internet cannot beat (especially for the Pluto Press titles that Michigan markets).

One of my favorite encounters in the book room was with the publisher of “Berghahn Books”: Berghahn has always been a favorite of mine because they specialize in cutting-edge Melanesian books as well as classics of social theory (of the BSA variety). Talking with the publisher I was amazed at how forward-thinking the press is. They use a print-on-demand publisher to keep print runs small and efficient. True, they are not the press to go to if you are looking for glossy photographs. But they produce what are truly the scholarly editions of this century — cheap, good reading copies of books for scholars who get a lot of their stuff online (Berghahn also offers pay-and-download content as well). So while I was a Berghahn fanboy before the AAAs, I am doubly a fanboy afterwards.

But then again there were lots of things I did not do at the AAAs, so I hope my own account will be supplemented by some other amateur auto-ethnographers. Comments, anyone?


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

2 thoughts on “Getting our effervescence on: AAAs 2006

  1. Dearheart, I loved this AAA more than any other. While I prefer the cities of New Orleans and Chicago, San Jose was a great venue — the large variety of cafes & eateries meant we actually had time to eat, rather than lining up forever, then rushing to get back to a session. The variety of hotels meant those on limited budgets had more options, including taking the in train from San Fran. I waited less time to get a drink in the pub and didn’t have to share a chair in order to join the group. I actually saw *more* people than usual — because instead of powering thru the scrum, I could scan the room, foyer, ect. I had better conversations, and attended sessions that were more interesting than in a long time (although the AAA tendency to long, meaningless session titles continues unabated). In short, while it was still a jam-packed, sleep-deprived event, for me, it was qualitatively better than any prior AAA.

  2. The only alcohol I drank was that one beer at the Open Access meeting at Gordon Biersch on Saturday afternoon. This was my first time at AAA. I was expecting a more party-like atmosphere. Maybe next year . . .

    Also, my comments and complaints are here.

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