What’s your favorite Anthropology conference?

Its probably been a long time coming, but I first noticed it in my corner of the anthropology universe back in 2004 when the UNITE-Here strike dislocated many AAA sub-sections. As a result, some sections experimented with smaller, independent meetings. Everyone enjoyed these much more than the AAA and many sections resolved to continue holding these smaller meetings. Some sections had already been doing this for a while, but it seems that since 2004 every section has its own mini-conference and a lot more energy goes into organizing those mini-conferences than the section events at the AAA.

In addition to all these section meetings, there are also numerous anthropology conferences held outside of the US which many of my colleagues enjoy more than the AAA. In July I’m going to IUAES in Kunming (China), which will be my first big non-AAA anthropology conference.

While its great that there are so many options, it also makes it hard to keep up. I can barely make it to one or two anthropology conferences a year. So I have a questions for everyone: What’s your favorite general anthropology conference? I am specifically asking about general-interest anthropology conferences that any cultural/social anthropologist would be interested in. I know there are great regional and subfield conferences, but I’m thinking more about AES/SANA, SCA, IUAES and other less specialized conferences. Or perhaps you still prefer the AAA?

10 thoughts on “What’s your favorite Anthropology conference?

  1. I do not know your opinion about European anthropology but maybe EASA conferences could be an alternative to the AAA. Although it is a general-interest anthropology conference one could grasp the whole. At the EASA you can observe for example how anthropologists from new EU countries are negotiating their place in wider anthropological milieu.

    This year the EASA conference will be held from 26 to 30 August in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

    List of workshops: http://www.nomadit.co.uk/easa/easa08/panels.php5

  2. Although I made fun of them last year on SM, I like the AAA meeting in the U.S. mostly because it is the one occasion when I get to see _all_ my friends from graduate school and college (yes, college: for Reed students, the AAA is a bit like a reunion). I also happen to like the crazed over-the-top/often-nutty atmosphere of it, the excellent book exhibit, and so on. If you don’t take it too seriously, it can be fun.

    As for serious discussion, I think the Oceania (ASAO) meetings are top notch because of the unique format of the meetings, which emphasizes less ‘performance’ and more actual dialogue about papers — panels are usually convened over a period of *three* years. This typifies the ethnographic rigorousness of Pacific scholarship. Alas, I have’t been able to afford to attend this meeting for a while.

  3. I have always liked SANA conferences — my first conference as a grad student was AES/SANA/CASCA and it was small manageable and friendly (in fact, it ultimately ended up sucking me in to the SANA orbit – I am now an officer). We have been trying to supplement the usual sit around and listen to papers thing with field trips, local issues, etc. Last year we had our conference in New Orleans, and it included a bunch of guided tours by local anthropologists dealing with local food markets, infrastructure, public housing, etc. and we also had panels including both anthropologists and with local GLBT activists, reporters, and social club members and advocates all talking about their perspective on Katrina and its aftermath. These mixed panels were some of the highlight of the conferences.

    The nice thing about these panels is that they were scheduled more or less without any competition, which provided a shared experience, intellectual frame, etc. for all the participants. Of course, all this is only possible for relatively small conferences (200/300 people).

    Small, less intimidating conferences also provide a perfect environment for students — both graduate and undergraduate — to present papers, hold round tables, etc. One of the best round tables I have been to in recent years was a round table conceived of and organized by a pack of undergraduates from UMass Boston on the future of the four-field model, generated from their own experiences as undergraduates in a program that held to the 4 field model.

    I should also say that SANA has taken “North America” quite broadly, to included the American imperial apparatus and its effects abroad. So we have had anthropologists from all over — Nigeria, Belgium, Italy etc — as well as US anthropologists presenting research from beyond the geographical bounds North America. So both in terms of theory and social networks, we have been trying to break down the boundaries that are often assumed to isolate/protect/wall in the US and North America as well as North American anthropology.

    One last thing: I think it is important for all of us to support section conferences, difficult as it is given the tightness of time and travel $ and professional necessity of attending the AAAs. Also, those of us in section leadership need to strengthen them. I happen to think sections are crucial to the discipline’s health, and so I think small conferences are key: the best places to cultivate intellectual/social networks, especially for students.

  4. I went to a wonderful workshop at Goldsmith’s, London, last year on the topic of asceticism. It was a relaxed panel of 6 or so speakers, a couple of invited discussants, a short film viewing, and a smattering of interested anthropologists. There was plenty of tea (this is essential – the worst conferences I have been didn’t have enough (or sometimes any! tea). We had a wonderful picnic on the lawn outside of the department at lunchtime, and dinner in a local Chinese restaurant afterwards. Absolutely different scale to things like the AAA – but I think these kind of meetings are very much ‘small is beautiful’ settings. I have always been pretty cynical about conferences and their utility, but this relaxed set up, with plenty of time for discussion and questions, actually opened my eyes to the fact that you could sit a bunch of anthropologists in the room, ask them to give papers, and the end result could be more exciting than just another line on a few people’s CVs.

    Incidentally, I’m going to the IUAES thing in Kunming, so it’s good to ‘meet’ someone else who’s going to that.

  5. I’ve been a member of MASN since last year and MASN conferences are the best ones I’ve ever been to. Very productive, interesting, not closed and academical as the others, but very useful to promote cooperation.
    MASN is an international network of anthropologists, mainly european, but lately it is growing outside the old continent.
    Next conference will be held on May 2008, 4-9, in Siena, Italy. And after that there will be a conference in Slovenia in August.
    All the infos on the conference are on http://www.movinganthropology.de

  6. Kerim, Richard, I’ll be going to the IUAES conference, too. Perhaps we can have a “Savage Minds” get together? I’m in a large panel on intra-Asian migration and I’ll be talking about “How the Lisu became Southeast Asian.” My paper is about opium and migration.

  7. I’ve only been to CASCA (Canadian Anthropology Society/Société Canadienne d’Anthropologie) meetings but I enjoy them a great deal. People tend to be friendly and it’s not about job interviews, as I’ve heard so much about AAA. Although they are mostly populated by Canadian anthropologists, I’ve met a few people from south of the border who have deemed a Canadian conference worth their while. By the way, it will be held in Ottawa this year. Google CASCA and scroll down to the anthro link (not the Canadian Astronomy Society, although astronomy was my first love).

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