AAAs 2008 wrap up

It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times, it was the age of ostentatiously displayed Ethnic Bags, and it was an age of frumpy, rumpled corduroy, it was a time of middle-aged women wearing chunky jewelry, and it was a time of emo-haired job-marketing grad students crammed into ill-fitting suits — in short, it was an AAA conference so like every other AAA conference that it is high time for yet another AAA roundup.

The biggest issue at the AAA was the continued saga of the HTS program. At this point with one of its members “allegedly murdering one of the men who allegedly lit another HTS member on fire”: and another who is creepy enough to “infiltrate anti-gun activist groups she describes as ‘targets”: but unable to make a AAA panel to address her professional association publicly, the HTS program remains hugely relevant as a major issue in social science ethics but also increasingly obviously an ethical no-brainer. More interesting in terms of actual professional ethics were some other panels at the AAA which engaged other issues such as teaching at military-run universities and academies. Inside Higher Ed has a “wrap up on the panels on engagement withe military which pretty much sums it all up”: There was also a panel on collaboration and opposition to the military 35 years ago which nicely framed and historicized many of these issues — anyone who was at any of these panels please leave your thoughts/comments/descriptions of these panels in the comments section.

We also had other special events, including a distinguished lecture by Johnetta Cole on race in the 2008 election. My overall winner for the “They scheduled me for 8 am Sunday and gave THESE people prime ime” panel award goes to “Hair, Pubic and Beyond” which may have been a perfectly legitimate panel but whose title ranks up there with the orgasm-themed panel of a few years ago. This panel was also my personal runner-up for the “this was either a really cool or an incredibly silly panel” panel award, which I give to “storage: critical ethnographies of containment and transmission” which went on Saturday morning.

What else to say about the AAA? The luxurious environs of O’Farrell Street allowed all participants to have the San Francisco experience — at one point I over head one man standing with a group of people hanging around on the corner who said “no man, I’ll tell you why I STOPPED TAKING it. I was being followed by GODZILLA!” Ah, ‘Frisco’.

What are the other highlights/low points of the AAAs that people remember?


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

10 thoughts on “AAAs 2008 wrap up

  1. I took the bus from the 16th St Mission BART & for about five blocks the riders were serenaded by a scarily-heavily tattooed enormous white dude repeating a single verse rap about slaughtering all the members of Satanic cults so they would burn in hell for all eternity.

    Later, when my roommates arrived in my shared hotel room & I was looking for a place to rehearse my talk, it occurred to me that I could probably go out to any streetcorner and deliver the whole talk to an audience of street signs and newspaper boxes without anyone paying the slightest notice.

  2. Hey I take exception to that… I don’t have emo hair! (I don’t think so anyways…)

    I was incredibly disappointed at the McFate no-show, but not surprised. IIRC, this is the second anthropology panel she has skipped out on when critics of her work were to be sitting on the panel with her. Once, okay fine. Twice? I get suspicious. I have to wonder if she’ll ever answer to her profession for her program. We obviously have questions, she’s the best one to answer them.

    I’d like to know whose brilliant idea it was to schedule Chris Kelty’s talk during the same period as the great panel on virtual worlds. The scheduling really is done on post-it notes, I just know it.

    This was my first time at the AAA’s, and I was quite excited to finally meet some like minded people, and find people interested in my research after getting the weird stares that some of us involved in online research get subjected to. I did get incredibly overwhelmed at the sheer amount of *stuff*… I hope next time I can schedule my time a bit better.

  3. Chinese food at a place called the House of Nanking on Sunday was a big highlight for me, along with seeing a lobby full of anthros from all over the place. Amazing. A whole lobby full of people who study and analyze other people all the time. Trouble.

    If you go to the House of Nanking, by the way, order the beef with spinach–super bien, that plate.

    I saw some good panels, and managed to miss some really good ones too. Next year I am going to figure out how to balance presenting, eating, and getting to the talks I want to see.

    What else? The books were good, especially the free copies of visual anthropology and other free stuff. Nice. I attended a good visual anth panel on Saturday, the highlight being a presentation that critically reviewed the ways that archaeologists use photographs and other images in texts. It was out there on the edge, but definitely interesting (I don’t have the presenter’s name on hand). Definitely creative.

    One down side was that I needed a GPS to figure out where everything was in the hotel. It was a little crazy…but maybe that was just me.

  4. The session with the old time radicals you mention was the most interesting one I attended. I didn’t know this history and hearing Karen Brodkin, Richard Lee and Marshall Sahlins talk about how they organized to fight back during the Viet Nam War gave me hope that we can keep the McFates from taking over this time around, but Price’s account of how the AAA maneuvered to kill members participation in the business meeting makes sense and has left us screwed up today. I was disappointed that hack McFate didn’t show up (no surprise there, she is a coward), but was glad to see she wasn’t let off the hook and the questions she needs to answer were still asked. Now she has to answer questions about this human terrain murder.

  5. Kethryvis – Yes, it really is done manually on walls with post-it notes. But that is about to change with the AAA finally getting new meeting /membership management software. Hopefully conflicts will begin to smooth out over time….

    The Remixing Anthropology panel was inspiring!

  6. I thought my suit fit pretty well, actually.

    Some interesting, if subtle, shifts seem to be happening in the world of the Society for Visual Anthropology. I hope to see greater ties between the Visual Anthropologists and the new media gang.

    One event that was a highlight for me was the award of the Jean Rouch prize to the developers of a website (Kate Hennessy and Amber Ridington): “Jean Rouch Award goes to Dane Wajich: Dane-zaa Stories and Songs – Dreamers and the Land. This marks a promising acknowledgment of visual anthropology’s future on the interwebs.

    I was also happy to have attended the Remixing Anthroplogy panel and went away from that with some good thinks to think.

  7. Yeah, those of us with emo hair have very nicely fitted suits, thank you very much. It’s those ponytail boys who wear the seriously baggy numbers with the shoulderpads…

    One of my highlights was meeting Diane Nelson at the rock festival, aka the Multispecies Salon panel. She was sitting on my feet, I told her I was teaching her book next semester, it was nice.

  8. I have now heard from several colleagues who claim that Carolyn Nordstrom presented a paper in a very large session on warfare at the AAA where she insisted several times that ”Theodor Adorno strangled his wife!” Can anyone substantiate that she indeed made this damaging claim at a crowded international conference? If so, what is the meaning of such an apparently wild claim? Gretel Karplus obviously outlived Adorno by several decades, so was Nordstrom claiming that he had murdered some hitherto unknown earlier wife?

  9. i heard it too, she definitely said adorno, but lots of us were wondering if she meant althusser. strange thing was that she was reading it from her paper, so it wasn’t something she just added on the spot. is there any truth to adorno doing this or did she just invent this?

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