The question is not ‘does’ but ‘can’

Over at his blog, Jason Jackson wonder whether that AAA supports HR 3699 or not. It’s a good question, but I think there is an even better one to ask: can the AAA support (or oppose) HR 3699? In other words, is there some sort of institutional structure and decision making system at work within the AAA that is actually capable deciding something in the name of the organization and then publishing it? Because frankly, even having the competence to decide to oppose HR 3699 in a timely fashion would be a step forward for the AAA.

The other side of the ‘can’ question is one of publicity: behind closed doors someone somewhere within the AAA may be giving the nod to whatever lobbiest we are allied with to oppose (or support) the AAA. Do they have the integrity to tell their membership what they are doing in our name? I am guessing that the answer is ‘no’, simply because any sort of public statement of this sort of back room dealing would immediately raise questions about proper procedure at AAA, which is exactly the topic these informal dealings are attempting  to avoid.

So: can the AAA successfully, publicly, and in a timely fashion announce a policy decision it has made or will we have to wait 8 months for the next AAA meetings and a DOA panel entitled something like ‘HR 3699:  An Important Topic Having To Do With $This_Year’s_Conference_Theme_Branding”?

I’m hopeful, but I’m not holding my breath.


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

6 thoughts on “The question is not ‘does’ but ‘can’

  1. I’m sure the AAA has a procedure to weigh in on bills before congress, should they choose to do so. The SAA (Society for American Archaeology) is always taking stands, contributing information, and testifying before congress for archaeology-related bills. But then the politics on those is generally pretty straightforward, and the interests of the society and its members usually converge. I’m not so sure that is the case with the AAA…………

  2. For those who would like to go back in time and consider a previous moment in a continuing history of legislative debate among anthropologists, go to the Internet Archive and set the Wayback Machine for 2006. The following two URLs can be searched for via the Wayback Machine and consulted as they then appeared on the AAA Website. The first presents the Association’s official position opposing the Federal Research Public Access Act (S 2695), a bill from 2005-2006 that “Requires each federal agency with extramural research expenditures of over $100 million to develop a specified federal research public access policy that is consistent with and advances the purposes of the agency.” The second presents an open letter to the Association and its leadership from the AnthroSource Steering Committee explaining why this AAA body supported the bill and disagreed with the official Association position.

    Some history of this moment is also recoverable from:

    Kelty, Christopher M., Michael M. J. Fischer, Alex Golub, Jason Baird Jackson, Kimberly Christen, Michael F. Brown and Tom Boellstorff (2008) Anthropology of/in Circulation: The Future of Open Access and Scholarly Societies. Cultural Anthropology. 23(2):559-588.

    (See 586, n. 2) A legal open access version of this article is available via:

  3. The Society for Cultural Anthropology’s Executive Board passed the resolution below, calling on AAA to distance itself from the AAP’s position on RWA — so that may help force SOME kind of statement:

    To: Bill Davis, Executive Director; Leith Mullings, AAA President,
    From: SCA Executive Board
    RE: Research Works Act (HR 3699)

    On January 18, 2012, the SCA Executive Board voted UNANIMOUSLY to pass the following resolution:

    On behalf of the SCA membership, the SCA Executive Board urges the American Anthropological Association to oppose the Research Works Act (HR 3699) introduced into Congress on December 19, 2011, and to distance itself from the endorsement of this legislation by the Association of American Publishers, of which AAA is a member.

    The Research Works Act would repeal the open access policy of the National Institutes of Health, whereby publications produced with federal funding are made publicly available in a repository 12 months after their publication, and block similar policies at other federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation. Opposing the RWA does not entail a full embrace of open access philosophies; for-profit publishing is perfectly compatible with the current status quo. Opposing the RWA does not entail renouncing membership in the AAP; a number of AAP members have distanced themselves from the AAP position on RWA but continue to affirm their relationship.

    Indeed, a number of AAP members have spoken out against the RWA while remaining committed to AAP. The University of California Press, the MIT Press, the Rockefeller University Press, ITHAKA and Penn State University Press have all done so, and this motivates the SCA to request that AAA follow their initiatives. As the Director of Corporate Affairs for Cambridge University Press stated, ‘We support all sustainable access models that ensure the permanence and integrity of the scholarly record… The Bill as proposed could undermine the underlying freedoms expected by and of scholarly authors.’ (See
    The Executive Board of the SCA shares this view of the proposed legislation, and urges the AAA to formally oppose it.

  4. “…or will we have to wait 8 months for the next AAA meetings and a DOA panel entitled something like ‘HR 3699: An Important Topic Having To Do With $This_Year’s_Conference_Theme_Branding’?”

    Talk about being right on target.

Comments are closed.