There are many reasons contemporary American anthropology feels fragmented and lost, without direction: the discipline has grown in size, there is no clear theoretical paradigm, etc. But beyond these reasons there is one force, more powerful than all of them put together, that accounts for our current malaise:
We don’t have an email list.
This was brought home to me recently when a European colleague emailed me and said they had an announcement they wanted widely circulated. Could I tell them the address of the American anthropology listserv so that they could post it there? I was like: uh…..
We lack a single unified way of communicating with each other. I mean, we have one of course. The AAA could easily create numerous forums for us to communicate with one another about our discipline. But in fact the blog is mostly focused on posting the fact that the staff can win industry awards or throwing up pictures of adorable subaltern children. There is no general AAA list, no system in place to quickly create section lists, etc.
It’s not that there aren’t lots of good scholarly debates on the net. We’ve formed patchwork communities with varying degrees of academic seriousness, and these have done a great job of keeping the conversation going. But there is no centralized or all inclusive place for us all — and especially not one which has all the nice affordances of a listserv: polyvocal, pushed to our inbox, long-format, familiar technologically to anyone who uses email. It’s a bit shocking really.
Or maybe it’s not. It is one thing to have every anthropologist in the UK on AnthropologyMatters or every Oceanist on ASAO — quite another thing to try to cram 20,000 people onto a single mailing list.
Here at SM we’ve often thought about starting a list of this sort, but we’ve never felt comfortable making such a hegemonic gesture. And also, no one has the time to manage it. It’s exactly the sort of thing the AAA should have tried to run with about fifteen years ago, but (to the best of my knowledge) never got around to it. While a listserv feels like an answer to me, there might be other ones — the point would be centralization, however it happens, technically.