Media at the AAAs: Toward Greater Accessibility

[This is an invited post by Lavanya Murali Proctor. Lavanya is a linguistic and cultural anthropologist who believes that the academic class system is incompatible with the principles and ethics of anthropology, and therefore we can—and should—be at the frontlines of this battle. She lives online at @anthrocharya].

Many contingent faculty have noted that the AAAs are very expensive, and therefore exclude those who cannot afford to go—a fairly large number of anthropologists. At the Chicago meetings, I spoke to a few members of the AAA governance on this issue. They said that the AAA aims to increase accessibility broadly defined. This is no bad thing considering the meetings are inaccessible in a variety of ways to a variety of people, which problems anthropologists rehash every year (for example, unaffordable to adjuncts or hard to navigate for anthropologists with disabilities). The focus, in increasing accessibility, is on media and technology.

The question I’d like to throw open to the readership of this blog is this: do you have any suggestions for participatory media technologies that can be used at the meetings that would allow those currently excluded to be included as presenters and collaborators and not just audiences (within the parameters of limited bandwidth)?

Mary L. Gray is the Executive Program Chair for next year’s DC meetings, along with her Co-chair Rachel Watkins. In an email to me, she said they were aiming for “more direct connection to community-based organizations and projects and opportunities to deepen connections with those attending the meetings.” They also would like to make the meetings more accessible to anthropological collaborators through “media events, installations that spotlight the performative aspects of culture that don’t fit in a conference paper, and through dialogue facilitated through social media and archiving of meeting events.” Other plans include a publicly accessible mixed-media/film festival, panels that incorporate and include world anthropologies and anthropologists, and other media-centered events. The call for papers for the 2014 meetings is in the latest issue of Anthropology News. Mary and Rachel welcome feedback.

Mary spoke eloquently to the Section Assembly on the ways in which media could be used to increase accessibility to the meetings. I had the opportunity to observe part of the Section Assembly meeting, and to address them as well. I talked briefly about how media/technology can allow contingent faculty who cannot come to the meetings to be a part of them in some way. While some of the media technologies that were discussed included livestreaming and podcasts, one of the points I raised was that such technologies focus on reaching an audience. What is needed, though, are technologies that allow people who cannot attend the meetings—whether they are in the field, from other countries, can’t afford it, or cannot attend for any other reason—to produce knowledge, rather than simply consume it. That is, anthropologists who are not physically present at the AAAs could nevertheless still participate and present their work, e.g. in the form of virtual panels. Otherwise, it simply compounds the exclusion.

I’ve often heard people say that the misery that is today’s academic job market is not new. Perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps the sheer mass of poverty-stricken academics is not new. Perhaps the systemic exclusion of people who are, in the end, merely less fortunate than their colleagues is not new. But what is new is that we have the technology at our fingertips to do something about it. We just have to figure out how to use it best.