What if scholars need to go rogue? If anthropologists need to go rogue? In the USA right now, we are not in normal times, but in a new period of attack on academia and science, on facts and funding, on communities with whom anthropologists conduct their research, and on communities to which anthropologists belong. Our scholarly knowledge is increasingly needed in new political ways. But, how do we act effectively and with an awareness of the issues and risks involved?
On Saturday, February 4, 2017, I gave a talk at Duke University as part of their “Precarious Publics” workshop. My invitation was to speak about public anthropology and the current political moment. The initial title of my talk, decided upon after the election but before the inauguration, was “Political Crisis and Scholarly Responsibility, or, Public Anthropology in the Time of Trump.” After the inauguration, things changed, and so did my title. Amidst not only the Muslim ban/immigration ban, but also the attack on climate change science, including the banning of the open, public sharing of scientific knowledge, and in some cases, the erasure of scientific research conducted during the period of the Obama administration, it was no longer sufficient to simply consider “public” anthropology. Instead, along with colleagues in numerous governmental offices and institutions—from the National Park Service to the EPA to NASA to the White House itself—it was time to think of a rogue anthropology. The new title for my talk, delivered on the sixteenth day of the Trump presidency (and posted here on the sixty-first day) was: “If On the Sixteenth Day … : Rogue Anthropology.”
The thirty-four minute video of the talk is below. It covers wide ground: ethnographic passages from my research on refugee citizenship with Tibetans in Toronto and Kathmandu, reflections on the political asylum process, testifying as an expert witness, a discussion of what public anthropology is, the writings of Ella Cara Deloria, Teen Vogue, questions of how something “counts” in academia, genealogies of anthropology as political intervention, social media as ethnographic space, the “new coevalness,” the anthropology of Trump and of lying, scientists and academics as political targets, fighting racism and white supremacism, and what the difference is between a public anthropology and a rogue anthropology.
Public anthropology is to be engaged. It is to communicate anthropological knowledge in a way that will be useful.
Rogue anthropology is to be enraged. It is to communicate anthropological knowledge in a way that will disrupt, stop, resist, refuse.
This is the moment we are in. It is not hypothetical. It is now. We need to act. And although my talk is grounded in anthropology (and in US-based anthropology at that), in its pasts and its possibilities, it is also intended to open to scholars in other disciplines. What political genealogies exist in different disciplines to both guide struggles and act as cautionary tales? What new genealogies and connections and actions do we need now? What can we do together?
This talk was part of the Precarious Publics seminar at Duke University, hosted by the Department of Anthropology and the Humanities Futures project of the Franklin Humanities Institute. Thank you to Ralph Litzinger and Anne Allison for the invitation to participate, the Duke community for their engagement, and to my fellow presenters for sharing their knowledge, experience, and passion with us all. Videos of their talks are available at these links: