Counting and Being Counted: New AAA Tenure and Promotion Guidelines on Public Scholarship

How do we count and value public scholarship in anthropology? — Do we count and value public scholarship in anthropology? — And, how do we do it at the time of tenure and promotion?

Some departments of anthropology do value and count public scholarship, and have for a long time. Some have built metrics or possibilities into their evaluation systems for considering public scholarship as a part of one’s intellectual work. Others haven’t. Some universities have made strong statements about the value of public scholarship. Indiana University is a one good example; see their Faculty Learning Community’s work on this, including system-wide guidelines on how to count such scholarship. But most universities do not have formal guidelines or even mandates for public scholarship.

Public scholarship is a key part of anthropology. In some ways, it has been part of our practice for a very long time. In other ways, it feels newly important in today’s political climate. Regardless of the genealogies we might chart for the anthropological commitment to having our scholarship be public, it has sometimes been considered something extra to what we do, or something that falls outside what we count as “real” contributions to the field. Given the move of some departments and some universities, as well as some other disciplines to find ways to acknowledge the value of public scholarship, AAA President Alisse Waterston decided it was time for anthropology to act.

Last summer, she organized a committee to research and draft a set of guidelines for how to consider public scholarship in anthropology. Bianca C. Williams (Colorado), Kate Clancy (Illinois), Elizabeth Chilton (Massachusetts), and Alexandra Frankel (AAA), and I joined Alisse on the committee. This April, our proposed guidelines were accepted by the AAA Executive Board, and are now available to all candidates, departments, and tenure and promotion committees to use and consider at the time of tenure and promotion. They are available on the AAA website:  “The AAA Guidelines for Tenure and Promotion Review: Communicating Public Scholarship in Anthropology.”


What counts as public scholarship? This blog, for starters, but so much more. According to our AAA Committee:

“We define public scholarship as that which is in dialogue with non-academic as well as academic audiences, and that is informed by anthropological scholarship and knowledge.”

As Alisse Waterston wrote in her announcement of the new Guidelines:

In down to earth terms, public anthropology includes such works as Roxanne Varzi’s ethnographic novel Last Scene Underground; the spokenword, performance art, installation pieces, poetry and prose of Gina Athena Ulysse; Jason De León’s powerful museum exhibit State of Exception/Estado de Excepción; Hugh Gusterson’s columns in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; and an ever-growing number of anthropology blogs from Allegra Lab and Anthropology News to SAPIENS and Savage Minds. There’s much more public scholarship I could name—but you get the idea.

In other words, finding new ways to communicate anthropology to and with different audiences, or harnessing old venues in creative ways. This is to acknowledge the value of editor-reviewed scholarship such as Cultural Anthropology’s Hot Spots series or the Somatosphere: Science, Medicine, and Anthropology blog, or to consider certain types of non-peer reviewed scholarship as important to the discipline—communicating, growing it, and thinking it anew.

It was an honor to be part of this endeavor. May we all continue to work together to be both responsive to and responsible in the world as anthropologists.



“Getting Credit”–AAA President Alisse Waterston’s column in the Anthropology News, 1 May 2017.

AAA Guidelines for Tenure and Promotion Review: Communicating Public Scholarship in Anthropology. AAA website, 2017.

Carole McGranahan

I am an anthropologist and historian of Tibet, and a professor at the University of Colorado. I conduct research, write, lecture, and teach. At any given time, I am probably working on one of the following projects: Tibet, British empire, and the Pangdatsang family; the CIA as an ethnographic subject; contemporary US empire; the ongoing self-immolations in Tibet; the Chushi Gangdrug resistance army; refugee citizenship in the Tibetan diaspora (Canada, India, Nepal, USA); and, anthropology as theoretical storytelling.