On March 3, 2016, three anthropologists at the University of Colorado–Carole McGranahan, Kaifa Roland, and Bianca C. Williams–sat down with Faye V. Harrison, distinguished professor of African-American Studies and Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to talk about decolonizing anthropology then and now. We share now a lightly edited transcript of our videotaped conversation: this is Part I of the conversation; Part II is here.
KAIFA ROLAND. Thank you all for coming. I’m Kaifa Roland here with Carole McGranahan and Bianca Williams. We’re all anthropologists at the University of Colorado, and we are thrilled to welcome our distinguished cultural anthropologist for 2015-16, Dr. Faye Harrison, from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. We’re going to have a conversation on looking back at Decolonizing Anthropology and then moving toward the future, but who knows where things will take this. I will let Carole start us off.
CAROLE MCGRANAHAN. Faye, thank you so much for being here. In the discipline of anthropology, you can’t utter the words “decolonizing anthropology” without immediately thinking of your book Decolonizing Anthropology which came out in 1991, and was so ahead of its time. However, right now the idea to decolonize anthropology, or even decolonize the academy in some ways feels really of the current moment, that this is something new. And yet 25 years ago, you and a group of colleagues put this volume together. For anyone who actually reads the fine print, you can see that the book came out of the first invited session for the Association of Black Anthropologists in 1987. So I think where we wanted to start was with that moment, both with the volume, but also the session, and to ask, how did the idea and the impetus for this come about and even the term to “decolonize” in that moment, which just hadn’t really been used in that way, so could you can share with us a little more back from the day?
FAYE HARRISON. Well, in the late 80s the Association of Black Anthropologists (ABA) was a site where I think some very exciting things were happening. At that time the ABA had gone through many crises, it didn’t have the membership, it didn’t have the visibility that it has now with an established journal: Transforming Anthropology, with a lot of things going for it, a track record. So in the late 80s, Angela Gilliam and I, we were having conversations, we were organizing sessions. I was in a network of people who made sure that the ABA had a presence at the AAA, and on its conference program. We had just officially joined as a section, a recognized section, in the AAA, and that gave us at that time I think one invited session. And so Angela and I—I can’t remember if I came up with the idea, or if she did, but it was definitely, you know, at that moment, a dialogue, a collaboration—so we decided that we would organize a session on decolonizing anthropology. Continue reading