It has been one of the best attended conferences ever. More than 6000 anthropologists went to the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Society (AAA) in New Orleans.
But as usual, it’s hard to find any press coverage. There are some blog posts about the conference, though, and more than 1000 tweets. “This year was a breakout year for the use of Twitter at the AAA", Kerim Friedman writes at Savage Minds. The tweets - mostly internal conversations - aren’t of much value for us who haven’t been there, though.
One of the few stories that made it into mainstream media is Modelling not just about a pretty face (Times of India). Stephanie Sadre-Orafai explored how casting agents consider race, the transformation of appearance, balancing fantasy and truth, and selling an image, plus how that process affects a culture’s views on race and image.
On the positive side, the AAA asked anthropologists to blog about the conference. Ashely Duperron for example summarizes a session on the financial crisis. In this session, Gillian Tett (Financial Times) questioned why anthropology does not play a better role in the country’s political policy when in fact it could be used to help predict and make sense of finance and the credit crisis. The banking sector should be studied as a subculture with its own sets of rites and rituals. Her talk was also covered by the Times of Higher Education. See also an earlier post Used anthropology to predict the financial crisis.
Our motto shouldn’t be “publish or perish, but rather, public or perish,” archaeologist Jerry Sabloff said. He delivered the AAA’s Distinguished Lecture that Mark Sanders summarizes for us. The lecture, he writes, “was met with wild applause, and a standing ovation and likely more than a few anthropologists considering their future (however large or small) in the public spotlight.”
The roundtable sessions “Engaging New Orleans” on “public art in this culturally diverse city” sounds interesting as well. “The roundtable engaged New Orleanian activists as well as anthropologists in an attempt to better understand the circumstances of the city", Caitlyn McNabb writes.
Adrienne Pine seems to be the only anthropologist who has posted a conference paper online. Her paper is about “Violence in the Circulation of Capital between Honduran and the U.S.” She also blogs about a motion against further militarisation of research (Florida International University, SOUTHCOM, and Strategic Culture) that she presented and was “passed by a large majority” (in a rather empty seminar room it seems, though).
Do Indigenous Studies reproduce elite knowledge within Indigenous communities? Do they overlook the realities of violence, class, and social disruption? A panel at the AAA meeting critized the “parochialism of Indigenous studies". In an interesting comment, Charles Menzies explains why he stood up and and laid out a full-blown critique of the panel and papers within it - something that doesn’t happen so often at conferences.
Then Inside Higher Education reports about a panel that discussed “beyond standard textbook-and-lecture teaching methods to make anthropology more tangible", and discussions about large-scale revision of its code of ethics, while The Chronicle of Higher Education focuses its report on “the eternal question of whether American anthropology’s four-field structure is sustainable”.
There are several personal accounts about New Orleans that seems to be a very special city.
One of the more inspiring ones was written by Mira Z. Amiras about a seemingly “little ting”: The water went out. In the whole town. Without any warning. And this was not the only “system failure” during the stay in New Orleans. That’s something she is used to when travelling in Eastern Africa or the Middle East. But in the U.S.? “We’ve been seeing one system failure after another, each one a little bit different". “Maybe, as good little anthropologists, we just take notes and watch it all fall. Watch cities fail, one at a time.”
Jason Baird Jackson contributes with fascinating account about a dramatic movie-quality cab driving to the airport. “It was the first time in which I thought that a taxi rate seemed way too low for the work done.”
John L. “Anthroman” Jackson shares some experiences with last years’ conference blogging in the Chronicle of Higher Education where he received comments like “How many classes did you have to cancel to attend your little conference?” This year, he tried to “get the word out about some new scholarly initiatives that he is helping to launch: a book series on the intersections between race and religion and an ambitious and expansive on-line bibliography for the discipline of anthropology".
Finally, I found some stories about anthropologists who received awards.
Ralph Bolton won the 2010 Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology for his contributions and applied anthropology work in Peru as well as his formation of the Chijnaya Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to working in some of the most impoverished areas of South America.
Teresa McCarty has received the George and Louise Spindler Award for Distinguished Scholarly Contributions to the Field of Educational Anthropology for her for research, teaching and activism in Indigenous and language-minority education and policy.
And here a video by “anthropress” that was presented at the meeting about the history of the American Anthropological Associations Annual Meetings.
I’m sure there are more stories online. Let me know! Something more you want to share?
UPDATE: The most debated issue was AAAs decision to drop “science” in its mission statement. See the summary at the Neuroanthropology blog Anthropology, Science, and Public Understanding and Anthropology after the “Science” Controversy: We’re Moving Ahead.