The 2017 Annual Meeting Mattered!
More than 6,500 attendees gathered in November/December for the 116th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association. They participated in 844 sessions, panels, and roundtables; in 31 workshops; multiple gallery spaces; and events on Capitol Hill and across Washington DC. We discussed the contemporary political landscape and its aggressive attacks on human rights, the planet, and our communities. We planned actions, developing strategies for sustainable and engaged resistance. This was the highest concentration of anthropologists in one area in a long time. It is worth reflecting internally for a moment and asking “Did the Annual Meeting matter for us?”
I think it did.
It mattered for all the students participating in their first sessions: meeting their peers, future colleagues, authors of so many of their favorite books/articles, and then finding out that some of them are amazing and others not so much, but that all are part of the anthropological dynamic.
It mattered for the students and faculty from smaller schools and community colleges, rural areas, and underserved urban spaces, who seldom have the support and access that so many in the elite and research universities take for granted. The meeting offered opportunities to network, to hear and learn, to be heard, and to participate in shaping the discipline.
It mattered for the anthropologists outside of the academy as they reminded their academic peers of their important contributions and the critical and central roles that collaboration inside and out plays for all of anthropology.
It mattered for the anthropologists of color who in most departments are immersed in a sea of whiteness, but at the Annual Meeting can see a bit more color in the landscape. The meeting offered expanded prospects to find a wider complex of connectivity, unity, and action, and the opportunity to continue to collaborate and to continue to push against the profoundly racialized biases of the academy.
It mattered for the job seekers, the friends who see each other only once a year, the non-anthropologists invited to immerse in our milieu, the now established professors who organized fêtes for their mentors, the accidental collaborators, the first-time author seeing her book on display, and so many more.
It mattered for our professional organization, the AAA, as the staff work tirelessly across the year to produce, develop, and implement the infrastructure for our gathering, enabling it to matter for all of us.
In my call for the Annual Meeting, I asked us to continue to move beyond divisive debates about ownership, terminology, and classification and into fruitful dialogues across and throughout our practices. I hoped we’d gather in opposition to strict boundaries, spill across academic divides, and blur the synthetic lines that isolate good questions from generously intellectual and fearlessly anthropological investigation. I challenged us to demonstrate why anthropology matters in the academy, in the larger world, across time, and to us.
For many attendees, some of these goals were experienced, and they took heart, leaving the meetings excited about their work, their discipline, and their contributions. But for others, this was not the case. In the spirit of continuous improvement, we need to work on the registration process, assuring reasonable accommodations for attendees who need them, increase our media coverage, and reduce our carbon footprint by greening the meetings even more. Anthropology does matter, but it needs to matter more.
The 2018 meeting theme “Change in the Anthropological Imagination: Resistance, Resilience, and Adaptation” offers us another chance to gather and a renewed inspiration. Imagining how we can matter more, and figuring out ways to make that a reality, is at the heart of what anthropology is all about. See you in San José.