From the President

Understanding Our World, Shaping a Better One

Alex Barker

The American Anthropological Association is the world’s largest and most diverse organization representing our discipline.  It embraces both the full range of anthropological specialties, as well as the full range of contexts of practice, comprising scholars and practitioners from every corner of the globe.

In an age of polarization and polemic, of bottomless doubt and endless division, anthropology offers a lens that’s needed now more than ever before. It helps us to view our world with greater depth, empathy, and nuanced understanding, to accept and welcome the myriad ways of being human, now and in the past, and to explore alternative paths toward a more just and sustainable future for all.

That’s doubly important now, because at the same time the world has become more polarized it’s also become profoundly more interconnected, making it ever more critical that people everywhere better understand and learn from one another.  The global challenges defining and shaping our world—from climate change to disease, cultural heritage preservation and endangered language documentation to migration and displacement, the role of artificial intelligence to the delivery of healthcare—can only be understood in a holistic, human context.  

Our ongoing role is to bring together practitioners, scholars, educators, students and the public to strengthen anthropology and deepen its role in our world, convening anthropologists of all specialties and practice settings to exchange ideas and bring new insights forward

And we walk the walk.

AAA is working with multiple partners to develop its new World on the Move: 250,000 Years of Human Migration exhibition in collaboration with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and the National Geographic Society, and our extremely successful RACE: Are We So Different? exhibition has completed its national tour and found a permanent home in North Carolina. Our task forces continue work on critical issues including Anthropology and the Proliferation of Border and Security Walls and Racialized Police Brutality and Extrajudicial Violence in the United States, and we’re training anthropologists to be more effective public scholars through AAA’s Op-Ed project, with published results already helping inform popular discourse.

This past year we launched the Open Anthropology Research Repository, aimed at accelerating the discovery and dissemination of anthropological work presented at disciplinary meetings worldwide in any language.  An open access platform available to all anthropologists around the world without charges of any kind, our goal is to level the playing field for all anthropologists, and provide a resource that different scholars and practitioners can use in different ways to best serve differing regions, topics and communities of practice. We also added an important new title, Feminist Anthropology: The AFA Journal, to our portfolio of more than 20 peer-reviewed scholarly journals. Global issues, global responses.

We organized our first joint meeting with the Canadian Anthropology Society/Société Canadienne d’Anthropologie, and I am grateful to them and to AAA staff, volunteers, program committee members and section program editors, as well as Program Chairs Nicole Peterson of AAA and Martha Radice and Pamela Downe of CASCA, for making the Vancouver meetings such a resounding success.  We also piloted a virtual meetings option, which we hope will inform future virtual meeting planning in coming years. Keeping AAA as inclusive and welcoming to everyone as possible, we did all that while lowering the membership costs for our most vulnerable members. 

What we do matters, because people matter.  And no discipline or area of practice is more focused on the human condition than ours. Join us in our efforts to showcase the work and wisdom of anthropologists everywhere so that more people can benefit from all that we as a discipline (and a species) have learned, to champion both substantive, scholarly research and evidence-based approaches in the human sciences, and to amplify the voices of anthropologists and the insights anthropology affords to address critical issues in our world. 

Join us to expand anthropology’s impact, and ensure AAA’s future as a continuing force for good.

From the Executive Director

Our Commitments – Making A Difference

Ed Liebow

Looking back over the many things that we have accomplished together in 2019, one thing is crystal clear: the future is rushing towards us at breakneck speed, presenting opportunities and challenges for adapting to change that test and strengthen our resilience as an organization. What does our future look like from this vantage point?

Our future is interconnected We are hard at work strengthening our partnerships around the world and in the US. We collaborated successfully with the Canadian Anthropology Society / société canadienne d’anthropologie (CASCA) in holding Annual Meeting. The Open Anthropology Research Repository (OARR) was launched thanks to the policy guidance of our international / interorganizational advisory group and the technical support of our publishing partner, Wiley-Blackwell. We hosted a summit in collaboration with 14 anthropological associations committed to preventing sexual harassment and assault in the profession. And we continue to work with the National Humanities Alliance, the Consortium of Social Science Associations, the Coalition for American Heritage Preservation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Coalition on Science and Human Rights, and Scholars At Risk, among others, on advancing public support for research and scholarship, protecting heritage resources and heading off threats to academic freedom.

Our future is “open” The repository’s launch is just one step on the pathway to an open future. “Open” includes access to published research findings for all who wish to see them (in a sustainable way that preserves quality and the breadth of content), and also open data (if you have the data available and can share them, we want them to be shared), open collaborations (which will propel us forward with our ambitious diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility aspirations), open practices (as someone once said about sunlight, transparency through our beefed-up Anthropology Information Central works well as a disinfectant), and open recognition (when we celebrate our members’ accomplishments and recognize their service, we all gain by association).

Our future is “hybrid” We are convinced that technological affordances can help us build a hybrid suite of meetings and conferences program, and thanks to nudging from key sections and the student members of our programmatic advisory and advocacy committee, 2019’s Annual Meeting featured a Board-supported pilot test of a virtual attendance option. The potential for extending affordable access to members who might otherwise not take part is promising, as is the potential for reducing the annual meeting’s carbon footprint. Virtual is not a substitute for face-to-face interaction when it comes to the meeting’s central focus on scholarly exchange and professional development, but it shows sufficient promise as a valuable addition to our overall offerings and the Board has approved an expanded pilot for 2020. 

Our future is the embodiment of excellence We will continue to be guided by the highest expectations for scholarly rigor, innovation, and relevance. In 2019, we supported members who are interested in bringing commentary informed by research and scholarship to broader audiences, and will expand the Association’s involvement in The OpEd Project again in 2020. Our public education initiative has found a long-term home for the third version of the RACE: Are We So Different? exhibition, and plans for a 2021 launch have advanced considerably for World on the Move: 250,000 Years of Human Migration, in partnership with the Smithsonian, the American Library Association, and the Goethe-Institut. 2019 has affirmed how people count on us to set standards for quality and responsible professional conduct, helping to sort through the cacophony of loud, polemical voices. Whether the question is one of how to understand and shape equitable behavioral and institutional change when faced with infectious disease outbreaks for which there are no proven medical therapies, learning the lessons of resilience and adaptation when faced with slow-onset hazards driven by global environmental change, highlighting how practically everyone has a migration and/or displacement story somewhere in their family history, advocating for the protection and preservation of cultural heritage resources, or reinforcing with our scholarship of how “race” is the child of racism, and not the other way around – we have shown time and again how to walk the talk of excellence. In 2019, we have used our convening power to bring department leaders together to share promising approaches to advancing the field, and will do so again in 2021. 

In brief, we have been actively working to be prepared to meet the future as it rushes towards us, more convinced than ever that anthropology, through our research, scholarship, and application, can be a force for good in the world. We are equally convinced that the Association has an important role to play in advancing the field. And we are ever grateful for the support that you, our members and supporters, provide through your service, advice, and financial contributions. Please accept my thanks and best wishes for the coming year.