At the 2010 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, the Executive Board of the AAA voted to accept changes to the long-range plan of the association. These changes excised the word “science” from the long-range plan. A media storm quickly erupted, fed by individuals both inside and outside of anthropology. Many anthropologists online engaged in the conversation over “science” and anthropology, helping to promote understanding of what really happened, defend anthropology, and show the diverse and competing voices, and even dissent, within anthropology as a whole.
Here is our letter (pdf) to the Executive Board:
January 10, 2010
Dear President Dominguez, President-Elect Mullings, and the AAA Executive Board,
We are a group of anthropologists who maintain an online presence, through social media tools like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. The focus and tone of our presence varies, from outreach to research, from teaching to career development, from the personal to the political. However, we are united in our passion for our discipline. We join with those who have applauded the wording of the “What is Anthropology?” statement which clearly outlines the interdisciplinary nature of anthropology and its methods, both scientific and humanistic. This statement achieves the inclusivity that the removal of “science” from the Long Range Plan threw into question.
However, we also want to express our concern over AAA’s public characterization that it was only the mainstream media and other outside coverage that engaged in active discussions of the actions of the Executive Board (EB), or that this media coverage didn’t in some ways reflect real tensions and reactions within the anthropological community. As a group, we played key roles in the online discussion regarding the AAA EB recent omission of the word “science” from the Long Range Plan (LRP), as well as subsequent responses by the EB. By parameterizing the public discussion as only taking place in the media and among “outsider” bloggers attempting to construct an “us versus them” binary, the impression is given that there has been no internal dissent or dialogue.
In reality, there has been a vibrant conversation taking place on our blogs, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on other forms of social media, expressing myriad views regarding not only the LRP wording, the actions of the EB, and the role of science in anthropology, but also deeper questions of anthropological identity. Indeed, it was through blogs and Twitter feeds like ours that the media and outside bloggers first realized the depth of concern and confusion the EB’s actions elicited within the anthropological community. This concern and critique were more complicated, and frankly more interesting, than the dichotomous rift promulgated by the New York Times and other outlets, but it was real and it was taking place among anthropologists. We know the EB is aware of the vibrant online community of anthropologists that has been deeply engaged in this issue. We hope the EB will publicly recognize how anthropologists online helped advance debate over the controversy, playing a central role in creating a publicly available discussion that engaged the Executive Board, anthropologists of different persuasions, and the larger media.
Online communities represent a powerful tool for dissecting tensions and misunderstandings as well as for constructing a broad forum for interdisciplinary collaboration and identity-building. We believe this controversy could have been largely mitigated by more effective discussion of the Long Range Plan in public forums online, and more timely release of all documents related to the controversy. With respect to the association’s long-term planning, we also believe the EB will be well-served by developing a more explicit and robust approach to anthropology online, including issues around open-access scholarship, public dissemination of ideas, teaching, interdisciplinary collaboration, and connection with and support for anthropologists who work online. Our own experience during this controversy shows the potential and importance of online engagement. Many of us were operating in isolation before the news of the changes to the LRP allowed us to find each other, to coordinate postings and conversations both on- and off-line. We have been grateful for the online anthropology community that has come together because of our opinions on the AAA LRP. Some have described this conversation as a renaissance for the discipline, and others have committed to learning more about each other’s subfields because of the tension that we finally had to acknowledge, all because of the AAA’s removal of the word “science.” We encourage the EB to consider how to support anthropologists working online, and to encourage further online collaboration and dissemination among AAA members. This will strengthen the discipline, and also permit more timely discussion and engagement among AAA members as the AAA acts on its Long Range Plan.
We view our online role as anthropologists as contributing a valuable service to the discipline we love. We are hopeful that this episode in our shared history will prove to catalyze important and inclusive dialogue regarding who we are as anthropologists as well as the channels we use to communicate with one another. We encourage the EB and the AAA membership as a whole to participate in this online community, to hear and join with the voices that are coming from within our discipline. This is an opportunity to move past marginalization and work together toward rebuilding a truly interdisciplinary anthropology based on mutual respect.
Julienne Rutherford, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
Kate Clancy, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Daniel Lende, Associate Professor, University of South Florida
Blog http://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology, Twitter @daniel_lende
Ryan Anderson, PhD candidate, University of Kentucky
Krystal D’Costa, Digital Analyst, New York City
Francis Deblauwe, Program Developer, Alexandria Archive Institute
Carlina de la Cova, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Eric Michael Johnson, PhD candidate, University of British Columbia
James Holland Jones, Associate Professor, Stanford University
Rosemary A. Joyce, Professor, University of California, Berkeley
Eric Kansa, Project Lead, Open Context
Erin Koch, Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky
Kristi Lewton, Lecturer, Harvard University
Carl Lipo, Associate Professor, California State University, Long Beach
Megan McCullen, Visiting Instructor, Alma College
Carole McGranahan, Associate Professor, University of Colorado
Colleen Morgan, PhD candidate, University of California, Berkeley
Eugene Raikhel, Assistant Professor, Unversity of Chicago
Douglas Reeser, PhD candidate, University of South Florida
Michael E. Smith, Professor, Arizona State University
Matt Tuttle, Journalist, Norfolk Anthropology Examiner
Kyle W. West, Research Coordinator, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Anthropologists Online – Our Letter to the American Anthropological Association Executive Board by Neuroanthropology, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.