The Montreal Anthropology Meetings – Recap of AAA Coverage

The Twitter feed on #AAA2011 is the place to get that “in the moment” sense of what happened at the annual American Anthropological Association meeting. But here is a round up of the different stuff that I could find this morning, two days after the AAA meeting in Montreal ended

Update: As Jason Antrosio points out in the comments, the top vs. all categorization by Twitter can lead to different looking feeds. The one above is the “top tweet” feed. Here is the “all” feed on #AAA2011.

The Science Controversy

There was an entire session on Science in Anthropology, a line-up of distinguished panelists to discuss last year’s controversy over the dropping of the word “science” from the AAA’s long range plan. Find the Twitter stream on the #aaasci session here, a recap put together by Caroline VanSickle.

Update: Find the unedited version of #aaasci, with all the tweets, here.

Dan Berrett, Chronicle of Higher Education, Anthropologists Seek a More Nuanced Place for Science
-This piece gets right to the point, and uses a love/hate example to highlight some of the debate over science in anthropology

Scott Jaschik, Not Feeling the Kinship
-This article gives more of a blow-by-blow coverage of what was said at the panel

Adam Van Arsdale, Van Arsdale Biological Anthropology Lab, Science and the Ring Species of Anthropology

The response I got from people who were at the event was one of frustration… From those who were at the event, it seems the frustration was the result of little progress in the arguments, with the various speakers largely talking to different points on the issue and at times, seemingly undermining the significance of the event altogether.

Jason Antrosio, Living Anthropologically, Science in Anthropology: Humanistic science and scientific humanism

H. Russell Bernard advocated a return of a “big-tent” anthropology: “We should be the humanistic science and the scientific humanism that Eric Wolf described nearly 50 years ago.”


From my perspective, as Greg Downey tweeted in from Australia, there did seem to be a bit of victimology, with both those who claim scientific approaches and those who claim more interpretive approaches feeling marginalized.

However, at least from audience comments, it would seem those claiming scientific approaches point to marginalization, but then say their marginalization is greater–that while no one would shut down humanistic approaches in anthropology, people more actively shut down quantitative approaches.

I was there, and the session was a bit of a let-down for me. Not much substantive was done (plenty said!), and the AAA couldn’t even begin to say the word “#aaafail” and barely acknowledged mistakes made. And as perhaps the only person in the room who has been a member of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, I did feel the urge at one point to stand up and defend humanistic approaches on their own terms.

Still, I took it as a moment of high comment comedy when the hardened cultural anthropologist on the panel accused the scientists in the room of being overly-defensive (just get over it… yes, what a way to start a marriage counseling session) and demanded that they show actual evidence of this discrimination and exclusion they claim. Evidence! Data!

And then the touchy-feely scientists replied, But it really felt that way to us. I wish they had come back with the line, Can’t you just get my emic perspective? But that would have been hoping for too much.


Dan Berrett, Chronicle of Higher Education, Anthropologists Consider a New Code of Ethics

One of the most notable changes in the proposed new code was to remove what many anthropologists call the “prime directive.”

The previous code, which dates to 1998 (though incremental changes have been made since then), told anthropologists that they “have primary ethical obligations to the people, species, and materials they study and to the people with whom they work.”

By many accounts, that directive has meant that an anthropologist’s obligation to his or her research subject can eclipse the goal of acquiring new knowledge. In other words, if research goes against the interests of subjects, then that research ought to be stopped.

The newer version, which the association’s executive board accepted for review at this year’s meeting but did not formally adopt, is more nuanced. It explains that the primary ethical obligation is “to avoid doing harm to the lives, communities, or environments” that anthropologists study.

Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, Ethics Without ‘Thou Shall Not’

Even a principle like, “Do no harm,” which would remain an undercurrent of the proposed new code, is not always easy to apply, committee members said. Rather, they said, it begs the question of, “Harm to whom?” and ignores the possibility that research may involve multiple groups with very different interests and fears.

Other Pieces

Dan Berrett, Chronicle of Higher Education, Psst: Don’t Tell Anyone, but Some Professors Like Teaching

Jason Baird Jackson, On Green OA and the Future of AAA Publishing at #AAA2011

Jason Antrosio, Living Anthropologically, The Tangled Bank: Old metaphors for new evolutionary understandings

Ryan Anderson, Savage Minds, AAA in Montreal: Open Thread

Alison Deplonty, Memories Bookshelf, AAA Summary

Erin Taylor, AAA 2011: Insights into cultural change from long-term fieldwork

AAA Blog Coverage

Émilie Sarrazin, AAA Blog, Arab Spring Can Help Rethink Anthropology

Marianne Butler, AAA Blog, Discussing New Reproductive Technologies at Annual Meeting

D Archie Frink, AAA Blog, Meeting Perspective – Day Two

Guiseppe de Cesare, AAA Blog, Anthropologists From All Over The World Get Together In Montreal

Alice Walker, AAA Blog, Meeting Perspective – Day One

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5 Responses to The Montreal Anthropology Meetings – Recap of AAA Coverage

  1. Thank you for this overview and perspective. I would like to add here that I got a very different set of tweets when I switched my Twitter stream from the “top” tweets to “all.” I’m not sure how Twitter decides what is a “top” tweet, but I do know that my own (brilliant?) tweets from that #aaasci session were excluded from Caroline VanSickle’s summary. This is not to complain–perhaps my tweets did not add to the storify–but to note that there is a technological editing in the tweet-stream when the search is on “top” results rather than “all.”

    • Hi Daniel,

      Thank you for responding on Twitter. I suppose it may be more that people followed this on #aaasci rather than #aaa2011. So I’ve just littered the #aaasci stream with my original in-the-moment commentary and will pay more attention to that in the future!

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