What is American Anthropology? – 4 July 2012

For a July 2013 update see Public Anthropology and Bill Gates: We Cannot Abandon Humanity

For most of the world, 4 July 2012 was a midweek Wednesday. How most of the world shares that calendar is another important story for anthropology, but for now I write from the United States of America, where many people took the day off to celebrate the Declaration of Independence. Some of us who call ourselves “Americans” are surprised to learn this is not a global holiday. And indeed, it’s a reasonable guess that more of the world knows when the U.S. celebrates its independence than Americans know about the holidays of any other nation, just like much of the world will be considering the implications of the Obama-Romney race long before most U.S. voters decide whether to go to the polls. That’s power.

Beginning with the appropriation of a name that should apply to The Americas, many Americans are blissfully unaware of how American they are. This includes anthropologists. Indeed the United-States based American Anthropological Association continues that tradition in its name. Since the U.S. generates a lot of anthropology, it’s problematic for an undertaking that seeks to comprehend humanity.

It has been gratifying to get a lot of “likes” and shares for my attempt at What is Anthropology? However, I do recognize that this is an American perspective on anthropology, something I was taken to task for in response to the YouTube version of What is Anthropology.

I’ve tried to make adjustments and tweak my own American perspective on anthropology. I advertise this blog internationally on Facebook, and as a result get readers from outside the usual places. The people I consider my most important influences for understanding what anthropology is–Michel-Rolph Trouillot and Tim Ingold–are not Americans.

Nevertheless, it is important to be mindful of these issues. And so, as I was preparing an update for the What is Anthropology section using the blog-posts below, I did want to note that they are all (to my knowledge) American anthropologists. To broaden the perspective a bit, I include a summary of the 2011 American Anthropological Association Presidential Address by Virginia Dominguez, who urged the AAA to take better account of its international membership. I also include a link to an article by Andre Gingrich regarding the need for anthropology’s transnational transition.

Happy 4th of July!

Franz Boas and Neuroanthropology, Daniel Lende
Neuroanthropology is anthropology. And part of a Boasian tradition of anthropology, but needing a renewed consideration not just of the historical links and origins of a particular way of doing anthropology, but even more importantly, a re-invention and re-interpretation of how to do Boasian anthropology in ways that can draw on human difference and similarity, biology and culture, experience and history.
Neuroanthropology, 29 June 2012

Too Smart, Too Dumb
This is why anthropology matters. It has nothing to do with understanding tribes or rites of passage. All of that is just kind of decoration and metaphor. Anthropology matters because, no matter which side of the tracks we grew up on, most of us find ways of bullying each other every single day–of putting people down and imagining that we are better than them, better than their politics, their values, their grammar. Anthropology matters because your ego has gotten away with this sneaky shit for too long, and it’s about time that somebody finally cried ‘mercy.’
Kate B. Harding, 29 June 2012

Transitions: Notes on Sociocultural Anthropology’s Present and Its Transnational Potential, Andre Gingrich
In this article, I address the 2009 AAA conference theme by arguing that sociocultural anthropology is going through a unique process of transitions. Although these transitions do not indicate the “end of anthropology” as such, they certainly highlight that the era of national traditions is coming to a close. In the difficult phases of advanced globalization that we are going through, our field is in a relatively good position to further develop its transnational potential, which is crucial to coping with the emerging challenges of the present and the future. For sociocultural anthropology’s continuing transformation along transnational lines, I argue that we have to seriously engage with the transnationalization of two main dimensions: the institutional and the epistemological. This requires the transnationalization of some among the relations of production of anthropological knowledge and also of this field’s epistemological foundations.
American Anthropologist. 2010.

Anthropology Textbook Review: What Does It Mean to Be Human?, Jason Antrosio
For a four-field introductory course, my preferred anthropology textbook is Lavenda & Schultz, Anthropology: What Does It Mean to Be Human?
Living Anthropologically, 3 July 2012

Virginia Dominguez, Anthropology’s Challenge: We can be better, Jason Antrosio

Update July 2013: The Virginia Dominguez lecture discussed was published as Comfort Zones and Their Dangers: Who Are We? Qui Sommes-Nous? Interestingly, to my knowledge it is not open access, nor has it been discussed in the anthropology blogosphere, which is telling for an address that really tried to push the members of the American Anthropological Association out of their comfort zones.

For the presidential address, outgoing AAA president Virginia Dominguez did celebrate these signs of growth, but she deliberately framed her address as more provocative than previous presidential talks. The address, titled “Comfort Zones and Their Dangers: Who Are We? Qui Sommes-Nous?,” pushed anthropologists into “zones of discomfort,” challenging anthropology, and particularly the AAA membership, to step outside what can sometimes be comfortable anthropological refuges.
Living Anthropologically, 22 November 2012

To cite: Antrosio, Jason. 2012. “What is American Anthropology? 4 July 2012.” Living Anthropologically website, https://www.livinganthropologically.com/what-is-american-anthropology-2012/. Originally posted 4 July 2012 on the Anthropology Report website, http://anthropologyreport.com/what-is-american-anthropology-4-july-2012/. Revised 3 December 2017.