Introducing: The Upward Anthropology Research Community

In 1972, Laura Nader called for anthropologists to “study up” – to turn the ethnographic gaze on the people, sites, and practices of power. With the creation of this community, we hope to provide resources, advice, information, and other forms of support to anthropologists who are currently or are interested in beginning this practice.

The seed for the community was planted about a year ago when a group of us were discussing the potential for anthropological methods (including all four fields) to document structures of power, identify weak points, and inform those who are engaged in resistance or simply trying to navigate those structures. Historically anthropological methods have been used to document and make visible the lives of marginalized or oppressed peoples. We don’t want to diminish the value of that work – it is important and necessary. However, in a world of increasing inequality, of power structures that encompass the globe, of unmitigated racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination, and of environmental crisis, we believe that making the invisible visible is not enough. By turning ethnography on those in power, we also make the visible more visible, and – hopefully – make it possible to “hack” the structures of power in order to undermine their inherent inequalities and create a more just and sustainable world.

Following these conversations, my friends and I organized a panel at the Fall 2013 Public Anthropology Conference at American University. We had a fair turnout – particularly thanks to that conference’s commitment to inviting members of the public, NGOs, activist groups, and practicing anthropologists. Many important issues were discussed in that first meeting, and we committed to holding regular meetings at conferences in the DC Metro area. A second panel was organized for the University of Maryland’s AnthroPlus conference this past Spring, and we are planning an event to coincide with the American Anthropological Association meeting in DC later this year (details to come).

In light of this upcoming event, we have decided to go public and broaden our community. This group started modestly as a DC Area research group, but power operates and proliferates all over the world. We hope that this community and the resources we are in the process of assembling will provide a useful base of support to those who are engaged in this type of research anywhere in the world. With that in mind, we hope you will help us in any way you can – by providing advice, suggestions, or material support, by contributing data, publications, and essays. We claim no privilege or monopoly on this community, and we hope to make it as open and accessible as possible, so if you’re interested, please feel free to contact me at jmtumd (a) gmail or through our twitter and facebook accounts.

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