AU PAC 2015 Recap

This past weekend we held our one year anniversary workshop at American University’s Public Anthropology Conference. It was a great session, with many participants (and it was our honor to have the keynote, Carole McGranahan in attendance) and there were a lot of interesting ideas and possibilities discussed. I just want to provide a recap of what was addressed and some thoughts for moving forward.

The main issue seemed to be, as always, the issue of access. How do ethnographers get to these sites and people of power without compromising the goals of upward anthropology? Several participants¬†provided insight from their experience – for example the recognition that a lot of the transactions that constitute power don’t take place at the official sites (offices, meetings, etc.) but elsewhere (restaurants, bars, etc.). This is, in some ways, to our benefit, since anthropologists are adept at navigating these informal locales, and in others not. However, it was generally agreed that people who hold these powerful positions are often not as inaccessible or unwilling to talk as is generally believed. Another point that was made was that there are a number of anthropologists who work for powerful institutions and organizations – governments, corporations, etc. – and so it might be worthwhile working on convincing them of the value of this project. It might be a tough sell, but not impossible.

Another possibility that was suggested by one of the archaeologist participants is to look at the infrastructure. While people and organizations might not be willing to allow an ethnographer in to do their research, the infrastructure of power is an important aspect that needs to be investigated, and is often more visible. Doing material analyses of buildings, resources, landscapes, surveillance technologies, and so on, is both necessary and possible within an upward anthropology framework.

Another topic that came up and was discussed extensively was the issue of funding. Anthropologists struggle with finding funding as it is, so how can we expect to get funding for upward research when it is generally those powerful organizations who are providing the funding in the first place? Connected to this was a sense that the fact that anthropology is embedded within powerful organizations makes studying up difficult as well. This highlights the need for a reflexive practice so that these relationships of power can be disentangled. The funding issue remains a major obstacle, but various grant opportunities were discussed.

Finally, I asked specifically what we could do as a community to facilitate this kind of research. At this stage, most participants expressed interest in just keeping the conversation going. There seem to be a lot of anthropologists interested in these issues and a new approach, so having these opportunities and sites to continue the discussion is important. In that spirit, we are considering other possible events where we can host workshops or roundtables including the Society for Applied Anthropology meeting, the American Ethnological Society meeting, and, of course, the AAAs, which are only two months away! Depending on our availability (and funds!) we hope to host discussions at all of these upcoming events and more. If you have any suggestions – please contact me.

It was also suggested that we could provide resources for people interested in Upward Anthropology. With that in mind, I have begun a “Resources” page on the blog. It’s a little empty now, but I hope to add to it in the coming week. Again, if you have any suggestions, please contact me! Also, check out our blogroll on the sidebar for some great upward anthropology links!

Let me also say that, although I have been working on this project for the last year and most of the people actively involved are my colleagues from graduate school, I don’t consider myself or us as owners of the project. All I’m trying to do is provide some tools, resources, and opportunities to promote the idea of upward anthropology in whatever way I can. If you have an interest in upward anthropology in whatever fashion you conceive it, you are a part of this community and I hope you will take part in the community in whatever way you can or want. If you want to write for the blog, let me know. If you want to host a roundtable, workshop, panel, or session at a conference, go for it! If you think of some other way to promote upward anthropology, then great! The only thing I would ask is that you keep us informed in some way so that we can share the information and help promote the Upward Anthropology project in all of its iterations. Thanks to everyone who has taken part so far. I look forward to seeing and working with all of you again, and also to seeing new faces and generating new ideas.


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