• Open Anthropology
  • Latest AAA Podcast

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 15,758 other followers

  • Archives

Zero Tolerance for Sexual Harassment

In response to the recent survey about sexual harassment in anthropology, reported by Kathryn Clancy (U Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), Katie Hinde (Harvard), Robin Nelson (U California, Riverside), and Julienne Rutherford (U Illinois, Chicago) the American Anthropological Association has issued the following statement on behalf of its more than 11,000 members.

 The American Anthropological Association (AAA) is shocked and dismayed to learn about the results of a recent survey reported at the April 2013 meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Knoxville, TN. The AAA has zero tolerance for sexual harassment in academic, professional, fieldwork or any other settings where our members work.  While the AAA does not have adjudicatory authority over these matters, our Statement on Ethics: Code of Professional Responsibility sets out our clear expectation that anthropologists “…have a responsibility to maintain respectful relationships with others. In mentoring students, interacting with colleagues, working with clients, acting as a reviewer or evaluator, or supervising staff, anthropologists should comport themselves in ways that promote an equitable, supportive and sustainable workplace environment.”

 We deplore the reported incidents of sexual harassment, and  expect employers and institutions of higher education to enforce the law as well as their specific anti-harassment policies for implementing the law. While sexual harassment is an issue that affects men and women alike, women bear the greatest burden of these incidents by far. The AAA has a long-term commitment to monitoring the status of women in anthropology through the Committee on the Status of Women in Anthropology, renamed in 2011 the Committee on Gender Equity in Anthropology. We encourage harassment victims who do not feel that adequate protections are available through their employer or home institution to contact the Association’s Committee on Gender Equity in Anthropology confidentially for advice.

70 Native American Masks To Go To Auction Friday

AAA member, C. Timothy McKeown wrote an article yesterday for Indian Country Today. The article You Can’t Convey What You Don’t Have discusses yet another auction of significant artifacts to be held at the end of this week in Paris, France. Below is an excerpt:

On Friday, April 12, Néret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou in Paris is scheduled to auction 70 Native American masks dating between 1880 and 1940. The auction catalogue describes each mask, provides a photograph, details the materials used in its construction, and identifies the tribe that used the mask in its religious ceremonies. There are one or more masks from Acoma, Jemez, Zuni and Navajo, but the majority are from Hopi. The proposed sale has unleashed a global discussion on the propriety of the trade in communally owned cultural items and the need for transparency in provenance documentation.

We know little about the collector for whose benefit the auction will be conducted, identified in the catalogue only by the initials “L.S.” and described as “a connoisseur with peerless taste” who lived and collected in the US for 30 years. The French press describes him as a Frenchman who worked in the American film industry and occasionally stayed with the tribe. Requests from the Hopi Tribe for information on the provenance of the collection have been ignored, and last Thursday the US Embassy in Paris reportedly weighed in with an email asking the auction house to respond to the Hopi request. In a statement to the press, an unnamed representative of the auction house claimed that the collector “legally bought the items in the United States at sales and auctions.” Auctioneer Gilles Néret-Minet has dismissed Hopi claims because “they rely on an article of the Hopi constitution which is not recognized in France because it is not a State.”

Monsieur Néret-Minet might be interested in knowing that a number of US Federal laws may also be implicated in the proposed sale. Taking the auction house representative’s statement that the items were “legally” bought in the US on its face, we can assume that none of the masks – many of which have been identified by the Hopi Tribe as objects of ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to the tribe and which could not be alienated, appropriated, or conveyed by any individual – were obtained after 1990 from tribal lands or from a museum receiving Federal funds. Section 4 of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) made the sale, purchase, use for profit, or transport for sale or profit of any such cultural items a criminal offense. To date, 13 individuals have been convicted of trafficking items similar to those being offered at the Paris auction. Most were fined and the cultural items confiscated and repatriated. Several were also imprisoned. The list of convicted criminals includes mostly tribal members, intermediaries, and dealers in the American Southwest. Missing are the collectors who fuel the market, though several have stepped forward, including one reportedly connected to the Hollywood community, to aid the law enforcement and avoid prosecution themselves.

Click here to read McKeown’s entire article.

Readers may recall a letter sent by AAA President Leith Mullings last month about the Barbier-Mueller Collection of pre-Colombian art that was auctioned by Sotheby’s Paris. What do you think it is about Paris to be a hub for such auctions?

AAA Releases Statement on OSTP memorandum

The U.S. President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) recently released a policy memorandum directing each Federal agency with over $100 million annually in research expenditures to develop a plan to support increased public access to federally funded research results. The American Anthropological Association applauds the OSTP’s collaboration-based approach to increasing access by working with the federal research funding agencies, and by encouraging these agencies to embrace the challenges and public interests that are unique to each field. The American Anthropological Association believes that when it comes to increasing access, it is highly appropriate to take into account the knowledge cycle, researchers who are not funded by the Federal Government, and the need to protect sensitive cultural data. Our members look forward to providing meaningful input over the next six months to the agencies’ plans to contribute to innovative breakthroughs through access to scientific data and research findings.

Scientists Respond to The New York Times

For the third time in three years, The New York Times has published an article by Nicholas Wade (12/20/10, 12/13/10, and again on February 18, 2013) that includes misrepresentations of the American Anthropological Association’s views on science, ethics, and the role of debate in the advancement of knowledge. Some have found their way into the recent article by Emily Eakin in The New York Times Magazine Section (2/17/13). In light of these misrepresentations, we present for the record the exact wording of core guiding documents of the Association.

The American Anthropological Association’s Statement of Purpose (Mission Statement) last amended in 1983 reads as follows: “The purposes of the Association shall be to advance anthropology as the science that studies humankind in all its aspects, through archeological, biological, ethnological and linguistic research; and to further the professional interests of American anthropologists, including the dissemination of anthropological knowledge and its use to solve human problems.”

The AAA’s Long Range Plan, revised April 22, 2011, states: “The American Anthropological Association will support the growth, advancement and application of anthropological science and interpretation through research, publication, and dissemination within a broad range of educational and research institutions as well as to the society at large.”

Furthermore, while AAA does not take sides in intellectual disputes among individual members, the Association remains committed to ethical practice and to robust debate about disciplinary ethics. The Long Range Plan states: “The AAA will reinforce and promote the values associated with the acquisition of anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation. This includes a commitment to the AAA Code of Ethics.” The new version of that code, now entitled AAA Statement on Ethics: Principles of Professional Responsibility, was released in 2012. The Statement reflects the multiyear efforts of two different working groups and an Association-wide discussion of draft versions. The final version was adopted by vote of the membership in 2012.

Finally, the Association continues to view lively debate as key to knowledge production. Disagreements about what is good science and what is bad science do not translate into an attack on science.

Looking Back on Today

Today’s guest blog post is by AAA member, Richard Wilk of the Global Climate Change Task Force. Dr. Wilk is Provost Professor at Indiana University.

Looking Back on Today

By Richard Wilk

How are we going to be remembered in a century, in two hundred or five hundred years?  Not as individuals – even the most famous people will be long forgotten.  But what about our civilization and our way of life?  As a trained archaeologist, I ask whether our time will be called a golden age, an epoch of art, learning and enlightenment, or a dark and troubled era of wastefulness, decline and division.

Archaeologists have tried to purge the more obvious value judgments from their snapshots of past times. They no longer call epochs “decadent” or “formative” though terms like “classic”  and “high civilization” are still  used for the times when a culture hit its peak of power, built its most magnificent cities, made the most beautiful and elaborate arts and crafts, or conquered neighbors and welded them into a vast empire.

And they can also point to genuine examples of decline and failure. The Norse, for example, successfully colonized Greenland in 986 AD, and grew to 16 parishes led by a Catholic bishop in 1350. But when their trade with Europe was cut off by the Black Plague a hundred years later, and colder climate cut down on their pastures, the colonies failed and everyone sailed back to Iceland and Norway (see Stull 1990).  The people of the American Southwest, in Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon and a series of other cultural centers  settled there for centuries, yet suffered a painful decline and dispersal between 1100 and the 1400 with continual raiding, warfare, migration and ultimately abandonment of sequential regional areas.

So what about our era, the rise of Western capitalism and its diffusion in the form of globalized trade and material aspirations? Pundits and preachers tell us we are at the edge of the cliff, about to fall into oblivion. Others claim just as certainly that we are entering a new period of growth and prosperity, as democracy and freedom spread and we transition into a sustainable economy based on green technology.

For a moment let’s just step back and look at one thing we have built our civilization upon – oil.  The amount we use is so large that the numbers are meaningless to most of us. Artist Chris Jordan uses huge canvases to help us really feel what 28,000 42-gallon barrels–the amount consumed in the USA every two minutes– looks like. As he says, it is “equal to the flow of a medium sized river” running 24 hours a day.

Maybe in 50 years but certainly in a century, free oil from the ground is going to be very scarce and a lot more precious.  There will be expensive substitutes from natural gas, algae, genetically modified palm trees and the like, but the idea that you could once pump oil and sell it for $100 a barrel is going to sound ridiculous. So looking back on today, from the distant future, the idea that people would burn the precious stuff just to drive around ‘sightseeing’ or on holiday, in a private vehicle, for fun, seems somewhat short-sighted.  A lot of the time these cars are not even full.

And why were their towns and cities spread out across the land, so people had to burn oil just to go to work or buy groceries? I have tried to explain this to European visitors several times, with little success. I somehow doubt that people in 100 years are going to have more sympathy. They are just going to think we were crazed, insane, and unbelievably wasteful; and that we were unable to understand what our own scientists were telling us.

At least the ancient Romans had an excuse when they poisoned themselves with lead in their water, food and wine. They had no idea that lead was responsible for their declining intelligence, miscarriages, memory loss and bad digestion. But look at all the poisons we ingest every day in our air, water, food and drink, despite dire warnings. How can we explain that in rational terms?

I just hope that none of our distant descendants ever runs across a catalog from Skymall or Hammacher-Schlemmer.  Like our giant yachts, trophy mansions and vanity museums, these catalogs demonstrate a rococo form of consumerism that has no pretense of being for or about anything, beyond the tiniest quantum of health or comfort. Are you ready to justify spending resources on an “indoor flameless marshmallow roaster”  to your great-great grandchildren, who are living in a world where oceans have risen to inundate most coastal cities, because of the fossil fuels we burned?

If these things were exceptional, my argument would be trivial. But our entire consumer culture has spun into a kind of ‘babes in toyland’ phase, that feels like one last big blow-out party where we try to recapture the innocent joy of a time when we didn’t know that our fun was wrecking the place.  The only difference is that in this case, it is the kids, not the parents, who are going to be asking, “What were you possibly thinking to leave us such a huge mess?”

Bloggers, political pundits, and social scientists have noted that the hallmark of the Anthropocene is that it is the only geological epoch where the active force in creating change (us, that is) consciously know that we are affecting the planet;  the question is whether humans have the interest and political will to do anything about it (Palsson et al 2012).  So far we have not heard any serious proposals to limit or control the wildest and most wasteful kinds of consumerism.

References

Palsson, G., et al., Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: Integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research. Environ. Sci. Policy (2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2012.11.004   http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2012.11.004

Stull, Scott 1990 Colonization in a Marginal Zone: The Norse in Greenland. Crosscurrents 4:1-15. http://www.academia.edu/637940/Colonization_in_a_Marginal_Zone_the_Norse_in_Greenland

Chris Jordan: http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/rtn/#oil-barrels

National Humanities Alliance Annual Meeting and Humanities Advocacy Day 2013

Mark your calendars!

National Humanities Alliance Annual Meeting and Humanities Advocacy Day
March 17-19, 2013

Washington, D.C.

Connect with a growing network of humanities leaders
Communicate the value of the humanities to Members of Congress
Become a year-round advocate for the humanities

Sessions and events will be held at the One Washington Circle Hotel, George Washington University, and Capitol Hill.

Registration
Please contact Damon Dozier if you are interested in registering. AAA does provide free registration to a limited number of interested members. Damon can be reached via e-mail at ddozier@aaanet.org or via telephone: 703/528-1902.

Hotel Accommodations
A block of rooms has been reserved at the One Washington Circle Hotel at discounted rates: $159/night on Saturday, March 16, and $239/night for March 17 – 19. To make a reservation, call (202) 872-1680 and ask for the “National Humanities Alliance” block rate no later than February 13, 2013.  Availability limited.

Travel
Please note when making your travel arrangements that the meeting will begin with an introductory reception and session on Sunday, March 17, at 6 p.m., at the One Washington Circle Hotel.

Indiana Jones is to Anthropology as Fred Flintstone is to Neolithic Life

Below is a copy of the Letter to the Editor of the New York Times Magazine by President Mullings in response to the recent article by Emily Eakin.

To the Editor,

While we recognize that the figure of Indiana Jones is attractive, it is about as useful for understanding anthropology as Fred Flintstone is for understanding life in the Neolithic. Your article perpetuates an outdated and narrow stereotype of our profession. The 11,000 members of the American Anthropological Association alone actually spend their time doing a vast array of things. Today’s anthropologists can be found in such diverse endeavors as leading the World Bank, designing health care for areas devastated by disaster, or researching  the causes of the 2008 recession or the deaths of 100 boys in a defunct reform school in Florida. The  representation of a field paralyzed by  debates about  ‘science, ’ vs. ‘advocacy ’ is similarly inaccurate, given the non-polarized ways most anthropologists today understand ‘science’, ‘advocacy’ and the nature of the field. The article also misses one of Napoleon Chagnon’s lasting legacies to our field: the reminder to engage in constant reflection about anthropological ethics. The American Anthropological Association recently did just that, releasing its new Statement on Ethics: Principles of Professional Responsibility in October 2012. Finally, we consider lively debate neither dangerous nor self-serving: it is a key to knowledge.

Leith Mullings
President
American Anthropological Association
Distinguished Professor
Graduate Center, City University of New York

Science, Advocacy and Anthropology

By Leith Mullings, Monica Heller, Ed Liebow and Alan Goodman


Do you remember the arcade game ‘Whack-a-Mole’? Plastic animals pop up at random from their holes in a table’s surface. The player bashes them back into their holes with a rubber mallet. As the pace picks up, initial delight is replaced by a growing sense of futility. Every time a mole is whacked back into its hole, another pops up somewhere else. The debate about whether science and advocacy are inimical is starting to feel like this.

It has popped up again in this week’s New York Times Magazine in reference to our discipline, anthropology. Contrary to some loudly voiced claims, both advocacy and science are (and long have been) at the core of our discipline. At the same time, of course, both continually raise important ethical questions requiring continued conversation, examination and debate; indeed, the American Anthropological Association recently approved a new statement on professional responsibilities. They both also require a commitment to good scholarship, and to lively but civil scholarly debate, in which arguments are considered persuasive because of a consistent body of evidence whose reliability and validity inspire confidence, not because of exceptional circumstances presented in a made-for-the-movies sensational fashion. (see also Professor Elizabeth Povinelli’s review of Noble Savages).

Let us use the problem of ‘race’ to illustrate the complex relationship between what counts as good or bad science, and significance of advocacy in anthropology. Our modern discipline’s origins are derived directly from an uncritical acceptance of, as well as a critical response to overt 19th and early 20th century ‘scientific racism.’ ‘Science’ legitimated prejudice and bigotry, holding that races were genetically separate and hierarchically ranked, and thus rationalizing slavery, Jim Crow laws and even genocide. And lest we think that ‘scientific racism’ is some archaic relic that was driven out of the public conversation, one need only consult the more recent arguments of authors such as Herrnstein, Murray, Rushton, Jensen, and Lynn.

In an attempt to bring sounder evidence to the debate, our Association’s current Race Project draws from all fields of anthropology and provides a modern, and eminently scholarly, understanding of race, casting a critical eye on race and racism through the lenses of history, science, and lived experience. The project, and the book that accompanies it, RACE: Are We So Different?, is also a form of advocacy, raising public awareness about how human variation differs from the popular, and sometimes even academic, notions of race. It argues, specifically, that 1) race is a recent human invention, 2) popular ideas about race emerge from history and culture, not biology, and 3) race and racism are embedded in institutions and everyday life.

The more general point is that at the very core of our discipline are commitments to the best of science and the best of advocacy. Advocacy suggests at minimum an ethical position to try to protect and better the lives of the individuals we work with, in particular those who are without access to power. Science stands for prediction (based on current understanding), followed by systematic observation and analysis and then, usually, revised understanding. But there is something more: we recognize that science is a practice that is undertaken in a social context, and as such it can be limited by the social hierarchies of its time, creating burdens and benefits, winners and losers. To have this awareness is not ‘anti-science.’ Indeed, it offers the sort of tough love of science that all responsible scientists ought to share. And every time the debate about ‘science’ versus ‘advocacy’ re-emerges, we cannot but hope that our discipline’s lengthy track record of critically embracing science can show that the debate itself is based on false premises.
We’d love to put an end to the futility of the science versus advocacy version of “Whack a mole” so we can focus on quality anthropological work for the public good.

Leith Mullings is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and President of the AAA.

Monica Heller is Professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto and Vice President and President-Elect of the AAA.

Ed Liebow is the Executive Director of the AAA.

Alan Goodman is Professor of Biological Anthropology at Hampshire College, and a Past President of the AAA.

Statement on Gun Violence

In light of recent events occurring nationwide associated with gun-related violence in schools, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) has released the following statement on gun violence on behalf of the Association’s more than 11,000 members.

American Anthropological Association Statement on Gun Violence

The tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary and Taft Union High School, the latest in an escalating series of mass shootings, remind us that gun violence is a major cause of death in the United States. Every year over 30,000 Americans are killed by guns. This is only slightly less than the number killed in car crashes and accidental poisonings (including drug overdoses). The abundance of guns in the U.S. also poses problems for neighboring countries. Since it is necessary to understand a problem in order to solve it, there is an urgent need for research by social scientists, public health experts and others into the relationship between guns and public safety and into measures that might reduce the number of lives lost to gun-related violence every year. The U.S. has a long history of public funding for research in the general interest – on agricultural innovation, public health, and product safety, for example.

Unfortunately, in 1996 the U.S. Congress defunded research on gun safety and gun injury at the Centers for Disease Control. It subsequently imposed constraints on research on guns and public health sponsored by the National Institutes for Health. Far from fostering a better understanding of gun deaths, the U.S. government seems to be actively impeding it.

Therefore we call upon the Congress and the Administration to rescind measures that obstruct the development of empirical knowledge about guns and public safety. Further, we call on the Congress and the Administration to make additional federal funds available, as an urgent national priority, for rigorous peer-reviewed research by experts from diverse disciplinary backgrounds to investigate ways of reducing the tragic loss of life in incidents involving guns.

800 Words on Idle No More

Today’s guest blog post is by AAA member Robert (Bob) Muckle. Robert (Bob) Muckle is based at Capilano University in British Columbia. His most recent book is Indigenous Peoples of North America: A Concise Anthropological Overview (University of Toronto Press, 2012). He also writes a column called ‘Archeology in North America’ for Anthropology News and is on Twitter @bobmuckle.

January 11th, 2Idle No More013 is likely be the most important day in recent decades for the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, with potentially global implications. It has to do with the movement known as Idle No More.

Idle No More began in late 2012 as a grassroots movement among the more the one million people claiming Indigenous ancestry in Canada, culminating primarily from what is perceived to be an ongoing erosion of their rights, lands, and resources. The movement has largely been peaceful, including hundreds of events including flashmob roundances at shopping malls, rallies, media campaigns, and a handful of blockades. It has been a dominant story in Canadian media since mid-December and there have been dozens of events supporting the movement by Native Americans in the US.

January 11th is important because (i) members of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), representing the interests of the more than 600 First Nations in Canada, and the organization the government prefers to work with, are meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada and the Governor General (the Queen’s representative) to discuss concerns of First Nations; and (ii) many of those participating in Idle No More movement are wary of representation by the AFN, and at least partially in response to the meetings have declared the day to be a ‘Day of Global Action’ with well over 100 events scheduled in support throughout the U.S. and elsewhere.

While Indigenous rights are front and center, there is much more of interest that is being underplayed by government and mainstream media. One thing that is rarely mentioned is that the movement is giving voice to a many thousands of Indigenous Peoples of Canada, especially those who have been frustrated with the actions of their own nation’s chiefs and councils or national representation (ie. AFN) at addressing the wrongs imposed upon them through hundred of years of oppression. Although Idle No More claims to have no official leadership, leaders are emerging and they tend to be young (ie. 20s and 30s), smart, articulate, and dynamic. And, not unimportantly, many of them are women.

Social media has been fundamentally important in the movement. Twitter has been used to quickly organize events and share media. One of many Facebook pages devoted to the movement has more than 65,000 likes. Organizers and supporters use social media for live townhall-type  meetings.

There has been considerable emphasis in mainstream media about a hunger strike by one chief that began on December 11th.  While for many she has come to symbolize the movement, she is not a founder or acknowledged spokesperson. The January 11th meeting with the Prime Minister and Governor General was one of her demands.

There is significant support for Idle No More among non-Indigenous peoples. In addition to recognizing the erosion of Indigenous rights and resources, many view the movement as perhaps the best way of protecting the environment. An immediate goal of the movement is to withdraw or amend legislation reducing the protection of the environment, which many Canadian would like to see. Other goals are for the government to uphold constitutional and other rights as they apply to Indigenous peoples, including meaningful consultation. An ultimate goal is to have truly nation-to-to nation relationships with the federal government.

Other things I have seen arise out of the movement is a strengthening of relationships between the First Nations in Canada, and through their support, with Native Americans of the US as well as Indigenous groups elsewhere. I see a strengthening of relationships between First Nations and non-First Nations people in many circumstances through their shared common purposes of protecting the environment and righting the wrongs of past governments.

I see First Nations taking the opportunity through media, flashmob dances, and rallies to educate others and assert control over vocabulary. Words such as decolonialization and settler (as opposed to non-Indigenous or Euro-Canadian) are increasing in usage.

Unfortunately, I also see much racism and ignorance, especially when reading the comments following media stories.

I’m not sure what is going to happen on January 11th.   It is an important day for the AFN. For the past few years their relationship with the federal government has been viewed by many as being too cozy. If the AFN wants to retain relevance within First Nations communities, they will have to make some kind of significant stand in their meeting with the government that will be pleasing to those preferring the grassroots Idle No More movement. This will be hard.

I think the amount of support demonstrated by the Idle No More movements within Canada, the US, and elsewhere will be fundamentally important. If there is relatively little support, I think the movement will fizzle. If the support is significant, however, look for the movement to escalate further, into the United States and perhaps elsewhere.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 15,758 other followers