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AAA Statement on Police Practices

AAA President Monica Heller releases public statement on police practices in the United States and calls upon anthropologists to help create equitable policing:

In the United States, too many black Americans are killed by officers of the law. As anthropologists, we must speak out whenever our common humanity gives way to discrimination, prejudice and violence. We must speak out whenever anyone acts in ways that accords the full rights of personhood to some but not all. In this case, these injustices are perpetrated by those who are trained to protect us all, requiring a radical re-examination of the processes and structures that produce these tragedies on a regular basis.

Anthropologists can, and do, contribute to this re-examination by showing how structural inequality makes racism and race-based violence commonplace, whether it is motivated by individuals’ conscious intent or not, and in particular how officers of the law come to perpetrate such violence. It is time now to join with others to undo that process. Because it stops today.

“Why I signed” (the petition for academic boycott of Israeli institutions)

Guest blog post by AAA member,  Steven Caton (Harvard U).

I have not been a fan of boycotts in the past, so why did I change my mind?

The Gaza war in June and the continuing settlement finally made me reconsider. All the hand wringing over the Palestinians and pronouncements critical of Israel and its policies were doing absolutely no good. I spoke to a number of colleagues and friends, two of them Israeli, and two of them not (no Palestinians I regret to say) about the pros and cons of the proposed boycott, and after contemplating what they said for several weeks, I finally decided to sign. In other words, I did not take this action lightly. I have thought longer and harder than ever about questions of academic freedom that boycotts raise, and whether it’s impossible to distinguish between boycotting institutions and individual scholars, as it is claimed by boycott opponents.

Let me try to tackle the issue of academic freedom first. Opponents of the boycott argue that the freedoms of individual academics will be jeopardized, Israeli, Palestinian, and even scholars like myself who might “self-censure” by not publishing in journals supported by Israeli academic institutions, and that the boycott will not only be counter-productive but wrong in principle. It’s hard for me to buy this argument, when the range of academic journals, publishers and internet sites are so numerous and various as to make it possible to communicate one’s research outside the boycotted venues. A more reasonable concern is whether by not attending Israeli conferences or not teaching in Israeli classrooms, one is weakening these institutions to the point where they will see a cut-back in support for, say, anthropology, and thus do damage to the discipline inside the country as well as to individual anthropologists working in these institutions who are critical of Israel’s policy towards Palestinians and other marginalized groups within the country. Or conversely, that I am denying the possibility of my own speaking out within Israel against Israel’s policies and the university system that supports them. Let’s face it, even if we were given the chance to make that point or debate it, it would be dismissed as a personal view. I’d rather forego the opportunity to debate the issues within Israel, where these things tend to get coopted or marginalized in any case, and align with my colleagues in condemning what I think is unjust, which I think is a much more powerful tactic.

Speaking more abstractly, there is the “infra-structural” or “material” argument that says academic freedom is dependent on certain conditions being operative, and of course I have to acknowledge the merits of this argument in that Palestinian scholars are being deprived of the material infra-structure they need to exercise their academic freedoms within Israel. Am I therefore being illogical by arguing that two wrongs make a right? That if Palestinians are being denied their academic freedom, then so should Israelis and others working in Israeli institutions?
The answer to that question gets to the other, whether it is possible to distinguish between institutions and individuals. The boycott does not say that an Israeli (or non-Israeli) working or teaching or otherwise doing research at an Israeli institution of higher learning ipso facto will be boycotted, it only says that the institution will be. Impossible to make this distinction in practice between institutions and individuals? Again, I have a hard time believing that it is impossible; difficult, at times, perhaps, but certainly not impossible. I have supervised several Israeli students and otherwise closely advised or mentored others, all of whom fall within the spectrum from right to left on the question of Israel’s policies, and I don’t see my practice changing. The question is the intellectual merits of the individuals and the proposed research, and also the degree to which the project is critical of existing injustices that fall within the scope of the topic. I suppose I can only make this judgment on the basis of the facts of the application but that is only all we ever have before us when making collaborative decisions such as these. Might the research I collaborate with be used later to support the oppressive policies of the Israeli state? Perhaps. But all of us take this risk with the research we publish once it is in the public domain. So, would I accept to work with a student (Israeli, Palestinian or other) from an Israeli university whose project explores a research topic within, say, Israel, but also looks at the question in a balanced way deploying critical anthropology at its best? Yes, absolutely I would work with him or her. Where I would have a problem is with someone who seems not to be aware of or averse to pushing a critical perspective, or is simply an apologist for one side or the other in the conflict. Where I would also have a problem is accepting an invitation from that student’s home institution to give a lecture or teach in the classroom.

To those who say there are better ways to address the very injustices that they too want to change, I ask that you please put them forward so that we can debate the proposal and decide whether we should support it. Give us the alternative. To those who say the boycott is ineffective, then propose something that is. To those who say that it will do more harm than good, it is hard to imagine how the present state of affairs can possibly be worse. But I hope the debate will allow us to explore what are obviously difficult and thorny issues.

The AAA Process and Discussions of the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions

Today’s guest blog post is written by AAA members, Fida Adely and Lara Deeb

At the upcoming (December 2014) annual meeting of the American Anthropological Society (AAA), several panels will take up the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, providing a context for learning about how anthropologists have been and could be further engaged in a just resolution. Several of these forums specifically focus on discussion of the call for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions. We support this boycott, but whether or not you agree with our position, we would like to clear up some circulating misinformation about how the discussion is taking shape in the AAA.

As of late, a number of people outside anthropology who are either opposed to an academic boycott, and/or opposed to any discussion or debate of such a boycott, have criticized the AAA for failing to provide “balance” in this annual meeting programming, implying that somehow this was deliberate on the part of the AAA, or at best, a glaring oversight. It is important to note that all of the panels mentioned above were vetted through the standard review process for proposed events at the annual meeting, the deadline for which was February 15 of this year (see the call for proposals). Indeed, the panel on the AAA program that, based on its title, will present an argument against the academic boycott was also submitted and vetted through this process. If there are fewer panels that seem to argue against the academic boycott rather than support it, this is because fewer were submitted by AAA members for inclusion on the program.

To those who suggest that opponents of the academic boycott were “surprised” by the multiple panels discussing the issue on this year’s AAA program: It is worth noting that this is the second year that discussion of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions has taken place in this venue. The 2013 AAA Annual Meeting included a well-attended panel of papers addressing various aspects of the boycott, and at that panel, a draft resolution was circulated and attendees were informed that further discussion of the boycott would take place at the 2014 Annual Meeting. The passing of academic boycott resolutions at the American Studies Association, the African Literature Association, the Asian-American Studies Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, and other academic associations should also have been an indication that similar discussions would arise at the AAA and elsewhere. This is not a matter that is somehow limited to anthropologists but a broader response from scholars to a call for solidarity from Palestinian civil society, in particular the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees. Clearly a few people understood that this would be discussed at the AAAs, as there is an anti-boycott panel on the program. If people do not find that particular panel “credible,” it is not the AAA’s fault.

There are a number of possible explanations for the dearth of anthropologists from major Israeli universities on panels addressing these issues. Those scholars may not have wanted to open up discussion of the academic boycott, as indicated by a letter from the Israeli Anthropological Association that condemns the AAA for its panel selections and for focusing on Israel as a key topic of discussion at the upcoming meetings. Yet it may also, instead, be an indication that it is not an easy task for Israeli scholars to publicly advocate the boycott of Israeli academic institutions – for fear of reprisals or punishment under Israeli government anti-boycott laws. While boycott advocates are not calling for scholars working in Israeli institutions to boycott their own institutions, some scholars in Israel have spoken out in support of the boycott. More than forty Israeli anthropologists responded to that letter from the Israeli Anthropological Association in a counter-letter defending the right of their anthropology colleagues to have this discussion. Notably, quite a few of the signatories on the second letter chose to sign anonymously, highlighting the very real possibility of sanctions, especially for early career scholars. As demonstrated in the IAA letter, those opposed to the academic boycott of Israeli institutions have sought to shut down even the mere discussion of the boycott. The default “anti-boycott” position is to not address it at all. This may provide a possible explanation for why only one such panel was organized and submitted for inclusion on the 2014 Annual Meeting program.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the demand for “balance” in the context of an academic conference such as the AAA Annual Meeting is a puzzling one. What does balance mean in this context? That every argument should have a counter-argument? That AAA should henceforth review proposals with “balance” of theoretical and ideological leanings in mind? The AAA leadership’s job is to make sure panel proposals meet minimum criteria and are vetted through an established peer review process. They are not tasked with – nor should they be tasked with – micromanaging the conference program. Those who demand “balance” are asking the AAA leadership to interfere with existing process by which the conference comes together each year, something we are certain neither Association members or those in its leadership positions think is a good idea.

It’s Webinar Wednesday!

Join Dr. Ken C. Erickson this afternoon at 2pm ET for Webinar Wednesday! Registration is required, webinar is free: http://bit.ly/1lU3FNY

KenDoing “Consumer” Anthropology, Warnings and Advice*

Whether its burgers or Boeing, anthropological technique and theory have found significant purchase in the business world. Sometimes. The questions Anthropologists ask often lead to discomfiting revisions in thinking about who buys products and services and what using or experiencing them means. Bringing anthropological stories to the enterprise table can even raise fundamental questions about the nature of business. Fundamental questions (about value, valuation, sustainability, and suffering caused by organizations, for example) need not be laid aside while asking and answering enterprise tactical questions. Using video examples and tales from the field, this webinar offers tips and tricks for finding an anthropological focus that can be heard and, sometimes, become levers to think about and change organizational practices.

DSP Member Special Invitation – New Faculty & Students receive 30% off membership dues

Today’s guest blog post is by AAA Membership Manager, Haleema Burton.

AAA is kicking the fall semester off with a special invitation to Department Services Program members for 30% off membership dues to your new faculty and students. As a benefit of DSP membership, this special invitation will provide substantial savings for both membership and registration rates for the upcoming 2014 AAA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

Here is an informational flyer that can be printed and posted or distributed. This is a limited time offer for first-time and lapsed (5 or more years) professional and student members who are affiliated with a DSP member that ends on October 15, 2014.

http://www.aaanet.org/membership/DSP-Members.cfm

Doing “Consumer” Anthropology

Join Dr. Ken C. Erickson next Wednesday afternoon for Webinar Wednesday! Registration is required, webinar is free: http://bit.ly/1lU3FNY

KenDoing “Consumer” Anthropology, Warnings and Advice*

Whether its burgers or Boeing, anthropological technique and theory have found significant purchase in the business world. Sometimes. The questions Anthropologists ask often lead to discomfiting revisions in thinking about who buys products and services and what using or experiencing them means. Bringing anthropological stories to the enterprise table can even raise fundamental questions about the nature of business. Fundamental questions (about value, valuation, sustainability, and suffering caused by organizations, for example) need not be laid aside while asking and answering enterprise tactical questions. Using video examples and tales from the field, this webinar offers tips and tricks for finding an anthropological focus that can be heard and, sometimes, become levers to think about and change organizational practices.

Anthropologists Announce New Task Force on AAA Engagement with Israel/Palestine

The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) announces the creation of the Task Force on AAA Engagement with Israel/Palestine, part of a broad association effort to respond to members’ interest in dialogue about the ongoing Israel/Palestine conflict. The Task Force is charged with helping the Executive Board consider the nature and extent to which AAA might contribute to addressing the issues that the Israel/Palestine conflict raises. It will report to the Executive Board by October 1st, 2015.

Task Force members were appointed by AAA President Monica Heller based on criteria including: significant expertise in relevant subject areas (e.g. conflict; historical memory); a representation of the main sub-fields of archeology, linguistics, biological, and cultural anthropology; understanding of the association; no two members from the same organization or university; no one with publicly identified positions on the issue.

The members of the group are Chair Don Brenneis (UC-Santa Cruz; AAA past president), Niko Besnier (University of Amsterdam), Patrick Clarkin (University of Massachusetts-Boston), Hugh Gusterson (George Washington University), John Jackson (University of Pennsylvania), and Kate Spielmann (Arizona State University).

The Executive Board has asked the Task Force to: 1) enumerate the issues embedded in the conflict between Israel and Palestine that directly affect the Association. These issues may include, but are not limited to, the uses of anthropological research to support or challenge claims of territory and historicity; restrictions placed by government policy or practice on anthropologists’ academic freedom; or commissioning anthropological research whose methods and/or aims may be inconsistent with the AAA statement of professional responsibilities; 2) develop principles to be used to assess whether the AAA has an interest in taking a stand on these issues; 3) provide such an assessment.

This may include providing a comprehensive and neutral overview of arguments for and against a range of specific possible stands on these issues, as well as on any broader but relevant issues that are raised in the context. The Task Force will also recommend whether or not the Association should take any action, and if so, will recommend what form it should take. To read the full Task Force charge, please visit http://bit.ly/1t9ELse.

“The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine is of great relevance to the AAA, and it is worth the investment of time and careful thought that the Task Force is being asked to make,” Task Force Chair Don Brenneis said today. “The Association’s engagement in the relevant issues may take several forms. We want to be sure that we have the facts straight, and a clear understanding of the impacts associated with our choices before we recommend to the Executive Board a course of action.”

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