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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.

New Issue of Open Anthropology

Open Anthropology

Open Anthropology, a digital-only publication of the American Anthropological Association, is proud to announce the release of its latest issue. In World on the Move: Migration Stories, editor Alisse Waterston (CUNY – John Jay College of Criminal Justice) offers thirteen articles and two book reviews of anthropological works on the movement and circulation of people, ideas, languages and objects, and the human stories that reveal these processes. This issue also sheds light on current humanitarian crises and legislative debates related to migration.

Waterston curates a set of articles that explore the social and cultural aspects of migration across the globe and over time. “In the midst of contentious debates about immigrants and immigration law, anthropology provides an important framework for understanding. It resists the narrow view, asks the tough questions, contextualizes phenomena, gathers the evidence, studies and analyzes it, develops reasoned argument, and only then comes to judgment,” writes Dr. Waterston in her accompanying editorial.

At a time when immigration catalyzes human rights debates and the movement of people around the world has changed the global landscape, Open Anthropology provides a cross-cultural and historical perspective on migration. It also anticipates the upcoming AAA Public Education Initiative on migration, currently in development.

Content in Open Anthropology is culled from the full archive of AAA publications, curated into issues, and made freely available on the internet for a minimum of six months for users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link to the full text of these articles. Each issue is dedicated to topics that are of interest to the general public, educators, advocates and public policy makers.

Open Anthropology is available at www.aaaopenanthro.org

Over 250 Anthropologists Join the Call for a Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Today’s guest blog post is by AAA member, Lisa Rofel. Please direct your questions and/or inquiries to her via email: lrofel@ucsc.edu.

More than 250 anthropologists have signed a statement endorsing the burgeoning movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions in protest of Israel’s systematic human rights violations against the Palestinian people. These violations, in which many Israeli educational institutions are complicit, include denying Palestinians their right to education and academic freedom.

The full statement and signatory list are at http://anthroboycott.wordpress.com As scholars who specialize in how power, oppression, and structural violence affect social life, and as witnesses to the State of Israel’s multiple and egregious violations of international law that constitute an assault on Palestinian culture and society, they pledge to abide by their discipline’s stated commitment to “the promotion and protection of the right of people and people’s everywhere to the full realization of their
humanity.”

These anthropologists have determined that the policies, actions, and programs of Israeli academic institutions are complicit in the occupation and oppression of Palestinians in Israel and in the Occupied Territories in multiple ways. In calling for this institutional boycott, they pledge not to collaborate on projects and events hosted or funded by Israeli academic institutions, not to teach at or attend conferences or other events at such institutions, and not to publish in academic journals based in Israel. They remain open to collaboration with individual scholars based in the Israeli academy.

The signatories of the statement call on their anthropologist colleagues to join them, along with thousands of members of a growing number of US academic associations (including the American Studies Association, the Association for Asian American Studies, and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association), in answering the call from Palestinian civil society as well as from a number of Israeli anthropologists, to cease legitimizing Israeli academic institutions and thereby condoning their role in the continued suppression of the basic rights of the Palestinian people.

Anthropologists interested in signing this statement should visit: http://anthroboycott.wordpress.com, or email their name and affiliation to: anthroboycott@gmail.com

Engaging Anthropology Virtual Event: Anthropology and Ebola


The escalating Ebola crisis affects us all, and has shown a need for greater cooperation in developing public health communication and strategies.  On October 2, 2014 (important to note this is a Webinar THURSDAY) 1 PM EST, the American Anthropological Association will be hosting a virtual event panel discussing the role anthropologists play in not only research, but infrastructure and policy, in light of the escalating Ebola outbreak in western Africa.
The panel will include Adia Benton, Robert Hahn, Jacklyn Lacey, and Michael McGovern; with Julie Livingston as the acting moderator. We will also be trying a new format for this webinar: tapping into Google Hangout On the Air. We will be streaming the event live on YouTube, where you will be able to interact with the panelists directly through comment submission. Come be a part of this important conversation and technological experiment.
Robert A. Hahn has served as an epidemiologist at the CDC since 1986 and is a member of the Senior Biomedical Research Service. He received his doctorate in anthropology at Harvard University and his masters of public health in epidemiology from the University of Washington. He is the author of Sickness and Healing: An Anthropological Perspective and co-editor of Anthropology and Public Health: Bridging Differences in Culture and Society.
Adia Benton is an assistant professor of anthropology at Brown University. She holds a PhD in social anthropology from Harvard University, an MPH in international health and infectious diseases from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, and an AB in human biology from Brown University. Her work focuses primarily on the politics and culture(s) of health institutions, the issues they prioritize and the communities in which they work; among the topics she studies are HIV/AIDS, infectious disease epidemiology, gender violence, and access to surgical care.  She is the author of HIV Exceptionalism: Development through Disease in Sierra Leone (University of Minnesota Press 2015).
Jacklyn Lacey is curatorial associate of African and Pacific Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History. The two major themes in her work currently are intersections of infectious disease epidemiology, medical anthropology, sociology and anthropocene studies as well as analyzing museum discourses on African culture and technology. She has a background in virology and medical anthropology, previously working in public health education in Tanzania, HIV/AIDS testing and research at African Services Committee in Harlem, and in Drew Cressman’s NSF-funded immunology lab at Sarah Lawrence College.
Mike McGovern is a political anthropologist who works in West Africa and uses a variety of sources from kinship idioms to the aesthetics of state-sponsored folklore to try to understand postcolonial states within the arc of longer historical trajectories. He has taught anthropology at Yale and was also the West Africa Project Director of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank that analyzes the causes of armed conflict.

Help us name-storm

The AAA received a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to build a book review prototype. But “Book Review Prototype,” as a name, lacks the je ne sais quoi  we need to describe a new digital platform that publishes open access book reviews and wraps up new Web 2.0 functionality (like commenting tools, cover .gifs, and links to purchase books).

AAA and the prototype’s new editor, Justin Shaffner, want to hear which name do you like?

AAA Welcomes Justin Shaffner as Book Review Editor for Digital Book Review Process

The American Anthropological Association has named Justin Shaffner as Book Review Editor for its new digital book review platform. This innovative project is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Justin ShaffnerJustin is currently completing his PhD thesis in social anthropology at the University of Cambridge. He previously studied anthropology and philosophy at the University of Virginia.

He brings to the AAA Book Review editorship nearly fifteen years of experience in academic publishing, as well as involvement in various other digital projects, such as the Open Anthropology Cooperative and The Melanesian. Some of the former includes working with Prickly Pear Pamphlets (1999-2004), helping to ­found two open ­access journals, OAC Press (2009-2014) and Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory (2011), and being assistant (2003-2005) and associate editor (2009-2015) for Anthropology and Humanism, the journal of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, a section of the AAA.

He conducted 18 months of fieldwork (2006-2008) with Marind speakers living in Middle Fly and Lake Murray region of the Western Province of Papua New Guinea. His research focused on the experiences of kamok-anim, or community leaders, as they attempted to elicit and maintain productive relations across various global alliances, from regional ritual networks to relations with transnational mining and logging corporations, NGOs, and the state.

His doctoral thesis takes the Marind concept of “dema” (cf. Van Baal 1966) as a starting point to analyze and describe the trans-­Fly, which spans both sides of the international border between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, as a complex regional system. Taking inspiration from the Melanesian philosopher Bernard Narokobi (1977), he attempts to take the concept seriously, not as a “religion” (cf. Jensen 1963), but rather as a geo­philosophy, or philosophy of nature, in its own right, one which affords an opportunity to re­describe the environment, history, and political economy of the region.

More recently, his ethnographic research has served as impetus for co-organizing (with Rachel Douglas-Jones, Casper Bruun Jensen, and Brit Ross Winthereik) a workshop in Copenhagen in 2015 on capacity building, “Hope and Insufficiency: Capacity Building in Ethnographic Comparison.” The international workshop, funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, seeks to bring into dialogue scholars whose work offers a comparative basis for analyzing capacity building from which to advance the first edited volume dedicated to theorizing capacity building in ethnographic comparison.

New Book on Race Now Available

2nd Ed. How Real is Race?A Second Edition of How Real is Race? A Sourcebook on Race, Culture and Biology [Mukhopadhyay, Henze, Moses] is now available.

Authors Carol C. Mukhopadhyay, Rosemary Henze and Yolanda T. Moses employ an activity-oriented, biocultural, approach to address the question How real is race? What is biological fact, what is fiction, and where does culture, enter? What do we mean when we say race is a “social construction?

The new edition adds cutting edge material on human biological variation, expands coverage on the social, structural, power, and inequality dimensions of race, goes beyond Black/White dimensions, and has a new chapter, “When is it racism? Who is a racist”. Visit the new book website for an online supplement with “hot” weblinks, a comments page, and other resources, including for pre-college educators.

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