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New booklet and installation showcase popular anthropology

Today’s guest blog post is by Erin Taylor and Gawain Lynch.

Where are anthropologists publishing these days? Most of us probably know that Gillian Tett writes for The Financial Times and Sarah Kenzidor for Al Jazeera. Paul Stoller has a column in The Huffington Post, and there is also the AAA’s Huffington Post blog. We occasionally stumble across various other articles penned by anthropologists.

A couple of years ago we began searching for anthropology that is written for a public audience. We now have a rather long and impressive list, and we’ve only just uncovered the tip of the iceberg. Around the world, we’ve found anthropologists publishing in places like The Guardian, The Conversation, Nigerians Talk, the Jamaica Gleaner, The Big Issue, O Magazine, Psychology Today, Scientific American, and many more.

But most of use aren’t aware of the extent of popular writing that anthropologists do – not even those of us who do it ourselves. This limits anthropology’s’ potential public voice.

We can change this by learning more about who is doing popular anthropology and by building connections between us.

First, if we share each other’s public work, we help to lift anthropology’s public profile. This helps anthropology have an influential voice in society. It also helps us as individuals: greater visibility for anthropology means that it will be easier to make our own voices heard.

Second, if we know who is writing for the public, we can learn from them. There are many anthropologists who believe that public communication is important and we write regularly on our own blogs. But these have a limited audience, and it’s hard to figure out how to take the next step. We need more avenues for mentorship and learning.

Third, if we network and collaborate as popular writers, we have a stronger bargaining position when it comes to our promotional committees and workplaces, who might not see the value in writing for the public. Most of us who produce popular anthropology do so as individuals. This makes it difficult to convince our workplaces need to understand that contributing to anthropology’s public profile has many benefits. But a show of force can change how popular anthropology is valued.

How do we do this? As a first step, we are running an installation at the AAA meetings in Washington D.C. on Friday 5 December. It will feature short talks by Agustín Fuentes, Rosemary Joyce, and Greg Downey. We’ll show a video of interviews with popular anthropologists, produced by Natalia Reagan from the BOAS network. And you’ll get to participate, too, as the bulk of the installation will be taken up by a Town Hall meeting.

In preparation for our installation, we’re pleased to launch “Showcasing_Popular_Anthropology”(PDF), a compilation of short articles published in newspapers and blogs. It includes contributions from Sarah Kenzidor, Joris Luyendijk, Keith Hart, Dori Tunstall, Susan Blum, Helen Fisher, Vito Laterza, Olimide Abimbola, Agustín Fuentes, Rosemary Joyce, Greg Downey. At the back is a list of further reading to help you learn more about who is doing what and where.

This is just the beginning of the conversation, and taking it further will require a collaborative effort. So, if you will be in Washington D.C., come along and tell us what you think we can do to help popular anthropologists to join forces. If you can’t make it to the AAA meetings, you can still get in contact with the many anthropologists who are doing public work. Communicating among ourselves is an important step on our path to communicating with broader publics.

Faster athletes, slower spectators and the Olympic marathon

Photo by Dave Catchpole

In the lead-up to the Olympics, AAA member Greg Downey wrote a piece on the Huffington Post, asking whether the Olympic movement has really succeeded in promoting “sport for all,” or has instead become an increasingly professional offering for a passive spectatorship. The marathon, in particular, is a telling case study, as it was run for the first time in the 1896 Olympics in Greece, the inaugural games of the modern Olymiad. He writes about the winner of that first marathon, Greek water carrier, Spyridon Louis:

And yet, at the same time that the margins between Olympic finishers may be a hair’s breadth, the gap between the athletes and the spectator public is growing. Spyridon Louis was a true amateur. His first ‘marathon’ was his qualifying race, about two weeks prior to his Olympic performance. Today’s Olympic contenders are dedicated professionals, physiologically worlds’ apart from most of the spectators, who are growing increasingly sedentary.
Sure, the number of amateur participants at marathons is swelling, but on average, marathon runners are going slower. It’s very hard to imagine today, especially in the Western world, that someone could run a sub-three-hour marathon in their second attempt, two weeks after their first marathon.

Read the entire piece on the Huffington Post. Downey also expands on his blog post over on his blog, Neuroanthropology.

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