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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.

2011 AAA Award Ceremony

Join President Virginia Dominguez in honoring this year’s award winners. The ceremony will be held in Room 516CD at the Palais des Congrès today from 19:45-21:00.

The 2011 AAA Award Winners include:
Bonnie Pitblado – AAA/Oxford University Press Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching of Anthropology
Helen E. Fisher – Anthropologist in Media Award (AIME)
Mark Nichter – Robert B. Textor and Family Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology
Shankari Patel – AAA Minority Dissertation Fellowship
Amy Moran-Thomas – David M. Schneider Award
Frances Norwood – Margaret Mead Award

Learn more about each award winner and the awards. Congratulations!

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