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AAA Backs National Adjunct Walkout and Awareness Day

Written by American Anthropological Association President, Dr. Monica Heller and Executive Director, Dr. Edward Liebow

Today, February 25, 2015 is “National Adjunct Walkout and Awareness Day,” a day when adjunct and contingent faculty at American colleges and universities are being encouraged to remain away from their teaching responsibilities or otherwise call attention to the unfair conditions of employment that many adjunct faculty face.

Across the academy, many adjuncts do not have professional careers beyond the academy, and are paid by the course at a fraction of the rate their full-time faculty counterparts are compensated. Adjuncts are often not eligible for employer-provided health care insurance coverage or retirement benefits. Adjuncts often do not get paid time off. Adjuncts have little employment security, are often told only days ahead of the start of the academic term whether their courses will be offered. At institutions that rely heavily on adjunct instructors, the quality of instruction may suffer, not because of the adjuncts’ qualifications, but because they lack private office space in which to meet with students, are so poorly compensated for their time that they may not be able to make themselves available for student consultations.

What is true for institutions of higher education in general is certainly the case in anthropology. The AAA is a member of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, which has a significant repository of data on working conditions, including a large sub-sample of anthropologists. The AAA’s Committee on Labor Relations has been tasked with providing advice regarding best practices in the employment of adjunct and contingent faculty. More broadly, we are trying to understand the contours of the labor market for anthropologists, and how the Association can best support our members and the discipline under these conditions.

Today is a day for heightening public awareness, and the AAA salutes those courageous anthropologists who are taking a stand for working conditions deserving of the level of academic preparation and commitment to quality education that adjunct faculty share.

The American Anthropological Association, dedicated to advancing human understanding and addressing the world’s most pressing problems since its found in 1902, is the world’s largest professional anthropology organization.

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.

Is Cultural Anthropology Really Disembodied?

Today’s guest blog post is by the President of the American Anthropological Association, Monica Heller.

Nicholas Wade’s recent book, A Troublesome Inheritance, is not one I would typically spend my weekends reading, as I don’t have much interest examining theories of everything in this world and little patience for theories as misguided as those examined in his book. But as science editor at The New York Times Wade wields influence, and his book reserves a special role for the American Anthropological Association (AAA), an organization of which I happen to be the current President. Unfortunately, that role is of the bad guy in a narrative opposing two figures: benighted cultural anthropology and « politically incorrect » but scientifically accurate theories of cultural evolution.

Those scientific theories, he says, show that race is a central feature of human biology, and that it has a genetic basis, which then influences social behaviour, some of which is more « successful » than others – not surprisingly, the behaviour he characterizes as « well adapted » is characteristic of Caucasians, and especially of Western Europeans. But it’s okay, he reassures us, the rest of us (well, you – I’m Jewish, and according to Wade astonishingly well-adapted, though the Sephardic bits might slow me down) can learn, and our genes can look Caucasian too! There are many problems with this argument, of course, notably the frequent confusion of correlation and causation, and the frequent omission of consideration of alternative hypotheses (for example, the equating of IQ measurements with an individual intelligence trait, as opposed to, say, the ability to write standardized tests). I will let my colleagues in biological anthropology address those that they are best-placed to discuss.

My own major surprise showed up on page 3. Using a single study of age of first reproduction on Isle-aux-Coudres (Quebec) between 1799-1940, Wade argues that a drop of four years over that time period is evidence of genetic adaptation with permanent consequences, and hence of contemporary evolution. Wade also uses such examples to argue that genetics are the basis of such social behaviours, while simultaneously arguing that genetic changes result from social conditions. I am from Quebec, as it happens, and have devoted years of study to francophone Canada. I’ve driven by Isle-aux-Coudres on many occasions (it is very pretty, you should go). I know a little about the political economy of reproduction in francophone Canada, enough anyway to know that (and why) it went from having one of the highest birth rates in the First World (and relatively low age of first reproduction) through to about 1960, to having one of the lowest in one generation – a rate which has subsequently persisted, with concomitant relatively high age of first reproduction. (And I know enough about l’Isle-aux-Coudres to know there is no reason to believe things would be different there.) And I’m not even a biological anthropologist.

Indeed, as President of the AAA, I could not help but notice that Wade portrays contemporary cultural anthropology as entirely represented by the American Anthropological Association (though admittedly, Wade doesn’t always get the association’s name right; let’s hope his copy editors catch those errors). Next, he portrays it as entirely founded on the work of Franz Boas, as though no one has had an original thought or a critique of Boas in the last 100 years or so. Third, he portrays the association as entirely devoted to a particular form of cultural anthropology which Wade decries as refusing to acknowledge biology altogether because it is a victim of its ideology; this will likely surprise both cultural anthropologists and AAA sections like the Evolutionary Anthropology Society as much as it surprised me. I am sure such oversimplification and reduction is useful for a book hoping to make a single point to a general public, but it concerns me that it should come from the person responsible for the science section of the New York Times. The cultural anthropology character in Wade’s book (that would be the one wearing a blindfold and erring in mists of its own creation) is not one I remember ever having encountered.

But what really concerns me, in the end, is the force of theories of race and cultural evolution. The fictive naturalization of what are fundamentally relations of power is, actually, terrifying. It would be lovely to think that they are too silly to waste our time on, but Wade’s book shows that they are not going away any time soon, and that we need to redouble our efforts to show them up for what they are: attempts to justify inequality. It would be nice to have The New York Times on our side. We have a few black hats to share.

 

National Geographic Channel International Cancels “Nazi War Diggers”

To AAA members:
This letter was sent on March 31st, 2014, to the National Geographic Society, National Geographic Channels and National Geographic Channel International to protest a program aired in Europe (with a trailer briefly available on YouTube), by the presidents of six anthropological and archeological associations based in the United States and Europe, including the AAA. The effort was spearheaded by Jeff Altschul, President of the Society for American Archeology. The content of the letter provides, I think, sufficient information for you to understand why this program is of concern to all anthropologists. Shortly before the letter was sent, Dr. Altschul received the following statement from John Francis, Vice-President of National Geographic:

“National Geographic Channels International, in consultation with colleagues at the National Geographic Society, announced today that it will pull the series Nazi War Diggers from its schedule indefinitely while questions raised in recent days about allegations about the program can be properly reviewed. While we support the goal of the series, which is to tell the stories of long lost and forgotten soldiers, those left behind and still unaccounted for, and illuminate history working in concert with local governments and authorities, we also take seriously the questions that have been asked. National Geographic Channels is committed to engaging viewers in the exploration of the world and all of us associated with National Geographic are committed to doing our work with the highest standards. We know the same holds true for our producing partners, including our partners on this series.”

We look forward to their response to our letter, and will indicate to them our willingness to work with them to ensure their programming meets the highest professional standards.

Best,

Monica Heller
President, American Anthropological Association

 

Anthropologists Approve Comprehensive Overhaul of Ethics Code

After a five-year review process, members of the American Anthropological Association have approved a rigorous overhaul of their ethics code.  The code offers guidance to anthropologists as to how they should conduct themselves in professional and academic settings, in collecting and disseminating research data, and in their relationships with research subjects, colleagues and students.  The new document, titled “Statement on Ethics: Principles of Professional Responsibility,” strengthens the previous ethics code, adapts it to the digital age, and makes use of a fundamentally new format.  Members were given six weeks to vote on the code, which was approved by an overwhelming 93 percent of those who voted.

The first AAA ethics code was written in 1971, in response to controversies over the Vietnam War. Where previous AAA ethics codes resembled straightforward legal codes, the new Principles of Professional Responsibility take the form of a hyperlinked living document in a simple, user-friendly format.  While still offering guidance for ethical conduct in the form of general principles, the new document features embedded hypertext links to pertinent case study materials, reference documents, websites and articles. The Statement has a series of references after each defining principle to allow the readers to find further sources of information and data.  These resources give readers a richer sense of the context of the ethics code and of specific dilemmas anthropologists have faced in their work. Continue reading

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