AAA President Leith Mullings

In 2013, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) undertook major initiatives on several fronts to improve the membership experience, reach out to potential members and sister organizations, and expand anthropology’s visibility both in the United States and internationally. I think it is fair to say that we have made some significant advances and that the AAA is poised to enter a new and more influential phase. This is due to the hard work of many people—our executive director, the officers, the Executive Board (EB), the staff, and particularly our members. I have been personally gratified by the willingness of so many of our members to step up to the plate. As you will read, we have had a record number of task forces, committees, and subcommittees working to improve the association and advance the discipline. To undertake these many tasks, I have made countless appointments and requests for participation and engagement from our members. That I was seldom turned down speaks to the enthusiasm of our members and the health of the association.

Association Business: Improvements, Innovations, and Challenges

Membership hit at an all-time high this year—exceeding 12,000—and the association continues to be financially sound. At our last Business Meeting I announced that the EB had hired Ed Liebow as our new executive director. He assumed the post on January 28, 2013, and, I am pleased to report, in the words of a NYC maître d’, he was “an excellent choice.” Though he has been on the job for less than a year, his energy, creativity, and commitment have been not only a source of inspiration, but have supported the remarkable range of activities that the EB has been able to accomplish.

Strategic Implementation Plan

Under the superb leadership of Vice President and President-Elect Monica Heller, Executive Director Ed Liebow and an EB subcommittee, the association now has a detailed Strategic Implementation Plan in place. This plan allows us to set a timetable and budget to accomplish strategic goals and objectives, as well as to measure our progress. The process, which involved broad consultation with committee and section leadership throughout the summer, was a model democratic approach involving all sectors of our association. Special thanks to Association Operations Committee (AOC) Chair Susan Gillespie and Section Convener Alex Barker for their efforts to facilitate this collaboration.


Based on our commitment to maintain the diverse voices in our portfolio, mindful of our responsibility to protect the sustainability of the publishing program, and conscious of our mission to disseminate anthropological knowledge, the association continues to seek a path through the enormous changes taking place in the world of publishing. After distribution of the Crow Report, discussion with the publishing sections, and widespread research, the hard-working Committee for the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing (CFPEP), chaired by Deborah Nichols, prepared a report proposing changes to our publishing program over the next few years. The EB will receive the report at the November 2013 meeting, and it is highly likely the EB and CFPEP will work with the publishing sections to implement the proposed measures over time (Anthropology News will carry a report on the November board meeting). In the interim, the EB has continued to explore various publishing formats. The Society for Cultural Anthropology moved Cultural Anthropology to an open-access platform, allowing us to gauge its experience and impact on our publishing program. In addition, the first two issues of Open Anthropology, our digital-only public journal edited by Alisse Waterston, have come out: the inaugural issue on Family and Other Arrangements was online in April in time for discussions about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and the second issue, On Violence, was released in October, as violence continues to make headlines across the country and globe.

Annual Meeting

The Annual Meeting continues to grow, and once again this year’s attendance has surpassed all previous years. This year’s Executive Program Chairs, Dana Davis and Alaka Wali, introduced an impressive innovation, “Anthropologists Back to School,” involving extensive collaboration with local departments of anthropology, museums, and the Chicago school system. In addition to many program innovations, this year’s meeting will also feature the launching of Anthropology TV, a daily newscast of events at the meeting. With growth, however, comes the need to reassess. The Annual Meeting Task Force, chaired by past Program Chair Carolyn Rouse and AAA Director of Meetings & Conferences Jason Watkins, along with the EB Annual Meeting Subcommittee, chaired by Vice President and President-Elect Monica Heller, have reviewed every aspect of the meeting with the goal of improving the experience.

The EB has adopted several changes to be implemented for the 2014 meeting, including simplifying deadlines; eliminating the chair as a secondary role; no longer scheduling double sessions (though they can be organized serially as part I and part II); and establishing the Opening Plenary, retrospective sessions and installations permanent session categories on the scholarly program. The EB has also adopted other changes to be implemented in 2015, including allocating one invited session to all interest groups with more than 500 members and ruling that only sessions seeking executive status must apply directly to the theme of the meeting. At this writing, in late October, issues currently under review by the EB include changes to the Annual Business Meeting and the Awards Ceremony, and the means to encourage participation of individuals who do not normally attend the AAA.

Towards a More Inclusive Association: Promoting the Interests of All Anthropologists

One of the strengths of our association lies in its outreach to all anthropologists. With the assistance of several committees, subcommittees, and task forces we have taken significant steps to consolidate the association through finding strength in diversity.


In 2008, then-President Alan Goodman formed the Commission on Race and Racism in Anthropology. They produced a report in 2010, including a series of recommendations designed to increase the presence of US historically underrepresented racialized minorities in the association and in the discipline. In 2012, I appointed a Task Force on Race and Racism, co-chaired by Karen Brodkin and Raymond Codrington, to address these recommendations. They focused on three key suggestions. To provide baseline data and to measure our progress going forward, they created and administered a survey for the membership. The task force is currently working with the AAA staff to develop a webpage that will assemble information of interest to racialized anthropologists and anthropologist interested in race and racialization. Furthermore the task force organized a roundtable for the 2013 November meeting, “Numbers Matter: Agenda and Strategies,” to discuss best practices for recruiting underrepresented minorities, particularly in the subfields where they are severely underrepresented. Finally, the EB has implemented the report’s recommendation that the Committee on Minority Issues in Anthropology (CMIA) focus on issues concerning racialized minorities and has modified the charge and the structure to reflect that recommendation. In addition, the EB will review and renew efforts to address all forms of discrimination in the association and the discipline.

Practicing Anthropologists

In collaboration with the AAA’s Professional Fellow, the Committee for Practicing, Applied and Public Interest Anthropology (CoPAPIA) has created new resources to support the work of practicing anthropologists in academia, developing a set of guidelines for evaluating practicing anthropologists for tenure and promotion and assembling a panel of individuals able to serve as program reviewers for applied and practicing departments. In addition, they have initiated a study to explore the ways in which practicing anthropologists participate in the academic community. I hope practicing anthropologists and administrators, who may not be on an academic schedule, are pleased to learn that AN’s move in January 2013 to an online-first, continuous publishing schedule will better meet their needs.

Adjuncts and Contingent Academic Labor

Recognizing the growing pool of underemployed and exploited labor composed of our colleagues and our students, the EB and the Committee for Labor Relations (CLR) have agreed to expand the committee’s responsibilities to include informing the membership and the EB about the conditions of adjuncts and contingent academic workers and to advise the EB of possible positions and actions they might take. The CLR wrote a column on contingent labor for the November AN and are presenting a resolution at the 2013 Business Meeting.

International Members and Collaborative Ventures

We continue to be active members of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnographic Sciences (IUAES) and the World Council of Anthropological Associations (WCAA) and I was pleased to attend their meetings in Manchester, UK last August. With the leadership of Vice President and President-Elect Monica Heller and the Committee on World Anthropologies (CWA), on October 15, ABA, EASA, and CASCA collaborated with the AAA in a multilingual virtual webinar on Language and Anthropological Knowledge. Almost 200 people from various parts of the world participated. In addition, we continue to collaborate with our sister organizations around human rights concerns.

Expanding the Visibility and Influence of Anthropology: Innovations and Possibilities

I am happy to report that this year the AAA is rapidly developing a proactive stance in disseminating anthropological knowledge, increasing its visibility in scholarly and public debates, and providing our members with additional channels through which to communicate. In addition, the RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit continues to do well and we have made meaningful progress on a second public education initiative that will examine migration and displacement. We have an agreement with the San Diego Museum on Man to transfer the small version of the RACE exhibit to their facility once it has completed its tour in 2015, and others are interested in purchasing one of the large versions of the exhibit once it completes its tour in 2018.

Press and Public Affairs

We have significantly ramped up our presence in the traditional media. Our members have expeditiously produced several articles and press releases on current affairs such as gun violence, climate change, the Supreme Court’s decisions on DOMA and the Voting Rights Act, and the Trayvon Martin murder case. The Public Affairs staff has been able to place members’ articles in such print media as the LA Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and others, as well as well-known digital media outlets such as the Huffington Post. Please consider writing an article on a current topic and asking the Office of Public Affairs to help you place it. In addition, the AAA is very involved in social media, maintaining an active blog and podcast series as well as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ accounts.

In addition to signing on to amicus briefs on subjects about which anthropologists are particularly knowledgeable, we have been very vigilant about US legislation that will affect anthropology in these troubled times, with letters to various politicians, committees, or legislative bodies about such concerns as protecting appropriations for NSF, the autonomy of the peer-review process, and restoration of funding for NSF political science grants.

Anthropology in General Education

Inserting anthropological knowledge into K-12, adult, and continuing education is an important intervention. At the annual meeting, anthropologists will talk about our discipline to hundreds of public secondary school students and their teachers. In addition, the AAA Education Task Force has been working with their counterparts in the ASA and the APA to create documents for the National Council for the Social Studies that introduce the disciplinary concepts and skills of anthropology. For college students, the Academic Affairs Department has developed an anthropology clubs listserv and bimonthly newsletter. Between this outreach to undergraduate students and our summer internship program supported by the efforts of the Resource Development Committee, we have been making great strides in reaching early-career anthropologists.

Task Force on Cultural Heritage

Issues of cultural heritage, tangible and intangible are increasingly an important aspect of the landscape and one that has the potential to bring the four fields of anthropology. While over the last two years, the association has been involved in efforts to protect cultural heritage, this field should be fully integrated into the work of the association. To this end, I have appointed a Task Force on Cultural Heritage, co-chaired by Susan Gillespie and Terry Majewski. The task force is charged with “producing recommendations to build a stronger, permanent and multifaceted approach to issues of cultural heritage in the Association.”

Outreach to Other Organizations

The association continues to build relationships with related associations and organizations, and is an active member of the National Humanities Alliance, the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition, and many other DC-based social science-related groups. We have reached out to linguists, and the AAA will participate in a joint panel to take place at the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, as well as organizing an invited panel at the annual meeting of the American Association for Applied Linguistics. We are also exploring the possibility of a joint conference on the African continent with the Association of African Studies.

AAA and the United Nations

The UN is potentially an important arena for anthropological intervention. Though the AAA has NGO status with the United Nations, in recent history our members have rarely taken advantage of it. This year an AAA ad hoc committee developed procedures that will allow AAA members to utilize the AAA’s NGO status. The AAA has also been invited to become a UNESCO Partner.

Public Education Initiatives

The RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit continues to tour the United States to major acclaim. It is estimated that since 2007 at least 3.1 million people have seen some version of the exhibit. The exhibit will continue through 2018. In addition, the DVDs continue to be popular and the book of the same title is now available.

The Mobilities, Migration and Displacement project is off to a good start. With the support of a $20,000 Initiatives Grant from Wenner-Gren, and additional funding from Northwestern University, a working group organized by Ana Aparicio met to consider themes to be presented and potential formats to convey them. Some of these will be discussed at a panel and roundtable at the annual meeting. In addition, we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Smithsonian Institution to collaborate on their seven-year initiative, “Our American Journey.” A small group will meet in December to discuss this part of the initiative, and our Smithsonian partners have informed us that they have been awarded a Grand Challenges Consortia grant to hold an “Our American Journey” and American Anthropological Association Collaborative Workshop early next year.

Looking Forward

AAA President Leith Mullings

AAA President Leith Mullings

It was my privilege to have worked with such a dedicated group of people to accomplish all that we have over the past two years. The association continues to face major challenges and we will need to be vigilant in sustaining and building upon all initiatives to make our association as inclusive as possible. We have hired a new executive director, grown our membership, and created new venues for expanding the visibility and influence of anthropology. I believe that the association is at one of its strongest points and that it is poised for a new level of outreach and engagement. That is cause for optimism!


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