Monica Heller, AAA President

Introductions and Agendas

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Monica Heller

As this is my inaugural column, I would like to use it to say a few things about what, looking from my position, I expect will shape the AAA over the next couple of years. A nice thing about the AAA governance system is that it gives the president-elect two years to learn the ropes before taking on the presidency. Working with Leith Mullings has been both instructive and a tremendous pleasure; other past presidents have also generously shared their wisdom and support. I certainly intend to build on many of the initiatives they have started, and to maintain the collaborative and transparent style for which they have set precedents.

Monica Heller, AAA President

Monica Heller, AAA President

I find myself, though, in a position for which there was only one precedent, unfortunately too long ago to be of active help, but nonetheless useful. One other AAA president was neither American nor based in the United States: Diamond Jenness, who served for a year in 1939. A New Zealander, he was trained in England, and worked in Canada. I’m a Canadian who was trained in the US and works in Canada. While I am insanely jealous of his very cool name, as well as of the fact that he has a purple school named after him, I can get over that long enough to recognize that his work in the high north is a helpful reminder of the importance of anthropological perspectives on climate change—one of the several central issues on our agenda.

The transnational, even global, footing implicit in not just climate change, but many other anthropological concerns, is reflected in other palpable changes felt not only by our association, but by any group set up within the framework of a particular nation-state and experiencing circulations through, under, alongside or beyond it. Still, anthropology being what it is, we may be feeling these processes more acutely.

The challenge, as I see it, is to hold in the same frame the distinctively US conditions and concerns to which it is the responsibility of the AAA to attend, as well as the international and global conditions within which we also act. The AAA is a legal entity in the United States, and bound by its laws and regulations. The 80% of our members who are based in the United States are directly affected by decisions made by US lawmakers and policy makers, whether regarding access to research funding, training in anthropology, jobs, permits or information. The rest of us are also affected by US decisions if only in that they have an impact on what the AAA can be, and on our ability to participate in the association. More importantly, perhaps, we need to keep in focus the distinctively US thematic, social and political concerns for which the AAA must be a home for discussion within the discipline, and a basis for public engagement. These will be important, for example, as we carry through on the work accomplished by the Task Force on Race and Racism and the Task Force on Anthropology in Education.

At the same time, the world has come to the AAA, and the AAA has enthusiastically moved out into the world. Ten years ago, the AAA became a founding member of the World Council of Anthropological Associations. The numbers of AAA members who are based outside the United States has shot up in the last four or five years. In 2010, the AAA established a standing Committee on World Anthropologies (which contributes a regular column to AN). Our flagship journal, American Anthropologist, began publishing abstracts in languages other than English, and recently introduced a “world anthropologies” section. A few months ago, we successfully conducted a multilingual, multiplatform month-long virtual seminar in collaboration with three sister organizations based in Europe, Brazil and Canada. It looks like two new things are happening at once: an investment in the AAA as a site for global anthropological exchange, and a simultaneous integration of the AAA (as one group among many) in global anthropological networks and worldwide sites of anthropological activity. These too are part of the frame, and will figure among the threads to take into account in our new task force on cultural heritage, and our new public education initiative on mobility, migration and displacement.

More broadly, I see the local, national, international and global running through the three main areas of our activities in the next few years: publications, meetings and public anthropology. We all know that the digital revolution is radically reshaping the conditions for production and circulation of knowledge, and for how it is valued, with consequent major effects on the role and functioning of academia and its relationship (as a source of expertise, for example) to all other stakeholders. This process pushes us to radically rethink the forms our major activities have taken to date, principally journals and the meeting (as well as their nation-state framing). It opens up all kinds of opportunities for participation, conversation and engagement, if we learn to identify and use them well.

In these conditions, it is probable that borders we once thought were uncrossable disappear while others get further strengthened; new ones appear, but so do new cracks in the wall; new people show up with new ideas about what borders should and should not be, and how to make or unmake them. This makes this an exciting time, if also perhaps a sometimes perplexing one.

I would like the AAA to serve as a space for figuring out what these changes mean for anthropology and how to make the most of them, as well as for how anthropology can bring its perspective to bear on what they mean for the world we live in. I am sure this will lead to lively debate, and we might even have disagreements along the way. And this is probably one of those moments when globalization has nothing on national stereotypes: I’m fine with disagreement, it just has to be polite. Please, and merci.





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