Researching Ourselves, Together

Once every month or two, I get an email notifying me that someone has downloaded the survey data from the Comparative Data Project, and whenever this happens, I always wonder what they’re using it for. The data set consists of survey responses from 117 anthropology departments, collected in 2013 and including information about each department’s academic program, student enrollment, and faculty composition. It was designed to help departments see how they compare to their peers, but as with any data set, its potential uses are much broader. With a view across so many institutions, a researcher could potentially look into many questions about anthropology in US higher education, ranging from student funding and methods training opportunities to contingent faculty hiring and gender equity. So how can I find out what people are doing with the data?

Last semester, we replicated the 2013 department survey, and we also conducted a survey of AAA members the semester before. I’m currently preparing both of those data sets for public release, so I’m thinking about the researchers who will ultimately use them, and considering the flow of ideas within scholarly communities that gives life to our work. This is a familiar dynamic to anyone who has participated in research—it’s the collaboration with a colleague, the student’s unexpected insight, the discussion in the hall after a conference talk, all the little conversations that help us to envision new avenues of inquiry and analysis.

For an anthropologist doing research on anthropology, however, these occasions can be difficult to find. I’m starting to connect with others who are working on similar questions—one of my 2016 Annual Meeting highlights was a panel on contingent faculty hiring, co-sponsored by the Committee on Ethics and the Committee on Labor Relations—but I haven’t spoken to many researchers who are using AAA data. For the most part, my impression is that these people are conducting their own analyses for their own purposes, without reporting back to a community of fellow researchers, and this feels to me like a missed opportunity. While there are many ways to conduct research on anthropology, the release of AAA data provides a conversation starter, an opportunity for researchers working in this space to come together and share ideas.

People want to know what’s going on with anthropology, and supporting their understanding is one of the Association’s strategic priorities. My research and the other resources on Anthropology Information Central are only the beginning; when anthropologists turn their researchers’ eye to their own community, the AAA is often a key source of information for analysis. I’ve helped one researcher to drill down on AAA member ethnicity statistics, and another to access our job bank history; AAA committees and task forces regularly conduct their own investigations; and I don’t know how many people consult the AnthroGuide. Now that the public release of member survey data is imminent, there’s an opportunity for me to invite you in and for us to work together. What information would you like to know? Do I have good data or other useful materials? How can we work together to learn about anthropology?

Research Questions Addressed by Anthropology Information Central Materials

  • How many AAA members hold contingent academic appointments?
  • What is anthropology education like in K-12 and museum settings?
  • What kind of jobs do people with an MA in anthropology do?
  • What’s the “academic climate” that leads to women being underrepresented?
  • What can anthropology contribute to climate change policy?

Anthropology Information Central (AIC), is the AAA’s research clearinghouse. If you are interested in trends in enrollments, employment, careers, and anthropology’s impacts, AIC is the place for you to turn.

For more information on incorporating AIC data into your work—inside and outside the academy—please contact Daniel Ginsberg, professional fellow, at dginsberg@americananthro.org.

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Want to comment? Please be aware that only comments from current AAA members will be approve. AN is supported by member dues, so discussions on anthropology-news.org are moderated to ensure that current members are commenting. As with all AN content, comments reflect the views of the person who submitted the comment only. The approval of a comment to go live does not signify endorsement by AN or the AAA.