Bullying in Anthropology

Bullying has emerged as an issue to be addressed at all levels of society, including the American Anthropological Association. Its 2012 publication of Principles of Professional Responsibility include, for example,  (1) Do No Harm, and (7) Maintain Respectful and Ethical Professional Relationships. In mentoring students, interacting with colleagues, working with clients and collaborators, acting as a reviewer or evaluator, or supervising staff, anthropologists should comport themselves in ways that promote an equitable, supportive and sustainable workplace environment. They should at all times work to ensure that no exclusionary practices be perpetrated on the basis of any nonacademic attributes (see also AAUP Statement of Professional Ethics).

It is morally imperative, to speak up when we see bullying in our workplaces. Do not turn your head.
 During a panel on ethics at the recent Central States Anthropological Society annual meeting, AAA past president Virginia Dominguez raised the problem of bullying in anthropological academic and field situations. In her 2011 Presidential Address to the Association (Dominguez 2012), she had referred to an AAA survey of “minorities” (i.e., persons not perceived or self-identified as White) in which some “reported feeling ‘overt resentment or hostility from faculty and peers who feel threatened by their standpoints and critiques’” (Dominguez 2012, 400). The AAA survey did not ask “majority [White]” members whether they had experienced overt or subtle hostility. Unfortunately, many of us have seen anthropologists bullying others—temporary and adjunct faculty, practicing anthropologists outside academia, including archaeologists working in CRM, those teaching in smaller or community colleges, and retired but still active researchers. Vulnerable because they lack the bullies’ secure tenured positions in major research universities, disdained because they have not obtained, or have left, such positions, victims of bullying are not notified of professional events, not recognized to speak or cut short in discussions if they do attend, students are discouraged from speaking with them, their work is not recognized or respected, and requests for affiliation to get access to university libraries and facilities may be rejected. I have seen a retired person physically shoved away to prevent her from participating in a scholarly discussion, although it focused on her research specialty.

Bullying and sexual harassment are fundamentally the same, a blatant display of power. Women are often victims, physically less able, or likely, to resist and frequently in subordinate employment. At the worst, bullying becomes rape. “Persons of color”/”minorities” can be bullied through stereotyping as less intelligent, less articulate, uncultured, poorly prepared for professional work. Disabled people can be similarly disparaged and cut off from opportunities (Dominguez 2012, 400). It is only too easy for bullies to deny their cruelty by observing that the disdained have not achieved admired status, a vicious circle in which exclusion is read as incompetence.

Last year at CSAS, graduate student Laya Liebeseller presented a paper “GamerGate: The Why Answered,” describing a classic example of bullying, in this case among video-game players (see Google Scholar search results for a selection of sources). Liebeseller found that the controversy began when a man posted a video disparaging a woman player who had won an award for a game, claiming she “slept with prominent men to get ahead in her career” and that her prize-winning game isn’t “a real game.” Other men harassed her, threatened her with rape and death, and nude photos of her were posted on several major social media sites. Gamers who denounced the harassment were labeled SJWs: “Social Justice Warriors”—apparently considered derogatory (Higgins 2015, 7). Commentators raised the issue of misogyny creating difficulties for women in game development, citing four women who abandoned work in gaming after suffering harassment (Liebeseller 2015). Curiously, an anthropologist who bullied a woman anthropologist whom I know does research in the ethnography of video gaming; his actions resemble those of the men of #GamerGate. From what I observed, it looked as though he was perhaps experimenting to see whether GamerGate tactics would drive the victim out of the game of professional participation in anthropology.

In this era of fewer academic positions and reduced funding, denials of science, and “alt-histories,” anthropology can survive only by the collegial support of each and all of us. President Dominguez chose to highlight, in her 2011 address to AAA, perpetuation of inequalities in academic workplaces, situations that are not only economically but also emotionally hurtful to the less fortunate. At the CSAS meeting where she spoke out against bullying, distinguished plenary speaker Richard B. Lee decried the proposition that humans are by nature bellicose and inclined to tolerate cruelty. Citing empirical ethnographic research and analyzing the cultural tradition from Hobbes to the present of humans as bellicose, Lee followed Margaret Mead’s frequent efforts to demonstrate that cooperation, and the trust and kindness it requires, are natural and basic to our species. Bullying would have threatened our fore-bearers’ survival, and today it threatens the survival of our discipline in this harsh climate of crass capitalism. It should be instinct, it is morally imperative, to speak up when we see bullying in our workplaces. Do not turn your head.

Alice Kehoe is professor of anthropology, emeritus at Marquette University.

Cristina Ortiz is a contributing editor for Central States Anthropological Society.

Cite as: Kehoe, Alice. 2017. “Bullying in Anthropology.” Anthropology News website, May 23, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.441

Comments

Good article Alice! Bullying and mobbing are rampant in academia, and in anthropology. For more information, dear readers, see Janice Harper’s “Mobbed! What to DO when they really are out to get you” (about her mobbing experience in anthropology).https://www.amazon.com/Mobbed-What-When-They-Really-ebook/dp/B00ERMBY84

See also “Mobbing, Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace” (written by three women, including one anthropologist). https://www.amazon.com/Mobbing-Emotional-Abuse-American-Workplace/dp/0967180309

Be kind to people, everyone you meet is going through a difficult struggle.

In Solidarity,
Brian McKenna

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