Five Fields Update

New Perspectives on Teaching and Practicing Anthropology

The Five Fields Update Session for the AAA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC promises to deliver an intriguing look at current trends in anthropology.  In addition to the usual and valuable updates on what is happening delivered from specialists across the subfields, this year’s session will offer a new twist.  Attendees of the Five Fields Update will also get to hear how these specialists strive to incorporate their perspectives on teaching and practicing anthropology amid a new cultural atmosphere.

The constricted nature of today’s media consumption and the related over-simplification of complex issues relevant to matters long central to anthropology have encouraged us to recognize that a new atmosphere of teaching and learning is upon us, one that is based on divisiveness. Though our current president, Donald Trump, will surely long be cited as the impetus of this change, this session contends that Mr. Trump appropriated existing divisiveness and related hostility that was extraordinarily easy to tap into. 

This divisiveness is driven by three related characteristics:

  1. accepting ideologically appealing assertions over rational argumentation;
  2. flouting scientific examination in favor of personally satisfying answers for empirically demonstrable, or at least explainable, social and natural phenomena; and
  3. reifying misconstrued or even inaccurate commentary via social media and other media platforms.

The panelists  presenting at the Five Fields Update session will address trends in each of their respective subfields that pertain to teaching and practicing anthropology amid these three characteristics of contemporary culture. This year’s session features an exciting group of presenters that embody the extensive depth and breadth of anthropology. Representing cultural anthropology is Alaka Wali, curator of North American Anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, who approaches cultural anthropology though the lens of the museum’s Science and Education Division. Steve Nash, Department Chair and Curator of Archaeology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, will represent archaeology. Dr. Nash has worked with tree-ring dating, gem-carving, and Southwestern U.S. material culture. Will Pestle, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Miami, who specializes in the study of patterns of subsistence, mobility, and environmental interaction in prehistoric populations, will provide insight on the subfield of physical anthropology.  To present on linguistic anthropology, we welcome the 2013-2015 president of the AAA, Monica Heller, Professor in Social Justice Education at the University of Toronto.  Professor Heller’s research analyzes the role of language in social difference and social inequality in the global economy.  And, finally, Whitney Duncan, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Northern Colorado, will serve as a Discussant and incorporate her work in applied anthropology addressing issues regarding mental health among immigrants and their families in Mexico. 

With this session, we aim to address the importance of our roles as social science practitioners and teachers who strive to make anthropological explanations both welcoming and engaging in today’s  highly charged and politically divisive world.  The students and members of our communities who encounter our work contribute to this cultural atmosphere, so this session is aimed at addressing ways to more effectively reach out to them and, hopefully, improve upon this atmosphere.

Evin Rodkey teaches anthropology and sociology at Casper College in Wyoming.  His research interests include immigration and deportation.

Cite as: Rodkey, Evin. 2017. “Five Fields Update.” Anthropology News website, July 17, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.506

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