“Speaking Justice to Power” Since 1973

The study of politics and law is critical to unpacking the operation of power in society and identifying possible pathways to social change. For contemporary political and legal anthropology, our greatest challenge may be the very unboundedness of that charge, and the almost staggering potential for our work to influence understanding, policy and practice, and thus to meaningfully shape lives.

APLA offers informal and formal graduate mentoring, and more recently, has organized structured early-career professional-development opportunities for our members.

Today’s APLA ably rises to the task. In this inaugural edition of APLA’s page in the redesigned Anthropology News, we’d like to introduce our section to and share a bit of our history with prospective members, while also reminding current members of our scholarly and professional resources.

APLA’s signature journal is Political & Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR). Its origins can be traced to the Ninth International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, when a mechanism was envisioned to link anthropologists who study politics. Political Anthropology Letter was launched in 1973, by scholars from around the world. The group’s original goals were to circulate works-in-progress, collect and comment on relevant ethnographies, coordinate panels at professional meetings, disseminate course syllabi, develop a scholarly journal, and organize “a world revolution or the like.”

Today, we can report that—save for the final goal, which we are still working on—APLA has grown into an AAA section with a biannual journal, annual book and graduate student paper prizes, large-scale special events, and robust mentoring activities, all supplemented by a year-round, active online presence.

More than 100 people rallied outside of the Herman T. Schneebeli Federal Office Building, Williamsport, Pennsylvania to protest against Trump’s actions targeting immigrants and Muslims (January 29, 2017). Paul Weaver (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Visit the APLA website to find blog posts on current events, teaching resources, and information about upcoming workshops, conference panels, and the APLA-initiated Law & Society Association’s Collaborative Research Network on Ethnography and Law. The PoLAR website offers scholars several free-to-access features: “emergent conversations,” where scholars debate hot topics and professional concerns; annual virtual issues, each a curated collection of articles on timely themes; and the forum, which presents original essays, interviews, and book reviews.

APLA offers informal and formal graduate mentoring, and more recently, has organized structured early-career professional-development opportunities for our members. Two seats on the APLA board are allocated to graduate students, who, among other responsibilities, plan academic panels and thematic Graduate Student Workshops, delivered by senior scholars. APLA students also are eligible to apply for the journal’s Digital Editorial Fellowship program. APLA’s Graduate Student Paper Prize integrates senior-scholar peer review and post-competition writing mentors for finalists, and the winner and runners-up are recognized at our business meeting, along with APLA Book Prize awardees. We also now create space by and for early-career scholars to network with each other and senior scholars.

Through these activities, APLA continues to seek “an increased dialogue between political and legal anthropology,” because, as was argued in 1978 by APLA’s president Richard Canter (Boston University), “not only [do] they complement each other as tools for explanation but also because some suspect the interrelationship between the two may be far more inextricable than had been previously thought or documented.”

APLA runs “the best damn business meeting” at the AAA Annual Meeting, when we host a speaker, facilitate an activity or have an open discussion about section goals. We enjoy spending time with each other, and often arrange off-site informal meet-ups or special events, such as the Cannabis Cultures tour in Denver in 2015, or APLA’s upcoming 2017 forum “Speaking Justice to Power,” which will explore current political challenges at Busboys & Poets in DC at the 2017 Annual Meeting.

Contact us at or to learn more about APLA and our journal, or to talk about APLA’s activities at the upcoming AAA Annual Meeting.

Madelaine Adelman (Arizona State University, [email protected]) and Sarah Hautzinger (Colorado College, [email protected]) are contributing editors for the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology.

Cite as:  Adelman, Madelaine, and Sarah Hautzinger. 2017. “‘Speaking Justice to Power’ since 1973.” Anthropology News website, August 4, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.544

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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.