Engaged Platform Initiative and Biennial Highlights

SPA Biennial 2017 with Eileen Anderson-Fye, Carol Worthman, and Tanya Luhrmann. Eileen Anderson-Fye.

Psychological anthropology is building capacities to address current critical societal issues. Drawing upon the discipline’s cumulative insights on self, subjectivity, emotion, perceptions of “other” in relation to “self,” and generative factors in resilience, health, and well-being, the Society for Psychological Anthropology (SPA) has initiated an “engaged psychological anthropology” platform to leverage the expertise of members and participate more centrally in discourse on disparity and suffering at social, personal, and societal levels.

In an open Engaged Psychological Anthropology forum convened at the SPA Biennial in New Orleans by SPA president Carol M. Worthman and Kathy Trang, the SPA board and members shared their support and initial ideas for a public psychological anthropology platform. These ideas built upon recently launched initiatives, which include quarterly newsletters, an interview series (Voices of Experience), open community calls, and our Anthropology News column. In response to members’ keen interest, the SPA is launching several open initiatives to scaffold discussion and build partnerships within and outside psychological anthropology. Be on the lookout for upcoming events and our AAA 2017 Annual Meeting session!

The SPA 2017 biennial meeting reflected and advanced these aims for an engaged anthropology. The attention to theoretical and empirical rigor and broader impacts was evident throughout the conference, notably in the two plenaries “Embodiment as Nexus,” and “Migration and Displacement.” The former invited scholars to engage with the concept of “embodiment,” as originally elaborated by anthropologists such as Csordas and Lock, and increasingly adopted within anthropology and other disciplines to illuminate complex questions relating to health and well-being, and self and subjectivity. The latter extended psychological anthropology’s conceptual and methodological toolkit to address questions related to migration and displacement. Poster, visual and multimedia presentations extended this ethos of engaging with wider public audiences by broadening scholars’ use of novel presentation modes.

2016-2017 Lifetime Achievement Award Winners Richard Shweder and Byron Good with SPA President Carol Worthman. Kathy Trang

Lifetime Achievement Award winners Rick Shweder (2016) and Byron Good (2017) reflected on their personal journeys into the discipline, and the critical challenges and opportunities they see for psychological anthropology today. Rick and Byron shared their origin stories: one in a left-wing, progressive suburb of Long Island, the other on a Mennonite farm in the Republican Midwest. The two discussed issues relating to morality, agency, and oppression, which have resonated through their research trajectories, and concluded by discussing the roles of psychological anthropologists in tackling nationalism and participating in policy and implementation processes, while tempering the impulse to intervene in others’ ways of life.

Psychological anthropologists draw on more than a century of engagement with ideas about how persons and cultural contexts make and remake each other. As the Society reflected upon and planned for the future(s) of an engaged psychological anthropology platform, it also celebrated the achievements and lives of those whose pioneering work has made this possible: Roy D’Andrade, Jean Briggs, and Bob Edgerton—three SPA Lifetime Achievement Award winners whom we lost this year but whose spirit and work continue to enliven the discipline.

In recognition of psychological anthropology’s unique positionality, the National Science Foundation awarded a small grant to support professional skill-building workshops for students and faculty at the biennial. Conducted by leading experts, the workshops strengthened attendees’ understanding of research design and methodology, increased our awareness of and attention to the public impact of their research, and broadened our participation in professional networks and dialogues. The workshops comprised multi-sited, collaborative research; person-centered interviewing; public policy relevant research in psychological anthropology; and cultural consensus analysis. Attendees praised the workshops’ methodological, analytical, conceptual, and professional value.

Presently, with the support of its past and present members, the SPA is poised to make sustainable contributions to anthropology and society at-large.

Tawni Tidwell (ttidwel@emory.edu) and Kathy Trang (ktrang@emory.edu) are the contributing editors for the Society for Psychological Anthropology.

Cite as: Tidwell, Tawni, and Kathy Trang. 2017. “Engaged Platform Initiative and Biennial Highlights.” Anthropology News website, August 7, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.568

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