2016–2017 has been a turbulent year for science in general and biological anthropologists specifically. With the rapidly changing political climate, anthropologists stand to be at the forefront of change as researchers embedded in communities around the globe and as academics faced with a changing funding climate. For the inaugural Sections Edition of Anthropology News, the Biological Anthropology Section (BAS) focuses on how we can use our training to enact meaningful change at the community, discipline, and global level.
The holistic nature of anthropology remains one of the central tenets of our field and is the reason the BAS remains a strong voice in the Association. The search for understanding humans from the biological perspective takes our members from ancient Jordanian tombs to prenatal clinics in American Samoa, from foraging communities in the Central African Republic to exploring cave art and symbolic expressions of the earliest humans, from state-sponsored residential childcare facilities in Jamaica to the dinner plates of our hominid brethren and the tree top homes of our closest cousins.
However, the slashing of funds for the National Institute of Health, Office of the Interior, National Endowment for the Arts, and National Endowment for the Humanities along with the reduction of programs through the Department of Education and Environmental Protection Agency add substantial barriers to human and nonhuman primate well-being and challenge our ability to conduct research. At the 2016 AAA Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, there was considerable uncertainty regarding the sustainability of communities we work with and continued ability to conduct community-based research and action. These concerns were echoed recently at the annual meetings of the Human Biology Association and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
Through these conversations, we found renewed focus in our mission to highlight why biological anthropology matters in academia and the world. Biological anthropologists (and those bio-adjacent) have taken several tangible actions to bolster our relevance in these uncertain times. We share some of our section member’s actions here:
Take copious notes, be an active participant-observer in the communities that you work and live in, listen closely, and pay heed to structural and historical pressures and social privileges that impact current events. Use your training to share these observations and narratives through social and print media inside and outside of the discipline.
Respond with biological anthropology
Increased ethnocentrism, poverty shaming, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia directly oppose the evidence and ethos of biological anthropology. Build material into your courses that counteract these movements and worldviews. Use reliable and accessible materials, such as Wenner Gren’s Sapiens, and open access peer-reviewed research to educate non-anthropologists and counteract inaccuracies in the public sphere.
Be mindful of supporting underrepresented members of our community by sharing and citing their research, collaborating with them on projects, and investing in their development as students and emerging scholars.
Be aware of funding changes
Reduced funding opportunities for students and junior faculty will necessitate significant sacrifices regarding research plans, and the coming years will be challenging for those seeking research funding. This may place students from underfunded universities at a disadvantage on the job market and create challenges for junior faculty who are required to obtain grants for tenure and promotion.
Promote public anthropology
K–12 educators need more direct support from biological anthropologists to develop evidence based curricula focusing on evolution, conservation, and climate change. Combined federal de-investment in public education and anti-intellectual movements have placed evolutionary education at a significant disadvantage. K–12 educators report pressures associated with parents and school districts not supporting evolution education in schools. Biological anthropologists and their students can help these professionals by collaborating with them in curriculum development or visiting classrooms to supplement core lessons. For instance, the University of Alabama’s Wenner Gren-funded program “Anthropology is Elemental,” directed by Christopher Lynn, connects primary school students from the United States (Alabama), Madagascar, and Costa Rica through an anthropology education cultural exchange using iPad and web-based technology; Stacy Hackner of the University College London takes bioarchaeology outreach programs to music festivals to engage people with forensics and the biomechanics of yoga; Briana Pobiner of the Smithsonian hosts continuing education workshops for science teachers; and Andrea Eller of the University of Oregon hosts activities and lessons through public libraries.
As biological anthropologists we possess critical skills needed to counteract inaccuracies and misrepresentations at the local and global level, and use our knowledge to foster positive change and action.
Please join the conversation on our website and Facebook page, and engage with the BAS section during the Annual Meeting in Washington DC this November! We welcome and value members from all sub disciplines, and backgrounds and encourage you and your students to become a BAS members and agents of change.
Michaela Howells is an assistant professor of biological anthropology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington ([email protected]).
Cite as: Howells, Michaela. 2017. “Responding to Turbulent Times.” Anthropology News website, August 4, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.563