At its core anthropology is about a simple idea—that the world is a better place if people understand one another. For some anthropologists that means basic research, because knowing more about people—their past, present, and prospects—is a worthy goal in itself. Others teach, helping students of all ages better understand the diverse ways of being human, and for others it means applying that knowledge in practical application. It’s the broadest of endeavors, encompassing scientific and humanistic approaches to people and their near kin, to how they communicate, come together, divide, develop, and find meaning. That variety is its greatest strength.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot as I start my term as president, because that’s why the American Anthropological Association matters. AAA uniquely brings together this disparate discipline within a common fold so that, despite all our differences, we can celebrate and cultivate what we share—our belief in what anthropology does, and in the value of the insights anthropology offers into the human career and the human condition. Those are the insights that let us speak with authority on issues we care deeply about, including social equity, justice, race, harassment, heritage, health, immigration, development, and climate change. Those are the insights that enable us to address challenges in higher education, research support, and precarity in employment.
So that’s our ongoing responsibility—to make AAA better at bringing our disparate discipline together to address issues and needs, and to further our purpose of helping people understand one another, advancing knowledge, and solving human problems.
How will we do it? Plans make gods laugh, but I hope we can make AAA better in four ways over the next couple of years:
- First and foremost, I want us to improve our communication with you.
- Second, I’d like us to increase the relevance of AAA to you in your daily life, and to all anthropologists everywhere in their daily lives.
- Third, I want us to make AAA a more welcoming home for anthropologists regardless of context of practice or what kind of anthropology you do.
- Fourth, we need to make anthropology’s insights more relevant to policymakers and more central to public discourse. That’s no small task in these latter days when social science is pilloried by politicians and public debate is polarized.
Few issues in the Long Range Plan are easily solved; most require long-term, consistent, coordinated, and concerted efforts. They’re identified in the LRP so that in the tumult and bustle of daily affairs we don’t lose sight of our central priorities. Like all big tasks, they’re best tackled one step at a time. So we annually update a Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) listing what we’re going to do in the next 12–24 months to advance each of those priorities, along with when it’s supposed to be done, and who’s supposed to do it.
Some tasks are completed by AAA staff, which includes a mix of anthropologists (more than ever before, including AAA’s executive director) and professionals with specialized training in their respective areas. Others are accomplished by the hundreds of anthropologists who serve in governance, committee, task force, and editorial roles throughout the AAA and its 40 constituent professional and scholarly societies—folks like Jason De Leon who’s taking time from his Macarthur grant to serve as executive program chair for our upcoming annual meeting in San Jose, Leslie Aiello who stepped down as president of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and joined our Finance Committee to ensure we have the capacity to meet the challenges to come while also chairing our Committee on World Anthropologies, or Johnnetta Cole who recently stepped down as director of the National Museum of African Art, but continues to advise our “Anthropology Goes Back to School” project.
And that’s why I’m using the first-person plural: it’s our AAA. There is no “them,” only “us.” Whether we meet those challenges and accomplish the changes we want to see depends most of all on whether we as members remain engaged and work collectively to address what we feel matters most. Despite all our differences, far more unites us than divides us.
We are AAA.
Cite as: Barker, Alex. 2018. “Come Together.” Anthropology News website, February 12, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.764