As two junior faculty members with precarious positions as visiting associate professor (David) and postdoc (Megan), and respective research among white and Latinx working-class populations on the East and West coasts, we have been asking ourselves what particular interventions an anthropology of North America can and should make in the discipline and beyond. Why might this particular regional grouping be good to think with at this point in history?
An obvious but partial answer to the question points to the contributions that in-depth ethnography can make to broader public knowledge by challenging the hegemony of big data, surveys, and interviews. The disciplinary answer is less easy because it requires our ongoing reckoning with the uncertain position of domestic ethnography within anthropology writ large—and the commonality of fieldwork in “our own backyards” as a convenient post-tenure project rather than a first foray. Indeed, the disciplinary contribution of North Americanists is often caught between two poles: First, its unique ability to contextualize the cultural and political home terrain of American anthropology per se (and thus of the inevitably cultural lenses we often import invisibly into our work elsewhere). Second, the historically vexed status of domestic anthropology. A future for an anthropology of North America involves staking a central place in the discipline for these inquiries as full-bodied, wide-ranging endeavors supported by long-term immersive fieldwork (and by institutional hiring).
We hope to address in this ongoing column the (re)emergent imperative to have a voice as public intellectuals. Even as we desire greater public influence, we continue to wrestle with the politics of representation and collaboration inherent to a discipline in which educational and cultural elites are so persistently focused on marginalized peoples. These two stances, while perhaps emerging from similar political impulses, are in tension. Public engagement is often necessarily reductive and we struggle with a concern for the broad circulation and potential misunderstanding and misapplication of decontextualized snippets of our work—as well as the fraught nature of “speaking for” our interlocutors. We therefore need to develop ways of talking and writing to epistemologically divided audiences across our ethnographic, pedagogical, and public engagements that make our ideas as accessible as possible without diminishing their substance.
However, we are wary of making this column’s (or SANA’s) project a narrow anthropology of Trumpism or resistance to Trumpism, recognizing the value of different foci and modes of engagement. When we do theorize the Trump era, we must be cautious to avoid overemphasizing Trump’s agentive role in our political moment. Rather, we need to situate our analyses in the broader political, economic, and cultural antecedents to today’s political arrangements. This will help us mitigate the risk of isolating North American contexts from broader global trends. At the same time, the fallout of Trump’s win continues to drift across borders and to disproportionately affect vulnerable populations worldwide. As such, anthropologies of the United States in particular must contend with the disproportionate global reach of the phenomena that we study intimately.
As we engage intensified struggles from almost all angles, our theme for SANA’s contributions to Anthropology News this year will be the unique role that ethnographers of this continent can play in applying our disciplinary strengths to correcting the weaknesses of contemporary academic and political accounts of our moment, while also showing the central place an anthropology of North America should play within the AAA. This is a vision of an outwardly-focused SANA—an anthropology of North America but for the world.
David Flood is visiting assistant professor at Warren Wilson College.
Megan Raschig is postdoctoral fellow of medical anthropology at the University of Virginia.
Cite as: Flood, David, and Megan Raschig. 2018. “An Anthropology of North America for the World.” Anthropology News website, March 26, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.807