December 21, 2010

It all depends on how you handle it

Daniel Lende wraps up the long and the short of the recent issue with AAA, science, and all of the reactions--from anthropologists to ill-informed journalists. Indeed, the way some folks reacted you would have thought it was the end of the world (0r that this was some new issue). It's not the end of the world, and the whole debate about the division about whether or not anthropology is or is not a "science" goes way back.

All said and done, I still think there is a lot to be learned from this--and one of the most interesting (to me) lessons has to do with communication and media. News about changes to the Long Range Plan got out, and then the "issue" turned into a "heated controversy" when rumor and exaggeration took over (the NY Times article and posts on gawker being prime examples). Not to say that there isn't something to be discussed about this--but it was never really the end of the world. In fact, the changes to the LRP never really made any sense to me. But then, I have been completely brainwashed into thinking that a four field approach makes perfect sense--and I have no problem with the fact that different perspectives or frameworks don't always add up to one easy answer. For me, this is not a problem.

Part of the problem was that the LRP document was publicized without associated documents that would have made the intentions of the AAA more coherent. There were other documents released at the same time by the AAA that clearly include references to the scientific side of anthropology--so the excision of that term from the LRP document was somewhat confusing and contradictory. And, since it was meant to be a "long range plan," I can see why some anthropologists felt it was the wrong way to go. So many of the reactions were understandable--especially since this isn't exactly a new conversation or issue. I think the LRP just acted as a kind of catalyst for discussion (which is a good thing, even if some folks don't feel it was a very interesting discussion!).

Some early clarification from the AAA--via various forms of media--would have gone a long way toward putting out the proverbial fires. So, overall, I think this is a good chance for the AAA to rethink and retool how they engage with some other forms of media. The AAA blog is great for announcements and a certain amount of content--but it's still very much a one-way interface, all said and done. So what IS anthropology? Is it defined by the official documents of the AAA? Not exactly. Anthropology includes a multiplicity of voices in a multiplicity of places--so it might make sense to find some different ways to explore some of those views through various forms of media. Journals are great. But, like the formal statements, they only reflect a fragment of "anthropology" as it is practiced and understood today. After all of this, one key question sticks out to me the most: who defines "anthropology"?

No comments: