From the President

2018: The Spring of Hope

Alex Barker
Alex Barker, President

By any standard, the American Anthropological Association had an excellent year. We enjoyed a vibrant and provocative Annual Meeting in San José, punctuated (with an exclamation point) with presentations by Dolores Huerta and George Lucas. We joined colleagues from around the world in Florianopolis, Brazil, celebrating the melding of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences and the World Council of Anthropological Associations into the World Anthropological Union; jointly organized the Africa in the World meeting in Johannesburg, in collaboration with the African Studies Association; and co-sponsored the European Association of Social Anthropology’s Why the World Needs Anthropology conference in Lisbon.

These may well be the best of times and the worst of times.

We’ve used anthropological knowledge to inform the public about timely topics, including both the continuation (and revision) of our RACE: Are We So Different? public education initiative, and partnerships to develop our World on the Move: 100,000 Years of Human Migration™ initiative. We’ve expanded our programs serving academic departments, including launching a new summer institute for department chairs and directors of graduate/undergraduate studies; increased participation in Anthropology Day; and redoubled our efforts to make AAA a more welcoming home for anthropologists working in professional practice.

We continue to publish more than 20 peer-reviewed journals, and support the ongoing work of 40 different professional societies within the larger umbrella of AAA. And we’re in the midst of developing an open access, global repository for anthropological knowledge that will be free to all and can be used as colleagues everywhere feel best advances their needs and interests; we expect the Open Anthropology Research Repository to be launched in 2019.

Then again, some may say these are the worst of times. On almost every front we see evidence-based discourse being displaced by partisan rhetoric, trust in science and scholarship waning, support for research dwindling, commitment to teaching and broader educational mandates threatened, and the tolerance and appreciation of difference central to our discipline evaporating from public life.

In these troubled times we actively work to address seven areas of concern and advocacy:

  • Promoting and defending academic freedom
  • Working to preserve and enhance funding opportunities for basic research across the social sciences
  • Protecting cultural heritage
  • Communicating the extent and impacts of global climate change
  • Documenting and reducing health disparities
  • Understanding—and eliminating—racism and race-based injustice
  • Increasing appreciation for the plight of migrants and refugees, and protecting the rights of displaced persons

At the request of our colleagues overseas and here in the United States, through statements and letters, we have added our voice to concerns over academic freedom in India and Hungary, unjust prosecutions

in Turkey, the disappearance of an anthropologist in China, and the classification of anthropology in Poland. Here in the United States, we have voiced our strong support for the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act (NO BAN Act), the Census IDEA Act (requiring every decennial census to be adequately researched, tested, and studied to safeguard the accuracy of the final count), increased funding for the humanities, and the protection of our nation’s historic/cultural resources and national parks.

This is not Dickens’s winter of despair, but rather the spring of hope. Despite polarization and divisiveness, we know that human difference is not a problem to be solved, but our richest and least-appreciated resource, and the wellspring of innovation, improvement, and resilience. 

Our 9,000+ members continue to conduct groundbreaking research to increase our appreciation of the human condition and our understanding of the human career; to advance knowledge and solve human problems. In their company, I cannot help but look forward to what comes next, and to using the unique insights anthropology offers to meet whatever challenges we together face.