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“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
We are thrilled to announce the theme of the 2020 AAA Annual Meeting to be held in St. Louis, MO: Truth and Responsibility.
“Truth and Responsibility” is a call to reimagine anthropology to meet the demands of the present moment. The imperative to bear witness, take action, and be held accountable to the truths we write and circulate invites us to reflect on our responsibility in reckoning with disciplinary histories, harms, and possibilities. To whom are we giving evidence and toward what ends? For whom are we writing? To whom are we accountable, and in what ways?
Many consider anthropology to be a holistic social science dedicated to cross-cultural understanding as a way to reduce bigotry and more fully comprehend “what it means to be human.” Others push against this readily circulated origin story, arguing that “human” remains a highly contested, political category—evident as the presumed set of rights and protections associated with the “human” continue to be stripped away violently in the communities in which some of us live and work. Which violent histories and epistemologies must anthropologists take responsibility for in telling truth(s) about the discipline’s development? How do the dual histories of settler colonialism and slavery continue to influence anthropological thought and practices? In these political times, how can anthropologists throughout the globe work to secure a capacious, progressive vision of the human? How might movements for anti-racism, decoloniality, queer liberation, and healing such as #BlackLivesMatter, #ProtectMaunaKea, and #MeToo push a future anthropology out of the ashes of the anthropological past? Finally, what are the limits and possibilities of the anthropological imagination?
Across subfields, we find truths in patterns of human behavior, language, evolution, and cultural worlds. Industry-positioned anthropologists do this by extending the boundaries of the discipline not as an administrative solution to job shortages but as a source of intervention and knowledge production. Increasingly, anthropologists who make use of the scientific method question how status and identity help to decide which facts come to represent truth. How might quantitative researchers use our methods to identify patterned truths, and what responsibility do we hold in challenging conventional wisdom about these patterns? What responsibility do we have to both our colleagues and larger publics, to push toward increased transparency and ethical grounding in our data collection, analysis, and presentation?
Located in the vicinity of one of the largest and most influential ancient Indigenous societies in North America and miles from the #FergusonUprising, St. Louis is a useful site for anthropologists to reckon with anthropological practices and their impact. What is the responsibility of contemporary anthropology to repair relationships with communities who have historically been the target of our discipline? As practitioners, students, and professors increasingly resemble these communities, how can we create new pedagogical, archeological, ethnographic, and mentoring practices? What barriers—in anthropology generally and the American Anthropological Association (AAA) specifically—exclude those whose truths are uncomfortable or inconvenient? What might our discipline and organizations look like if we were to honestly confront barriers that exclude marginalized and contingent scholars?
Pedagogy is a key medium for the communication of anthropological truths. Which (and whose) truths are foregrounded in our curricula? What are the possibilities for a liberatory pedagogy in a precarious, “post-truth” era? Conferences, museums, organizing spaces, and classrooms are sites where pedagogy and various forms of communication can help us interrogate the performativity of truth. How might anthropologists conceive of truth performances? Might visual, aural, and choreographic performances during AAA sessions offer anthropologists alternative genres for truth-telling and truth-making that provoke discussions about responsibility?
In accordance with the urgency of the year’s theme, the questions posed in this call for papers do not have easy answers. The hope is that those who submit proposals will take up these questions and engage in collective thinking and imagining about the truths we hold, the truths we challenge, and the responsibilities we bear in co-creating a free and more equitable world. All panel proposals should have a statement about how the panel has incorporated the goals of equity, diversity, and inclusion, and/or an analysis of power.
Executive Session proposals should speak directly to the theme “Truth and Responsibility.” We encourage practitioners, students, contingent faculty, underrepresented members of our discipline’s community, and those in all subfields to submit creative and thought-provoking proposals. We hope that AAA Section Programming Committees will also make specific efforts to include these individuals in their section’s programming. To practice the critical reflexivity this call for papers invites, we ask that Executive Session submissions explicitly address the diversity of session participants, such as organizational/institutional affiliation, career stage, race, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, class, religion, national identity, and gender. Proposals for Executive Sessions that demonstrate a commitment to equity and inclusion and/or a clear analysis of power (i.e. anti-imperialist, anti-white supremacist, decolonial, anti-ableist, feminist, anti-transphobic, anti-zenophobic, etc) will be given priority. We are excited to be in conversation with residents of the St. Louis area, and look forward to the discussions, performances, and actions generated by the dynamic group of anthropologists attending the 2020 AAA Annual Meeting.