Roundtable - Executive Session Status Awarded
Sponsored by: AAA Executive Program Committee
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Resilience
Secondary Theme: Technology
Academic anthropology is in a precarious state. Graduates face one of the hardest job markets in years, as only 20% of PhDs will find a tenure track job within five years of graduating. Public funding for anthropological research is becoming increasingly scarce: in 2011, funding for humanities in the US was less than half of 1% of the amount dedicated to science and engineering research and development.
In the face of disciplinary and structural changes, anthropologists are being challenged to resist institutional structures, to be resilient in the face of declining opportunities, and to adapt to new opportunities beyond academia. Recent graduates, despite a lack of training and awareness around non-academia career paths, are venturing beyond academia to find roles in non-profits, government, and--as is the topic of this panel--the tech industry. And yet, no information exists for how to navigate the transition from academia to industry, both pragmatically and spiritually. What does it mean to reimagine our work in spaces where profit and growth are taken-for-granted virtues, rather than objects of anthropological critique? How do economies of knowledge shift when we do research as both scholars and shareholders? Is it possible to adapt “slow” methodologies - such as embedded ethnography - to a world in which we are urged to “move fast and break things”?
This round-table takes a reflexive approach to the conference theme, to explore how anthropologists in the tech industry are participating in a change in the imagination of the discipline itself. Drawing on the experiences of anthropologists working outside of academia, this round-table challenges the audience to consider: How might we build a more inclusive history and culture of anthropology, to consider the experiences and expertise of non-academic vocations? How might we revise graduate training to prepare students for a diverse range of occupations beyond professorships? And at an even bigger scale, how might we explore alternative definitions of advancement, success, and impact, in which the end goal is not just publication?
However, this round-table also provides a forum to frankly discuss the challenges that face anthropologists as they adapt to the strange world of Silicon Valley. Moving between the starkly different environments of academia and the tech industry strains work practices and professional identities. This round-table therefore poses questions like: How does anthropology function in fast-paced environments where projects happen over weeks rather than years, and what is lost/gained when traditional timelines are disrupted? What role does anthropology have in a culture that places unequal value on qualitative and quantitative insights? How can anthropologists use ethnographic skills to think reflexively about the culture of the tech industry, in ways that simultaneously build critiques and help businesses produce more ethical products? How can anthropologists make time and space to explore fundamental questions that do not necessarily have a commercial basis/value, at least not at this point in time or to immediate stakeholders?