Roundtable - Invited Status Awarded
Invited by: Society for the Anthropology of North America
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: The Political
Secondary Theme: Ethics
This roundtable seeks to think through contemporary anthropologies of North America through a specific set of interrelated questions.
As North Americanists, we share the capacity to give sense and depth to today’s epistemological and empathic divides, to connect disparate sites of struggle to overarching structural inequalities, and to glimpse how it could be otherwise. And yet, the contemporary potentiality of North America as a regional grouping that is ‘good to think with’ seems under-realized. Many domestic anthropologists find themselves instead invested in sections with more theoretical or topical bents, perhaps uncertain what their role in an anthropology of a continent might be. What kind of scholarship is ‘at home’ in a “North American” frame? What isn’t? Is there something fundamentally US American being obscured by the geopolitical terrain claimed by ‘the anthropology of North America’? Would a Society for US Anthropology be a more honest and productive accounting of actually existing work and priorities within SANA? What avenues of inquiry might this provincialization open, and what might it close off? What would acknowledging North American anthropology as a thoroughly US American project entail for the discipline, the society, and those working on phenomena that compose this continent?
In posing this question, we admit to being uncomfortable with the way a society for an ‘Anthropology of the US’ could reproduce the exact hegemonic positionality -- cultural, economic, military, etc -- that we are at pains to question and critique. However, the fact remains that, not only does the US have unique global geopolitical and cultural importance, but the AAA itself maintains its own kind of hegemonic status as by far the largest and most influential association for professional anthropology. We thus find ourselves baffled that, as a discipline with critical reflexive commitments, we have historically undervalued domestic work and its potential to enhance our understanding of how ‘our own culture’ -- that of the contemporary US -- inflects our disciplinary ways of ethnographic doing and knowing. Paradoxically, perhaps it is only by daring to frame the US as central to a particular project within anthropology that we can actually critically de-center American Anthropology as the naturalized lens through which we tend to imagine and approach the rest of the world.
In the interest of carving out a place within the broader discipline for a robust anthropology of (North) America, this roundtable further asks how we can claim a central disciplinary place for the vital insights of domestic anthropology, especially among junior and often precariously employed scholars. Are there concerns that lie at the core of our domestic inquiries that might be articulated into a shared vision and scope? We aim to discuss what it will take to re-center the section within the broader discipline, and to productively frame diverse and potentially conflictive projects of domestic anthropologists, spanning critical race approaches, immigration and borderlands work, research on domestic politics, and a range of other inquiry.