Oral Presentation Session - Executive Session Status Awarded
Sponsored by: AAA Executive Program Committee
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Cities
Secondary Theme: Inequality
This session presents a vision of an engaged urban anthropology that draws upon a history of critical engagement with the city and a commitment to social justice and transformation through the intersection of ethnography and politically-informed action (Susser 2010, Maharawal 2011). Recent calls for public ethnography (Fassin 2013), militant ethnography (Juris 2007, 2017) and protest anthropology (Maskovsky 2013) reflect a growing interest in producing knowledge that is useful, benefits those we work with and addresses urban problems. This vision of a more engaged anthropological stance renders urban anthropology more accessible, both in terms of selecting topics that have broad appeal, as well as a style of writing and research reporting designed for multiple publics and media audiences. But at its most ambitious, it argues for a more politically engaged and publicity savvy mode of urban anthropological practice.
To accomplish these ends, the papers focus on key urban anthropological issues such as precarity, displacement, security, sustainability, citizenship, spatial governance, financialization and cultural preservation that are of public interest and relevant in today’s rapidly changing global economy with shifting urban populations, growing economic disparities, and hardening state boundaries. The narratives are compelling, employing innovative approaches to method and exposition. Some participants report their experiences as protest anthropologists and activist anthropologists and documentarians. Each paper, whether written from the position of critic, artist, activist or archivist, traces the ways in which it is increasingly hard for people to navigate the city due to economic restructuring and public policies that place the burden of survival on the individual.
One underlying theme of this session is that the power dynamics of cities and their disparate inequalities require multiple modes of resistance in the face of urban governance and securitization strategies. Thus urban anthropologists often find themselves aligned with those who they study and entangled in local political affairs. Yet at the same time, this session suggests that a translation process is necessary to bring the struggles of everyday people to the attention of broader publics and decision and policy makers. Participants in the panel address how these different elements of an engaged practice can come together in different political economic and sociocultural settings in order to produce critical anthropological knowledge.
Newspapers, television and radio programs, blogs, magazines, zines, Facebook posts, tweets and Instagram also document, albeit superficially, these same concerns. Yet social media and news updates reach millions of people who want to comprehend and change the world they live in, while urban anthropologists who provide in-depth research and reports on these same issues struggle to find their audiences. Ultimately, this session argues that real-world engagement, when combined with a more effective translation and circulation of research projects, can reach broader publics and engage with issues of critical, pressing concern.