Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Teaching
Secondary Theme: The Political
Anthropological reflections on disciplinary change usually focus on figures (Malinowski, Mead) and frameworks (structuralism, functionalism). Departments show up on occasion (for instance, the “Manchester School”) but ironically, rarely in a manner that foregrounds the social issues addressed when anthropologists discuss the “others” they study. Questions of institutional location are crucial when the value of universities is questioned as part of a broader attack on expertise, facts, and truth. In this panel we take as a case study the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). This department has an unusual structure rooted in the experimental origins of Irvine and the radical interdisciplinary commitments of its School of Social Sciences. These commitments animated experiments in formal modeling and ethnographic training. The experiments in modeling left a legacy regarding epistemological authority. The experiments in ethnographic training—most visible in the cross-cultural experiment in “learning by doing” at the short-lived but influential Social Sciences Farm—left a legacy regarding the link between theory and method. The department is currently exploring how cutting-edge work can be paired with a deep understanding of disciplinary history, and rethinking both methodology and the production of ethnographic knowledge for scholars and publics. What can UCI Anthropology’s experience tell us about possibilities for emerging anthropologies that address how expertise is generated and distributed, how technology shapes knowledge, and how to reimagine the research endeavor itself? How can such lines of analysis help us better account for the role of departments in the anthropological imagination?