Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why did I resign from the American Anthropological Association?

I recently resigned my membership in the American Anthropological Association, after nearly forty years. The AAA asked for my reasons for this, and gave me 900 characters to respond. This is what I told them:

4. Is there anything you care to say about your membership experience?
(1) During the nearly 40 years of my membership, I have found the AAA very poor in its responsiveness to members concerns.

(2) I have long been dismayed at the postmodern trend in anthropology, and the recent "science" episode tipped the scales. For me this involves 2 concerns:

(A) This confirmed my fears of an anti-science sentiment within anthropology.

(B) The response by the AAA president and board was completely inadequate in terms of internet communication and the role of independent bloggers. It showed a serious lack of understanding of both current sentiment and the nature of blogs and internet communication.

(3) The AAA is too heavily politicized. As a professional organization, the AAA should not be taking stands (through resolutions, etc.) on current political issues. This not only marginalizes some members, but also detracts from the ability of anthropology to contribute to the solution of social problems (see works by Doug Massey in sociology on this).

These are the works by Massey I was referring to (but did not have space in include in my reply to the AAA):

Massey, Douglas S.
2006    Doing Social Science in Anti-Scientific Times. American Sociologist 37:87-95.

2007    The Strength of Weak Politics. In Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-first Century, edited by Dan Clawson, Robert Zussman, Joya Mistra, Naomi Gerstel, Randall Stokes, Douglas L. Anderton, and Michael Burawoy, pp. 145-157. Universitiy of California Press, Berkeley.

Why is it that I find more inspiration these days -- both intellectual and professional -- from the field of sociology than from anthropology? That is one higher-level reason for leaving the AAA (although not a big enough reason to join the ASA!). For the price of my AAA membership, I can subscribe to several new journals, including Social Science History and Urban Morphology. I can get American Anthropology online through my university, but the thing I miss most about the AAA membership is easy access to the Anthropology News. This is online, with a five-year embargo!!! As if people really want to read a newsletter from five years ago.

I am enjoying these new journals, and I can get what I want out of American Anthropologist without having to worry about all the negative aspects of the AAA.


Anonymous said...

I for one think that the AAA has provided a surprisingly rapid and effective online and public response to the Florida governor's 'singling out' of anthropology for budget cuts, one that includes and even highlights the scientific dimension of anthropology...

Perhaps your and other's critiques have added to their motivations despite not being quick enough for your circumstance.

Colleen said...

Thanks for the link to Urban Morphology - it looks like a great journal, but Berkeley doesn't subscribe to the online version for whatever reason. I'll have to check it out when I'm back on campus.

Michael E. Smith said...

@anonymous - The initial AAA response to governor Scott was brief and not very effective (in my opinion). The student graphics show was much better. Perhaps the AAA have made a better response after the initial note. But many of their responses to things over the years have been slow and inadequate, just one more thing on my list of beefs with the organization.

Anonymous said...

Given the academic job market, I am surprised more anthropologists and archaeologists are not interested in addressing this issue as the true crisis--not whether or not people are hard core positivists or social theorists. But, frankly, I'm not surprised. I can't count how many conversations I've had with 1960s-80s PhDs who think the reason they got jobs easily is due to genius...or who joke about how they won't retire and the school could hire two assistant professors at their salary... Meanwhile, their PhDs would hardly earn a masters degree in today's climate. Yet, here we young academics are, watching the same people who started the rallying cry for archaeology as anthropology calling for the opposite. Must be nice to be able to ride that wave while gainfully employed...