For What it’s Worth

I invoke the song title of Buffalo Springfield’s 1966 classic (yes, it dates me) because the phrase intimates an assertion, something about uncertainty, the promise of a perspective and the question of value. As I reflect on AAA’s year of activities and accomplishments, “For What It’s Worth” captures this time of intense global and local injustice and civil unrest, the place of the Association in it, and whether our efforts are worthwhile—or not. This is not about any one issue. It’s about nearly everything important the Association tries to do, the decisions it makes, and the actions it takes amidst competing shouts and murmurs, sometimes without guarantee of return on the effort.

In all, 2016 was an enormously productive and exhilarating, if challenging, year. I had the honor to work with a dedicated professional staff under Ed Liebow’s capable management and with the many anthropologists who volunteer their time and energy to the Association.

I wish AAA members could be flies on the wall to see staff and volunteers doing their best, day in and day out, to come to wise decisions after thorough study and deliberation and to enact these decisions with care, energy and a deep sense of responsibility.

AAA accomplished a great deal and on many fronts: 1) public engagement and public presence; 2) publishing; 3) external relations; 4) governance and programming structures; 5) internal relations (members, meetings, and sections); and 6) AAA’s financial state.

Public engagement and presence

Between December 2015 and the close of 2016, AAA engaged in no fewer than 20 advocacy efforts in the form of letters and public statements on issues brought to the Association most often by members. These statements reflect the kinds of concerns that many members care about, including harmful and draconian state policies and practices, violations of human rights, academic freedom and indigenous rights, and the systemic and structural violence of racialization. The issues that reach the leadership are rarely easy to address. Each requires study and due diligence, a consideration of who is to be helped and who may be harmed by AAA actions. We have no way of knowing how successful we are in effecting change. I have confidence that by keeping to our discipline’s core values and the Association’s established processes, our added voice matters.

World on the Move” is a form of global engagement on a timely, enduring, and difficult to discuss topic that matters to anthropologists and to the larger public. Migration ties to many anthropological concerns, past and present and across the subfields—archaeology, and biological, cultural, linguistic, and practicing anthropology. From all these angles, perspectives, and locations, anthropologists have a lot to teach each other and the world about this topic. “World on the Move” represents what AAA can do so well: bring anthropological voices into the public conversation on complex topics. The time is now to secure funding to ensure “World on the Move” develops its full potential.

Other activities included the Working Group on Racialized Police Brutality/Extrajudicial Violence; the proposal to create the AAA Social Mobilization Platform to Improve Responses to Global Public Health Crises and an Emergency Humanitarian Response Network; Open Anthropology’s collections and commentaries by editors Jason Antrosio and Sally Han on critical issues of our times; and the Association’s ever-growing social media presence that reflects AAA’s capacity for timely participation in critical public discussions.


The year’s big effort on the publishing front was engaging a thorough and thoughtful process to secure a publishing partner agreement to begin January 2018. Over the course of 2016, steps taken included: activating the Executive Board’s Publishing Partner Advisory Group (AG) charged with guiding the Request for Proposals (RFP) prepared by AAA’s publishing consultant; issuing the RFP in April to eight publishers (four publishers submitted proposals); assessing the proposals; interviewing the semi-finalists; and recommending a preferred publishing partner to the Executive Board in October. Accepting the AG’s recommendation, the Executive Board authorized the executive director to negotiate the new publishing contract. In the end, Wiley was chosen to continue representing our organization and I am confident they will deliver a digital future that fully supports the portfolio of AAA publications, our collective publishing program.

Other actions and projects included: establishing the AAA President’s Working Group on Tenure & Promotion Guidelines for Writing and Publishing Forms, the goal of which is to help tenure and promotion committees assess new forms of writing and publishing; moving on Cultural Heritage matters by developing a set of principles by which the Executive Board may assess the merits of proposed partnerships, initiatives or requests for advocacy, and AAA signing onto the international “Declaration on the Need to Protect and Safeguard Cultural Heritage in the Americas and the Caribbean”; and advancing AAA’s ongoing effort to foster relationships with sister societies by participating in over a dozen conferences or other events in the US and internationally, writing advocacy letters on behalf of various international programs subject to budget cuts or elimination, and inaugurating the successful AAA/African Studies Association joint conference “Innovation, Transformation and Sustainable Futures in Africa,” held June 1–4 (2016) in Dakar, Senegal.

Member programs and projects

AAA took a momentous step in establishing the Members Programmatic Advisory & Advocacy Committee (M-PAAC), the members’ go-to committee designed to address the eight key areas of ethics, human rights, labor and workforce, public policy, racialized minorities, gender equity, the practicing-applied-public sector, and world anthropologies as these areas relate to anthropology, anthropologists, and the Association. In creating M-PAAC, AAA expects to remain at the forefront in responding to these critical areas of scholarly interest and public engagement. It was my great privilege to appoint M-PAAC’s dream leadership team: Tricia Redeker Hepner as the first M-PAAC chair, with Ramona Perez and Keri Brondo serving as chairs of M-PAAC’s two subcommittees.

To better assess the twin issues of contingent labor and the labor market for anthropologists, and to better determine how the Association may contribute to improving the situation, I appointed Alex Barker, AAA’s VP/PE to chair the Working Group on Anthropology Non-Tenure Track Faculty Employment, charged with recommending ways the Association can contribute to reducing employment vulnerability of non-tenure track faculty in anthropology. Recognizing that a main obstacle to addressing the labor issues in anthropology is a dearth of reliable information, AAA’s Anthropology Information Central features a series of data reports based on primary research conducted by the Association during the year.

Under the able leadership of Sam Martinez, the 115th AAA Annual Meeting was a great success. Sam offered a powerful theme (“Evidence, Accident, Discovery”), with dynamic featured speakers (Melissa Harris-Perry, Frans de Waal), and a rich set of panels, special sessions, and events. In 2016, AAA also took up the issue of meeting affordability, invited bids for 2022 and 2023 meeting sites, and came to successful agreement with CASCA for a joint 2023 meeting in Canada.

Finally, Treasurer Ted Hamann reports that AAA is in good financial health, enabling the Association to serve members with all these important programs and exciting projects, which we look forward to fulfilling in the coming year.

In making its decisions, the great challenge for AAA leadership is to balance multiple mandates, which sometimes operate in contradiction. This means leadership must act in accordance with AAA’s mission and stated values, the laws that govern the Association, its responsibility to ensure the Association is sustained over time, and the varied points of view among its members. In 2016, AAA took on a lot, thought things through and, perhaps most importantly, acted. I’d say it’s been very worth our while.

Photo: Juliana Braz Dias. Title: Resilience

From the Executive Director

Dear Colleagues,

Ed Liebow, Executive DirectorThe AAA has been exceptionally active in 2016, as seen in President Alisse Waterston’s annual recap. I think you will agree that AAA has been especially effective in promoting the growth and exchange of anthropological knowledge through our publishing and meetings programs, calling public attention to the field through our communications, public affairs, and public education initiative, and serving our members in a variety of ways.

For all of these accomplishments, we are forever indebted to the large army of volunteers who commit their professional service on behalf of the Association. We also are extremely grateful for all of you who took part in the 2016 Annual Fund-Raising Campaign, which increased in member participation as well as contributions from the previous year. It is thanks to contributions to the Annual Fund that we are able to continue to try new ways of serving our members and the field of anthropology. Contributors’ generous gifts make a big difference.

I’d like to take a moment to thank our staff, who makes it a pleasure to come to the Association’s office every day because they work their hardest to serve our members and the Association. And I’d also like to thank our Executive Board for their dedicated service, with a special appreciation for our inspiring officers, President Alisse Waterston, President-Elect Alex Barker, Secretary Susana Narotzsky, and Treasurer Ted Hamann.

Our commitment to heightened public visibility for the field of anthropology has never been greater. Our annual Anthropology Day continues to be a resounding success. The February 2016 celebration involved more than 140 participating groups (including 15 from outside the US), doubling the participant list from the previous year. The first half of 2016 bore witness to an unprecedented level of member participation in a transparent, informed, and democratic process by which we considered ways in which we might engage, as an Association, with the political situation in Israel/Palestine. We have also been actively involved with the Consortium of Social Science Associations and the National Humanities Alliance in efforts to make key Congressional committee members aware of the importance of public funding for social science and humanities research. We have established agreements with several podcasts to amplify the fascinating array of interviews and features being produced across the discipline, and our social media followers continue to increase at a rapid rate. Programming for the “World on the Move: 100,000 Years of Human Migration” picked up its pace in 2016. AAA began a series of book readings at a Washington, DC independent bookstore, Politics and Prose. We co-sponsored public events at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum and worked with the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage to make “On the Move” a featured theme of the summer Folklife Festival on the National Mall.

What has been especially gratifying over the course of the last year is the breadth and depth of news coverage that has been earned for the work of our members. We reserve a spot on our website to acknowledge this coverage, but it is worth pausing to appreciate the growing interest shown by journalists in how anthropological findings can help advance understanding of our everyday lived experience. Our members have been featured in major print media like the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and Time Magazine; and online channels that reach a diverse audience, like The Huffington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and Forbes. Our members’ work has been broadcast regularly on National Public Radio and its local affiliates, as well as the BBC. We are encouraged to see the welcome reception that Sapiens has enjoyed as the new kid on the block aiming to broadcast anthropologists’ work for a wide audience.

Whether it is through a reflection on contemporary geopolitical developments, the richness of local heritage, the complexities of teaching a car about the rules of the road, or homesick pandas, our members are expert at demonstrating how, by taking the long and comparative view, we are able to  help people make sense of the world around them. What better tools could one possibly hope for in advancing  understanding of the human condition and civic engagement to tackle the world’s most pressing problems!