#AAA2016: Anthroboycott, BLM, NoDAPL, and More!

At this year’s Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, we are sponsoring two events to educate colleagues about the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Details on our events are below. We are also including information about some important panels pertaining to the movements for Black Lives, Indigenous Sovereignty, and refugee rights. We have not organized these events, but they may be of interest to boycott supporters and others.

See you in Minneapolis!


Thursday, Nov 17, 1:45-3:30pm, Hilton Salon C

Recent debates within the AAA about resolutions in support of Palestinian rights, including the resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions, have highlighted questions about the relationship of anthropology to advocacy. What is the role of anthropology in political and social struggles? Does the anthropologist have a responsibility to advocate for their interlocutors and what form should this advocacy take? How should the AAA, as our professional association, participate in this advocacy? At the last three AAA conferences, these questions have been primarily addressed through the lens of Israel-Palestine. However, anthropologists who work in a variety of world regions have long been engaged in discussion of these questions and of the relationship of our discipline to various forms of political engagement. The goal of this roundtable is to call attention to the need to learn from and build connections across these discussions, and to facilitate a conversation that connects anthropologists concerned with struggles for social, political, and economic justice in different contexts.

To this end, this roundtable brings together anthropologists whose research foci vary across regions and subfields, in order to comparatively address the relationship between anthropology, advocacy, and activism. The diversity of panelists will ensure that the conversation addresses myriad research contexts and issues such as ethnic nationalisms, militarism, queer and feminist activisms, indigenous struggles for sovereignty, and social movements, in sites including China, Israel-Palestine, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Latin America more broadly.

Roundtable participants will address questions including the history of anthropological advocacy and activism in their subfield/region, the approaches anthropologists have taken as they engage with justice struggles related to their research, the points of tension and debate that have arisen around this relationship in the anthropology of their region or subfield, and current directions and possibilities for ethical engagements with our interlocutors.  Presenters will also explore the interconnections between political struggles and anthropological knowledge production across regions


Thursday, Nov 17, 10:15am-12pm, Hilton Marquette IV

This roundtable brings together anthropologists to discuss their work on the production of evidence in political claims in Israel/Palestine and elsewhere– in asylum cases, colonial knowledge production, nationalist movements, public political discourse. It asks them to reflect on how they see anthropological understandings of fact, proof, and evidence contributing to the critical analysis of political events and the production of new political fora.

Anthropology’s interest in evidence as a basis for politics has taken many forms. In the AAA’s defense of cultural relativism, tempering the UN’s promulgation of principles of universal human rights, the 1947 AAA Statement on Human Rights argued that there was no scientific evidence to support the idea of culture hierarchies. In later years, interest in the social production of fact and evidence has intensified, and even more so as Science and Technology Studies has become a mainstay of the discipline. How facts are constructed, how experts and expertise made credible and authoritative, are crucial questions for anthropologists trying to understand the grounding of power and political hierarchies. The growing sub-field of anthropology of policy has taken related questions directly to the power-brokers, delving in to the ways that political evidence becomes less and more important in the laying down of human rights policies and other government programmes.

Questions of evidence continue to be central in the Association’s approach to taking public, political stances on issues of contemporary importance. Many of those involved in mobilizing the AAA to take action on Israel/Palestine are regional specialists and do research in Israel/Palestine and the Middle East. What spurred these mobilization activities was their ethnographic knowledge of the effects of the conflict on Israelis and Palestinians, their historical and political knowledge of how the conflict ramifies throughout the region and globally. In response, the AAA appointed a Task Force on Engagement on Israel/Palestine, charged with developing recommendations for addressing the issues raised by the situation in Israel/Palestine. Task Force members conducted scores of interviews, and three members undertook a fact-finding trip to Israel/Palestine in May 2015. As a result of a year of thorough research, the Task Force reached the unanimous conclusion that “there is a strong case for the Association to take action.” Based on testimony and ethnographic observation, the Task Force determined: “If there ever was a time when this was a fringe issue within the Association, that time has passed.” The report identifies a number of possible actions that the Association can take, including implementation of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Something that is rarely discussed is the fact that many academics who support BDS have come to this position as a result of learning the facts. For some anthropologists, BDS is not identity politics, but evidence politics.

In discussing their own work and observations of Israel/Palestine and elsewhere, participants in this roundtable will address broader questions about the important role anthropologists can play in politics by researching the social processes and categories by which proof and evidence are produced and mobilized in political claim-making.



ANTHROPOLOGY OF WHITE SUPREMACY (3-0075): Thursday, Nov. 17, 8-9:45am, Minneapolis Convention Center 101C

This panel takes up the question of white supremacy – a particular mode of domination based on notions of racial difference that structure (“white”) privileges and (“nonwhite”) disadvantages – which entails an examination of the ideologies, practices, systems, and logics impacting culture, politics, and consciousness. We explore both historical and contemporary legacies and projects of racialization, theorizing these through the broader prism of global structures of race and power. Through individual presentations that deploy ethnographic and archival research of local sites, the papers draw on transnational and feminist approaches, critical race theory, and the anthropology of globalization to interrogate white supremacy as organizing principle for understanding racialized violence, thought, and political systems on a global scale. Together, the papers in the panel also challenge the theory and practice of anthropology. Beginning with the understanding that the history of anthropology depended on a racialist imperial logic, as well as with the assertion that the social conditions of whiteness (and otherness) continue to be embedded in the notions of “evidence,” and “discovery” in who – and how – we study anthropology, the papers collectively ask why it has been difficult for the discipline to embrace a critical theory of white supremacy.

TAKING A STAND AT STANDING ROCK (3-0961): Thursday, Nov. 17, 1:45-3:30pm, Minneapolis Convention Center 211AB

When a federal judge denied the request of the Standing Rock Sioux to halt construction on a major oil pipeline being built near their reservation in North Dakota, there was disappointment, but hardly shock. That’s the way tribes have been treated for hundreds of years. But what happened next was truly surprising: three federal agencies stepped in to petition the construction temporarily halt. The Standing Rock Sioux have been heard to a degree by the government, but now what? And what’s the role of anthropologists in all of this? Join us as we discuss tribal sovereignty/treaty rights, cultural heritage protection, fracking and its environmental risks, and the power of social activism.


The spectacular killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by police in July 2016 galvanized Black communities across the US in mass protests against state violence. The subsequent sniper attack by Micah Johnson on Dallas police at just such a protest spurred a conservative counter-discourse of law and order, as well as “Blue Lives Matter” legislative efforts nationwide. The dichotomy between the unarmed victims Castile and Sterling on the one hand, and the domestic terrorist Johnson on the other, coerced many Black public figures and non-Black allies to rehearse their condemnation of violence as a disclaimer before addressing systemic racism. For instance, president Obama dismissed Johnson’s jumbled critique of police violence, asserting that “there is no possible justification for these kinds of attacks or any violence against law enforcement.” The emphasis on non-violence as the only ethical mode for Black politics deflected attention from the police killing of Korryn Gaines, a 23-year-old Black woman who was shot along with her son when she attempted to defend her home with a shotgun. Gaines’ self-defense becomes illegible in the same public media discourse that endorses Stand Your Ground laws and second amendment rights. How, then, might we theorize a Blackness that is neither synonym nor antonym to violence? In contrast to the stance of the NAACP and the Obama administration, the national activist group Black Youth Project 100’s public statement argued “Black rage is justified rage,” imploring its constituency to “stay steadfast in our mission and stand unapologetically with our people.” By shifting the frame from violence/non-violence to a practice of Blackness as solidarity, BYP100 is an example of the larger trend in the Black Lives Matter movement that looks to affective experiences of grief, rage, and hope as compasses for action. As an ideology, ‘unapologetically Black’ critiques white supremacy at the same time as it disrupts respectability politics. On the one hand, it claims Blackness as a positive value in a civil society where Blackness functions as social and material death. On the other, ‘unapologetically Black’ refuses to parse between legitimate and illegitimate Negroes, the trademark move of respectability politics as a hemispheric tradition at least since Reconstruction. What does it mean for Black anthropologists to ‘stand unapologetically with our people,’ and what are the risks we take by doing so? For example, for those of us who study state violence, does fieldwork look different in the age of “Blue Lives Matter” and intensified surveillance of activist communities? How do we write a decolonial future for a world without Korryn, Philando and Alton? What are the stakes for teaching abolition during a resurgence of law and order politics? How do we hold Black joy and Black death in the same conceptual frame? Allied with Black activists and artists across the diaspora, this roundtable seeks to operationalize unapologetic Blackness as a mode of research, writing, and pedagogy. Further, in affinity with Black queer and feminist interventions, we engage our embodied experiences of grief and rage as resources for ethical action.

FALSE EVIDENCE OF A NEW CRISIS: TIME AND WAITING WITH REFUGEES (4-0940): Friday, Nov. 18, 1:45-3:30pm, Minneapolis Convention Center 101H

This panel examines the lived realities within the space of the refugee camp. Through the analytics of time and endurance, this panel thinks through how camp spaces are intended to be temporary in principle, but turn out to be permanent in practice. The average life of a refugee camp spans multiple generations. Camps are places in which bodies, buildings, livelihoods, and futures are confined, and while they are meant to last for a limited period of time, they often endure indefinitely. Despite public culture’s recent characterization of the stream of Middle Eastern refugees, especially Syrians, into Europe as a novel crisis, the majority of the world’s refugees live in protracted contexts of forced migration. Understanding the global circuits of refugee stagnation and immobility reframes current assumptions about mass migration into Europe, and reveals the stakes of enduring displacement for decades. Most live in camps where they are unable to move anywhere, remain immobilized, and wait at the mercy of many factors that determine their abilities to find a permanent home. Waiting becomes an overwhelming, dominating task in the everyday and a form of labor that requires stamina, will, and patience. This panel considers how refugees in encampment narrate the ways they wait, endure, and reconcile long periods of time. In camps and other such contexts, “the making do of now” supersedes the way that they envision the futures and dreams of their life trajectories. Time emerges as a pivotal dimension in framing how refugees see and understand statelessness across a spectrum of contexts and historical times. This panel seeks papers that ethnographically explore the following types of questions: How does living in a temporary, yet permanent space affect the way camp residents experience time? What forms do waiting take, how do refugees endure these protracted periods, are there measures that make it easier? How does time stagnate in prolonged crises? How does it surge? How does time become compressed and expanded within the space of refugee camps?


This panel approaches toxicity as a condition of contemporary indigeneity and colonization in settler states by engaging the ways that extractive industry, nuclear energy development, and regulatory neglect perpetuate uneven regimes of colonial power and governance. The disproportionate frequency of toxic exposures often aligns with other fractured patterns of race, class, and difference, adhering to bodies in unexpected and unknowable ways. Therefore, as an analytic, toxicity refocuses attention to the distributions and temporalities of life and death in colonial and settler colonial projects without presupposing any bounded bodily form. What we can “observe”, therefore, are only traces of these structures, events, and exposures that circulate and accumulate in bodies and landscapes, coalescing in moments of uncertainty and violence. The apprehension of toxic exposure, if knowable at all, appears in the form of malign saturations, abstract quantifications of radiation, or expressed anxieties about “bad water” and unbreathable atmospheres. What, then, can we learn about toxicity and state-making when we begin with the proposition that they are already entangled? Building upon this central premise we ask, how is this entanglement heightened in the contemporary so-called “anthropocene” moment, and what are its historical itineraries? As scholars working in sites and communities enduring through various and often overlapping kinds of toxic exposure, we draw attention to the material and social conditions that converge with ongoing settler colonial political projects that have sought to displace, replace, or otherwise realign racial and class orders. In other words, how does toxicity align with and reinforce forms of racial, classed, and gendered difference, making them more permanent and durable? How do discourses and possibilities of ‘contamination’ bring these differences, and the infrastructures that sustain them, into relief? How can we trace toxic materials through their entanglements at various scales as evidence of enduring military/ imperialist/ settler colonial/ state structures and processes? Finally, how is toxicity subjectively understood, embodied, and experienced affectively through structures of bodily injury, environmental catastrophe, and psychosocial trauma? To attend to these broad concerns we draw upon case studies from the American Southwest, Canada, and Japan, as a way to formalize an analytical engagement of toxicity through various settler and neoliberal regimes worldwide.