By Zahirah Suhaimi and Suraiya Jetha
The AAA meetings in Minneapolis this year coincided with the days shortly after the devastating results of the United States election. Although distressing, the results were part of longer histories and intensification of unresolved tensions. Attuned to these conditions, the graduate student planning committee organized six workshops, each of which addressed increasingly urgent questions of law and temporality, nationalism and charismatic leadership, decay of physical and symbolic structures, militarization and the law, as well as the interfaces between the academy and political activism:
- Anthropology and Activism Part I: Political Engagement through Writing. Mentors: Carole Mcgranahan and Zoe Todd
- Anthropology and Activism Part II: Anthropology of Activism in the 21st Century. Mentors: Cymene Howe and Naisargi Dave
- Conceptualising Decay in Political and Legal Anthropological Frameworks. Mentors: Christina Schwenkel and Jatin Dua
- The Military, The Law. Mentors: Kim Theidon and Lori Allen
- Temporalities of Law. Mentors: Robin Conley Riner and Susan Coutin
- Nationalism and Charismatic Leaders. Mentors: Henrik Vigh and Georgina Ramsay
A week before the workshops, participants shared a 1-2 page description of their projects and the methodological and/or analytical challenges that they have encountered in the field. Many participants felt that the opportunity to learn about one another’s projects was rare and refreshing, especially when coupled with the opportunity to work through the various conceptual and methodological puzzles collectively with experienced junior and senior faculty.
Workshops mostly took place in an intimate setting, a small local LGBTQ+-friendly coffee shop with warm ambience and generous baristas willing to accommodate troves of anthropologists for a few hours each day during the AAA meetings. In these friendly spaces, participants received incisive feedback on their individual projects, as well as engaged in generative discussions about broader questions related to the topic of the workshop. For instance, a participant in the 6th year of her doctoral program was particularly appreciative that faculty mentors and participants “took interest in certain aspects, theorizations, and questions regarding (her) project that (she) had not expected”. Many other participants also expressed similar experiences of viewing their projects from a fresh perspective, especially after months of immersive fieldwork and/or dissertation writing.
The workshops also provided a space for participants to meet and network with other graduate students and faculty. Scholars from different stages of their careers were able to trade personal and professional experiences on research, writing, navigating other academic processes, and working collaboratively to advance anthropological research, especially politically expedient research. Many participants felt that the opportunity to discuss their work with “scholars who share similar conceptual interests across different localities” was especially exciting and invigorating. For instance, a discussion on interlocutor anonymity in one of the workshops benefitted from a multiplicity of perspectives that have developed within vastly different research contexts and academic training. One participant shared how other discussants “came up with ideas (he) had never thought of”, which he found to be very helpful. Further, several graduate students, and mentors alike, have expressed interest in furthering conversations with fellow participants about the possibilities of organizing panels and/or and edited issue around common topics of interests.
In light of recent political events, many of the participants also find themselves grappling with questions of how to engage with political writing, ranging from “whether to do it at all to questions about when and how”. Together with experienced faculty, participants were able to talk through their experiences of tensions within the discipline and their academic institutions on these questions. Although these questions came up in various ways in the different workshops, it was predictably the central conversation in the Anthropology and Activism Part I: Political Engagement through Writing workshop, mentored by Professors Carole Mcgranahan (UC Boulder) and Zoe Todd (Carleton University). Graduate students in the workshop felt that they greatly benefitted from engaging with the mentors who were not only capacious and sensitive to the different personal and institutional challenges that scholars faced, but were also at the forefront of making anthropological scholarship publicly engaged through social media and less conventional academic forums and platforms.
Overall, the workshops provided a generative space for discussing theory, writing, academic commitments to political conditions, especially the most recent political developments. Most participants also remarked on how they came away from the workshop feeling a great sense of support and collaborative energy from participants and mentors. These strong, positive affirmations from the participants deepen our belief in the mission of APLA to foster mentorship between scholars and to continually assess our roles and abilities as anthropologists to study, document, and resist political injustices.