ASA January 2010 AN Column

Anthropology News • January 2010 • Volume 51 • Issue 1
Paul L Doughty, Contributing Editor

Who Are We?
By J Anthony Paredes (ASA President)

As I write this in November 2009, Paul Doughty is off to the South Seas. Literally! So, I am sitting in for him. May he and Polly enjoy a wonderful, adventurous escape.

In his December column, Paul told us that Walter Goldschmidt has become—of all things— a blogger at age 96. That’s quite an inspiration for us “young seniors” (now an acknowledged demographic category). But who exactly are “senior anthropologists” and how many are there? Our ASA bylaws are cagily vague on the subject. Membership is open to any AAA member who supports the purpose of ASA, which is “to create a sense of community among senior anthropologists and to further their interests and concerns.” Back in October, member Joel Halpern ( inquired via email, “Do there exist any databases concerning retired anthropologists?” Paul replied that roughly 500 AAA members are registered as retired, but AAA does not collect age data, so “…the only way to get at that info is by the date listed for receiving the PhD, but of course, that is not age, or retirement status.” I took up the challenge and did some “advanced” searches of the 2009–10 AAA Guide, which also includes many anthropologists who are not AAA members but are affiliated with participating organizations.

Entering “emer” and “ret” in the “position title” field (some titles are abbreviated in the Guide) yielded the names of 775 emeritus/ emerita/retired anthropologists. That’s nearly 8% of the approximately 10,000 people in the AAA Guide. The lists do not include, of course, retired anthropologists not affiliated with an institution or organization in the Guide, especially the growing numbers of private sector and government anthropology retirees. Mere lists of names from the AAA Guide don’t tell us much about the demographics of retirees, but perhaps they could provide a starting point for a survey to answer intriguing questions about the role of retirees in anthropology, which Joel Halpern suggested in a later message.

Another correspondent, Philip Singer (, is taking a different, more ethnographic approach to finding out about us. He has submitted a grant proposal (at age 84— another inspiration!) for doing a series of videotaped conversations with senior anthropologists addressing “the question of the relationship between professional anthropological identity and personal identity at the end stage of life.” Many senior anthropologists have not retired. To find them I pursued the year-of-PhD tack Paul suggested (even though that does not include masters’ degree professional anthropologists, of which there are increasing numbers, especially in archaeology). For the 1960s and early 1970s, average age at completion of PhD was assumed to be about 28 (cf, AAA’s Fellow Newsletter, April 1962). Taking age of eligibility for Medicare (age 65) as a reasonable demarcation for “senior” status in society at-large, by my calculation the newest crop of “senior anthropologists” received their PhDs in 1972. There are 150 of them listed in the Guide (by contrast, my 1969 cohort has only 109 listed). The Guide lists a total of 942 individuals who received the PhD before 1972, including 121 from the 1950s.

This doesn’t tell us much about who (or what) senior anthropologists are, but it does tell us there are a lot of us—certainly many more than the 150 or so who belong to ASA. It might even help explain the delightful statistic that AAA webmaster Lisa Myers passed along the other day: Between January 1 and November 12, 2009, there were 2,209 hits on the ASA website. All these numbers, incomplete as they might be, also suggest that as longevity increases, “seniors” will become an ever more significant demographic segment of anthropology. And, one hopes, seniors will become an even more vital and potent intellectual (and political?) force within the discipline. By the way, using the year-of-PhD measure, 96-year-old Walter Goldschmidt with his 1942 PhD is not the most senior anthropologist in the Guide. There are two listed who received their degrees before he did. Go look.

Closing note: neither “emerita” nor “blogger” are in my 2005 computer’s spell check dictionary. As computer technology plows ahead much is left in its wake, but it must move ever faster to catch up with what’s ahead.