ASA Activities at the 2021 AAA Meeting 

President Elect and Program Chair Maria Cattell has organized a full and exciting set of ASA events for this year’s meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Some take place physically at the Baltimore Convention Center from November 17th through 21st, while others will be accessible virtually online and some both ways in hybrid form.

With all the difficult logistics and accommodations for last year’s 100% virtual meeting, creating the mix with some of the events taking place in Baltimore has been at least as great a challenge. We won’t know the details about our traditional lunch meeting (Friday, November 19th) until a day or two before. It will be more informal than usual and as usual the cost for members will be covered by section dues. Guests will pay $15 each. Please check your email for an ASA Community announcement about the exact time and place if you would like to attend.

Please go to the Meetings page on the AAA website for particulars about registration to attend in either the in-person or online mode, along with Covid vaccination requirements for those planning to be present physically. The Preliminary Program for the entire meeting is also accessible there.

This year’s events are listed below (also available through this link in PDF form):



Anthropology and Activism
Thursday, 11/18/2021 — 6:30-8:15 PM
Roundtable / Townhall (In-Person)
Martin Schoenhals, Organizer

Abstract. This is a proposal for a roundtable about anthropology and activism. This roundtable continues and elaborates on the discussion held by several of the same participants in a virtual roundtable last year. This roundtable is inherently concerned with the goals of equity, diversity, and inclusion, and/or analysis of power. All of the participants are activists working on these issues and discussion of our work will be a central part of our conversation. Issues that participants work on, and which will be subjects of discussion, include racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and other invidious distinctions that exploit individuals both in the US and around the world. The roundtable will expand the discussion from last year with a consideration of the broader relationship between anthropology and activism. We will discuss questions such as: What does the concept of culture add to the way that activism is carried out by anthropologists? Does the virtual absence of a recognition of community dissensus and class conflict hinder our activism? Does cultural relativism, in its most extreme form, impede the practice of activism among anthropologists? How does anthropological methodology, especially our emphasis on qualitative study in a naturalistic context, contribute to the kind of activism in which we engage? How, then, do journalism, filmmaking and other forms of critical “witnessing” become important modes for anthropological activism? The many years of experience of roundtable participants will provide a historical perspective to the topic of activism in anthropology. We will discuss, for example, the increasingly tight job market and the manner in which it may leave less time for activism than was the case several decades ago. This will lead us to consider opportunities that do exist, or which we may help create, outside the academy for employment and activism and the implications of this consideration for how we should train students today.

Martin Schoenhals, Organizer, Chair, Roundtable Presenter
Carol Mukhopadhyay, Roundtable Presenter
Yolanda T. Moses, Roundtable Presenter
Kathleen Fine-Dare, Roundtable Presenter
Linda J. Seligmann, Roundtable Presenter
Raymond Schwartz, Roundtable Presenter
Jeanne Simonelli, Discussant

Reviewed by Association of Senior Anthropologists


Alfred L. Kroeber: The Man, His Work and His Legacy (Invited Session)
Friday, 11/19/2021 — 10:15 AM-12:00 PM
Oral Presentation (In-Person)
Herbert S. Lewis, Organizer

Abstract. Alfred Louis Kroeber (1876-1960) was once considered the “Dean of American Anthropology.” He was Franz Boas’ first Ph.D. student at Columbia University and the heir to his reputation—despite their intellectual disagreements. Kroeber was the founder and the predominant intellectual force in the University of California-Berkeley department of anthropology from 1901 until his retirement in 1946. He published more than 550 works—books, papers, reviews—on a wide range of topics in ethnology, linguistics, history, and archaeology. His subject was the whole world of humans and their cultures, their pasts and their interconnections. As Heizer et al. wrote, “The search for cultural patterns obtrudes in papers on such diverse subjects as changes in women’s fashions, prehistoric South American art styles, Mohave epic tales, classificatory systems of relationship, arrow releases, basketry techniques and designs, aboriginal American Religious cults, or Romance languages.” His book Anthropology (1948) is a remarkable compendium of facts and ideas about the world’s peoples and cultures, and his massive edited enterprise, Anthropology Today, encompassed the vast range of the field as of 1952 (1953). Kroeber became known outside of anthropology as a result of Theodora Kroeber’s book Ishi in Two Worlds (1961), published soon after her husband’s death. The legacies of his linguistics and ethnography are invaluable to many California Indian groups and individuals In the light of the recent decision by the University of California, Berkeley to un-name Kroeber Hall it is particularly appropriate for the AAA, the ASA, the HOA, and GAD to offer a session to present a retrospective on the work of this important figure in the history of American anthropology.

Herbert S. Lewis, Organizer, Paper Presenter
Stanley Brandes, Paper Presenter
Ira Jacknis, Paper Presenter
Paul Shankman, Paper Presenter
Jack Glazier, Paper Presenter
Nicholas Barron, Discussant
James Stanlaw, Chair, Paper Presenter

Reviewed by Association of Senior Anthropologists


Enduring Legacies of Ethnographic Field Schools, Part 1
Friday, 11/19/2021 — 10:15 AM-12:00 PM
Oral Presentation (In-Person)
James Tim M. Wallace, III, Organizer

Abstract. This session brings together anthropologists who have led an ethnographic field school for approximately a decade or more to discuss and examine the enduring legacies and outcomes of their programs. The ethnographic field school is the most direct and practical example of hands-on training in cultural anthropology and in the teaching of the skills required to do ethnographic fieldwork. Field schools require their leaders to have heavy, day-to day involvement in the learning of those skills required for becoming effective anthropologists and ethnographers. These programs leave their mark not only on the students and but also on the communities in which they are held. While most field school participants do not go on to become professional anthropologists, all leave these field programs with valuable research and life skills applicable to careers in many fields. This session examines, with specific field school examples, how the ethnographic field school contributes to the career trajectories of its participants and how it affects the communities in which they have been held. Presenters in this session discuss the outcomes and legacies they perceive emanating from their informed understanding of what their programs have accomplished in human terms, as well as how their presence has had either intended or unintended consequences for the communities where they took place.

James Tim M. Wallace, III, Organizer
Keri Brondo, Organizer, Chair
Suzanne M. Kent, Paper Presenter
A. Katherine Lambert-Pennington, Paper Presenter
Natalie Bourdon, Paper Presenter
Douglas W. Hume, Paper Presenter
Linda Easley, Paper Presenter
Quetzil E. Castaneda, Paper Presenter

Reviewed by Association of Senior Anthropologists


Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing: Exploring the future of multimodal-digital ethnography
Friday, 11/19/2021 — 10:15 AM-12:00 PM
Conversation / Debate (Virtual)
Jay Sokolovsky, Organizer

Abstract. This conversation will bring to the meeting Professor Danny Miller (Univ College London), director of a newly completed multisited global ethnography study, the Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing (ASSA –, and two post-doctoral researchers from the project, Xinyuan Wang and Charlotte Hawkins. The project consists of simultaneous 16-month field-based ethnographies conducted in ten field sites across the globe, from February 2018 to June 2019, focusing on mid-age and older adults. Smartphones and other digital technologies are now central to the experience of older people, whether in terms of accessing information about health, socializing with others, or organizing their lives during retirement. The researchers also explored how generational understanding and use of smartphones, especially for accessing health information and enabling translocal systems of care might be impacted by inequality. Smartphones are equally important in creating a new form of collaborative and comparative anthropology which will be represented by the eleven volumes the project is publishing. The conversation will be moderated by Maria Cattell and Jay Sokolovsky who have each logged in over 4 decades of traditional ethnographic research with Sokolovsky having recently published one of the first multimedia enabled ethnographies. In the midst of rapidly transforming translocal and transnational engagement of generations this conversation ultimately explores three grand issues: 1. As a successor to the global “Project A.G.E.” (Age, Generation and Experience), carried out in the 1980s, how does the ASSA Project move forward a comparative, cross-cultural understanding of older adulthood in the 21st Century? 2. Can the methodological efforts of the ASSA project properly transcend what Gabriele de Seta calls “the three lies of digital ethnography”? These are: illusions of the networked field-weaver, the eager participant-lurker and the expert fabricator. 3. How do the methods of the ASSA project inform anthropology about the possibilities of fieldwork and research dissemination in the age of COVID?

Jay Sokolovsky, Organizer, Speaker/Moderator
Maria G. Cattell, Speaker/Moderator
Daniel Miller, Speaker
Xinyuan Wang, Speaker
Charlotte Hawkins, Speaker

Reviewed by Association of Senior Anthropologists


Information / Disinformation, II: Help from Anthropology
Friday, 11/19/2021 — 2:00 PM-3:45 PM
Oral Presentation (Hybrid)
Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb, Organizer

Abstract. In the first iteration of this session, in Vancouver, we argued that the production of knowledge rests on the shaky ground that separates information from disinformation. We looked at aspects of theoretical models and of popular culture, underlined their shortcomings, as well as began to examine our responsibility in clarifying how anthropology can help develop trust in the possibility of truth. We asked ourselves whether our concern with the contextuality, and therefore relativity of truth has given theoretical justification to “alternative facts” narratives. This time, our object will be to peel the onion of the “alternative facts” narrative, which has become the foundation for the anything-goes posture on which we are mired and explore in some detail the avenues for the success of this narrative. How does it work? Why is it given credence? Can we unveil the motives that propel people to accept new information as evidence or to reject it? How can our anthropological tools help us in understanding this issue? Presenters in our panel deal with information from disparate geographic areas, Peru, Papua, New Guinea, the U.S., and with information derived from different domains, from ethnography to public policy to private dreaming. Mitchell, starts from the assumption that the use of misinformation has been endemic in situation of contrasting political motivation, which begs the question of our role as anthropologists: are we investigators of the truth or reporters of existing narratives? Similarly, Stewart & Strathern argue that alternative realities claiming validation are at the heart of misinformation and the role of anthropologists is to use the tools at our disposal, such as cognitive anthropological analysis. With similar concerns regarding the personal interpretation of public issues, Sherif invites us to be open to the ethnographic importance of dream states, seen here as windows on how we process “our hypermediatized public imaginaries.” Finally, Antoniello is unabashed in her critique of one evident trajectory of misinformation: the U.S. Government’s botched response to the COVID-19 crisis, which has ignored what anthropologists know about epidemics and the lessons that we can learn from them.

Stephen Rea, Paper Discussant
Robin Sheriff, Paper Presenter
Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb, Organizer, Chair
Peter Benson, Paper Discussant
William Mitchell, Paper Presenter
Patricia Antoniello, Paper Presenter

Reviewed by Association of Senior Anthropologists


Enduring Legacies of Ethnographic Field Schools, Part 2
Friday, 11/19/2021 — 2:00 PM-3:45 PM
Oral Presentation (In-Person)
James Tim M. Wallace, III, Organizer

Abstract. See Part 1 of session.

Bill Roberts, Paper Presenter
Walter R. Adams, Paper Presenter
James H. McDonald, Paper Presenter
James Tim M. Wallace, III, Organizer, Paper Presenter
Sharon Gmelch, Paper Presenter
Keri Brondo, Organizer, Chair, Discussant

Reviewed by Association of Senior Anthropologists


Time to be Woke: Method in Historical Sciences, Standpoints, Critical Thinking
Friday, 11/19/2021 — 2:00 PM-3:45 PM
Oral Presentation (In-Person)
Alice Kehoe, Organizer

Abstract. In 1958, Willey and Phillips published Method and Theory in American Archaeology. It presented “unit concepts” for ordering data, and a five-stage “historical-developmental approach” for interpreting those classes and clusters of data. Binford gave lip service to Willey and Phillips’ line, “archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing” (p. 2), but his very limited ethnography is poor. Instead, he taught what he claimed was the scientific method, promoted by physicists involved in developing NSF as a Cold War weapon. Binford’s followers published Explanation in Archeology. An Explicitly Scientific Approach, 1971, accepting this premise of science as a unitary exercise, and practice in physics as exemplary. Archaeologists have ignored the 1970 magisterial rebuttal by the great paleontologist G. G. Simpson, laying out the method of historical sciences, and more recent publications by philosophers of science about method in historical sciences. We also do not see Critical Theory, as such, nor Critical Thinking as it is taught. Yet many archaeologists do, increasingly, work from a critical standpoint, often labeling their approach “decolonizing” (better extended as “postcolonial”). This contrasts with what Lekson terms Théorie, borrowing from French philosophes. Paying attention to the range of empirical data and rejecting antiquated paradigms empowering elite academics can free archaeology to respond to the real histories we encounter. We also acknowledge epistemic humility, realizing uncertainties. In this session, we present the method of historical sciences, and discuss from postcolonial and feminist standpoints‒which often overlap in archaeology‒work that we consider to successfully demonstrate how archaeology draws upon anthropology and other disciplines for inference to the best explanation.

Alice Kehoe, Organizer, Chair, Paper Presenter
Maureen Meyers, Paper Presenter
Elizabeth Graham, Paper Presenter
Sarah Baires, Paper Presenter
Geoffrey Clark, Paper Presenter
Miriam Stark, Paper Presenter

Reviewed by Archaeology Division


Unfinished Business! Part 1
Saturday, 11/20/2021 — 10:15 AM-12:00 PM
Oral Presentation (Hybrid)
Susan Kenyon, Organizer

Abstract. This session looks at an experience familiar to anthropologists: the unfinished project. Work we have yet to complete often weighs on our mind, because we intended to complete the task but were ultimately defeated by time, by other responsibilities, by forces beyond our control. Indeed, the reasons a project are left unfinished may differ, depending on the stage of our careers, on the priorities in anthropology at the time, or by a host of other reasons. Now as we consider our commitments and inclinations going forward, what role should completion of these projects take in the absorption of our limited time? The papers in this session consider such unfinished business. This may have been in a long-term field-site research or perhaps in a newly started project we had to leave for a while and always meant to return to. It could be ethnographic, conceptual, analytical – or a combination thereof, a manuscript half-finished that was abandoned for some reason now forgotten or a particular piece of research only half done. Such unfinished business preys on our conscience, because it was never written up, or it was dropped for reasons long forgotten, or was almost finished but put aside, perhaps temporarily, when circumstances forced us to move onto something else. This session offers the opportunity, in a relatively formal setting, to examine the whys and wherefores of this very common issue, to revisit the project itself, and possibly to provide the impetus for suggesting various ways of completing it.

Susan Kenyon, Organizer & Chair
Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi, Paper Presenter
Jeffrey Ehrenreich, Paper Presenter
Judith Kempf, Paper Presenter
Moshe Shokeid, Paper Presenter
Ralph Bolton, Paper Presenter
William Mitchell, Discussant

Reviewed by Association of Senior Anthropologists


Unfinished Business! Part 2
Saturday, 11/20/2021 — 2:00 PM-3:45 PM
Conversation / Debate (Virtual)
Susan Kenyon, Organizer

Abstract. See Part 1 of session.

Susan Kenyon, Organizer, Chair
Myrdene Anderson, Speaker
Anita Spring, Speaker
Kevin Kelly, Speaker
David Plath, Speaker
Jacqui Hill, Speaker

Reviewed by Association of Senior Anthropologists


Commodification of Natural and Cultural Resources in the Asia-Pacific Region
Sunday, 11/21/2021 — 10:15 AM-12:00 PM
Oral Presentation (In-Person)
Rick Feinberg, Organizer

Abstract. This session grows out of an EU-funded project called Sinofon Borderlands, centered at Palacký University in the Czech Republic and focused on interaction between China and other Asia-Pacific nations. We will address commodification – the use of natural and intangible cultural resources for commercial purposes in four countries within the region. Two papers focus on the Philippines, one on the Solomon Islands, three on Papua New Guinea, and one on China, itself. The papers on the Philippines consider use of traditional tattooing practices and of the cultural, historical, and spiritual characteristics of special places on Luzon Island to attract tourists to rural villages. The one on the Solomons deals with harvesting of bêche-de-mer and shark fins and the effect that engagement with Chinese merchants is having on the marine environment of a remote island. One of the papers on Papua New Guinea explores the evolution of “storyboards” from sacred adornment of men’s spirit houses to instruments of cultural memory and commodities that may be sold to tourists. Two others take a broader perspective, examining China’s financial aid to developing Pacific Island nations, such as Papua New Guinea, a diplomatic strategy both predicated on and destined to promote further commodification of local economies. And the paper on Xinjiang, China looks at the commodification and political utilization of narratives of Uyghur suffering within global power struggles, giving special attention to the role of journalists and academics. It highlights tensions between different forms of responsibility, access to information, truthfulness, political activism, and personal gain.

Jan Bláha, Paper Presenter
Rune Steenberg, Paper Presenter
Rick Feinberg, Organizer, Chair, Paper Presenter
Pamela Stewart Strathern, Paper Presenter
Andrew Strathern, Paper Presenter
Martin Soukup, Paper Presenter
Luzny Dusan, Paper Presenter

Reviewed by Society for East Asian Anthropology


(5-0010) Historical Consciousness and Historicist Reckonings with the Anthropological Present
Sunday, 11/21/2021 — 10:15 AM-12:00 PM
Oral Presentation (Virtual)
Grant Arndt, Organizer & Chair

David Dinwoodie, Jim Weil, Kathryn Kozaitis, Nicholas Barron, Grant Arndt, Olga Glinskii, Paul Mitchell

Abstract. At a time when anthropology’s historical self-consciousness can seem trapped between extremes of defensive hero-worship and paralyzing villainization, this panel explores the potential of ongoing research into the history of anthropology to enrich and inform contemporary disciplinary endeavors and move toward a more historicist reckoning with current disciplinary “histories, harms, and possibilities.” The panelists explore how the sort of “affective, historicist orientation” long advocated by George Stocking and others with respect to past projects of anthropological research can help to historicize present practices (and presentist assumptions) in contemporary anthropology. We seek an approach to past projects that goes beyond either defensiveness or triumphalism to bring critical insights to our current situation. While all the papers critically interrogate past anthropological work, some also engage in what Ira Bashkow has recently characterized as “generous” efforts to recover forgotten and marginalized anthropological projects. All seek to mobilize historical research toward the creation of productively critical, rather than merely affirmative, insights into contemporary theories and practices. Panelists address a range of historical cases that will enrich the historical consciousness of the discipline, from a reconsideration of the notorious 19th century craniological researches of Samuel George Morton that recovers the unexpected diversity of political motives in that work, to the role of Malinowskian-style ethnographic methodologies in 20th century efforts to craft contemporary Ukrainian identity narratives, to contemporary practices of “autoethnohistory” that allow practitioners to reflect upon the assumptions, approaches, and engagements that have shaped the trajectory of their fieldwork careers. A specific concern of many of the papers is the practical and conceptual engagement of anthropologists with Indigenous communities, investigating the complex ways in which colonial complicities and anti-colonial sentiments may be seen as entangled in the work of Americanist anthropologists of the mid-twentieth century, and the ramifications of this entanglement for current disciplinary practice with stakeholder communities.

Reviewed by General Anthropology Division


ASA Activities at the 2020 AAA Meeting – Raising Our Voices

In the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the planned annual meeting of the AAA in St. Louis, MO, had to be cancelled. The prodigious efforts of the AAA Meetings Department and the annual program committee produced an innovative online alternative, Raising Our Voices, highlighting live-stream conversations, discussions, and debates. For further information about the overall program, go to the AAA website. See below to register.

We organized our own ASA events, beginning on Monday, November 9th, with the Business Meeting—most of which was devoted to a conversation with former AAA President Virginia Dominguez—followed by one panel the same day and another on Thursday, November 12th. See below for the titles, times, descriptions, and participants.

Business Meeting — Monday, November 9, at 1:00pm Eastern time (12:00 noon Central, 11 Mountain, 10:00am Pacific)

The “business” part will be short in order to devote most of the time to a “town hall” session with former AAA president Virginia Dominguez.  She will offer her perspective on the roles of senior anthropologists regarding current local, national, and global challenges. She will then lead a discussion with your Q&A about how we can move forward together as engaged AAA members.

Voices of Experience in Social Justice Initiatives: Senior Anthropologists Discuss Precedents and Continuities in the Americas — Monday, November 9, at 5:00pm Eastern time (4:00pm Central, 3:00pm Mountain, 2:00pm Pacific)

Long histories of anthropological thought and action have contributed in significant ways to today’s struggles focused on obstacles to social equity. Panelists consider shifts in approaches to these concerns at different stages of their careers, including their involvement as social activists and public intellectuals. Participants: Carol C. Mukhopadhyay, Kathleen Fine-Dare, Ralph Bolton, Jean J. Schensul, Jim Weil (moderator)

Representing the History of American Anthropology — Thursday, November 12, at 5:00pm Eastern time (4:00pm Central, 3:00pm Mountain, 2:00pm Pacific)

With the growing body of scholarship on the history of anthropology, knowledge of the field before 1970 among younger anthropologists is rapidly disappearing. Panelists investigate what earlier anthropologists actually did and wrote and how their work corresponds to negative representations or, on the contrary, how it may have supported social justice. Participants: Herbert S. Lewis, Regna Darnell, Jack Glazier, Alice B. Kehoe, William P. Mitchell (moderator)

Bonus: Virtual Guided Tour of the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site The 2020 field trip had to be cancelled. Instead, senior archaeologist Bill Iseminger, with many years of experience working at Cahokia, has led and narrated a video tour. He and Alie Morgan of the museum staff prepared this virtual field trip especially for the Association of Senior Anthropologists: (It opens near the 5 minute mark, so move the slider back to start at the beginning.) For background see Alice Kehoe’s Cahokia and the Mississippian Period.

Registration for Raising Our Voices is quite reasonable ($50 for retired members) and not difficult. You can login at

Looking forward to our shared participation in this and subsequent activities of the Association of Senior Anthropologists!


ASA Activities at the 2019 AAA Meeting in Vancouver

The Association of Senior Anthropologists presented a rich and varied program in Vancouver, with eight distinct events. Five were panels, three of which were traditional paper-sessions, another focused on visual imagery, and one was a celebratory session in honor of First Nation anthropologists. All were intended to challenge any lingering notion of a bounded ethnography or of static visual, historic representations and even of a bounded truth. Three other events were designed to cement the mutuality of interests and concerns of participants in our program: an interactive mentoring session between senior and junior anthropologists that was co-sponsored with the Association for Anthropology, Gerontology and the Life Course (AAGE); a harbor cruise and tour of 15 “labour heritage” sites; and our ever lively business lunch.


Thursday, November 21

“The Lifespan of Ethnographic Reports: The Importance of Revisits (Part 1)” (3-0225)
8:00–9:45 a.m. West, Room 112
Paper Session Presenters: Moshe Shokeid, Mary E. Hegland, Mark S. Mosko, Maria G. Cattell, Stanley Brandes, Myrdene Anderson

“The Lifespan of Ethnographic Reports: The Importance of Revisits (Part 2)” (3-0565)
10:15 a.m.–12:00 p.m. West Room 112
Paper Session Presenters: Erika Loeffler Friedl, Sharon Gmelch, Frederick H. Damon, R. Thomas Rosin, John B. Page.
Discussants: H. Russell Bernard, James Tim Wallace, III

“Association of Senior Anthropologists (ASA) Business Meeting/Luncheon” (3-0645)
12:15–1:45 p.m. Offsite – Rogue Terrace, C –200 Burrard St

“Harbour Cruise and Tour of BC/Vancouver Labour Heritage Sites” (3-0990)
2:00–6:00 p.m. Offsite – BC Labour Heritage Center

Friday, November 22

“Anthropology in and of the Life Course: An ASA & AAGE Mentorship Event” (4-0800)
2:00–3:45 p.m. East Room 12.
Organizers: James T. Wallace III, Celeste Pang

“Honoring First Nations’ Anthropologists” (4-1185)
4:15–6:00 p.m.
Paper Presenters: Jay Miller, Lucy Fowler Williams, Margaret Seguin Anderson, Marianne Ignace, Sergei Kan, Alice Kehoe

Saturday, November 23

“Conversations Across Generations: Photography Over the Years” (5-0785)
2:00–3:45 p.m. West Room 122
Presenters: Pablo Landa, Jeffrey Ehrenreich, Anita Spring, Malcolm Collier, Stanley Brandes, Sofia Pinedo-Padoch, Herbert Lewis

“INFORMATION / DISINFORMATION: The Shaky Ground of Knowledge Production” (5-1155)
4:15–6:00 p.m. West Room 118
Paper Presenters: Robert Marshall, Patricia Antoniello, Jonathan M. Marks, Susan Trencher, Stephen Reyna.
Discussants: Louise Lamphere, Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb


The two-part Thursday paper session, “The Lifespan of Ethnographic Reports: The Importance of Revisits,” picked up a theme that has been close to the heart of ASA members: the provisional nature of ethnography, given the ever changing condition of social life, hence the need for return visits to the field to enlarge our parameters of observation as much as possible. The papers themselves were the work of “veteran anthropologists” who have done just that: gone back to the field, observed the changes, and altered their conclusions and, perhaps, their perspectives.

Friday’s sessions included a mentoring workshop and a celebratory session reminding us of the work of earlier anthropologists. “Anthropology in and of the Life Course: An ASA & AAGE Mentorship” paired senior scholars whose work focuses on issues connected to aging and the life course with junior scholars in the same field, even graduate students. It was set up as a “speed-mentoring workshop” with pre-selected mentors and mentees sharing ideas and rotating to different participants. The object of the workshop was to help create networks taking advantage of the life/work experience of senior scholars and the novel ideas/interests of junior scholars.

“Honoring First Nations’ Anthropologists” then turned our gaze to the beginnings of anthropology on the North American continent, describing the substantive contributions of First Nations’ scholars, their role as consistent eyes on the ethnographic observation of life in this continent, and as interlocutors with anthropologists from elsewhere, notably Boas. Participants in this session lamented the oblivion to which the work of First Nations’ anthropologists has been relegated: hence the incentive for this celebratory session as “homage” to their forgotten work.

Saturday’s sessions included a heavily visual session, “Conversations Across Generations: Photography Over the Years,” intended to trace the changes in visual representation on which we have come to rely. Participants in this session presented images that made comparisons between early and current use of photography in the field and how it has changed even within each anthropologist’s career. Issues of technological change, globalization, and the consequent changes in field relationships and in the politics of representation were considered.

The second session, “INFORMATION / DISINFORMATION: The Shaky Ground of Knowledge Production” focused on the thorny, often disingenuous distinction between facts and interpretations. The central concern here was to consider ways to distinguish between the real, thoughtful existence of differing interpretations and the fabrication of “alt-facts” for self-interested purposes. Spanning biological, medical, and cultural anthropology, as well as the fields of linguistics and philosophy, these papers exhibited a common sentiment. We need to hold on to our trust in the importance of “relative truth” while not falling prey to the sentiment occasionally surfacing that truth is negotiable.


The ASA organized a field trip that was different from years past—a boat cruise through the historical heart of the wonderful city that is Vancouver. Participants learned about Vancouver’s history from the comfort of a paddle wheel boat, the MVP Constitution.

The boat was filled to capacity for a fascinating two-hour excursion into Vancouver’s rich and diverse labor history. Accompanied by guides from the British Columbia Labour Heritage Center, the tour followed the Burrard Inlet between downtown and North Vancouver. Sites visited are of significance to the workers’ heritage and working class struggle that commemorate the importance of labor unions, individuals, collective actions, and much more. Each story reflects the political, economic, and social conditions of the time. Many link interrelated events or illustrate causes that span decades, such as the labor movement’s efforts to prevent injury and death on the job.

The tour looked beyond the headlines to explore little-known details about important events, such as the Depression era “relief” Camps that generated the On-to-Ottawa Trek of 1935. Hundreds of unemployed workers climbed aboard freight trains on the Vancouver waterfront to take the demand of “Work and Wages!” to the federal government in Ottawa, Ontario, and were charged by Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers. Government unemployment insurance and other programs for workers owe much to the On-to-Ottawa Trek and numerous other collective actions in British Columbia’s labor history, including the earlier role of First Nations’ longshoremen in forming one of the first waterfront unions in 1906. Tour participants learned about workplace disasters such as the 1945 S. S. Greenhill Park explosion and the 1958 collapse of the Second Narrows Bridge, which shaped the fight for workplace health and safety; and epic labor struggles such as the Northland Navigation fight against injunctions.

Themes of division, racism, sexism, scab workers, violence, and vigilante mobs, run through the events introduced in the tour. Places seen related to social justice, celebration, art, ceremony, storytelling, and adventures, revealing the resilience and tenacity that permeate those events. They remind us that the causes and values Canadians stand for are steeped in their past, and provide us all with lessons of caution, strategy, and inspiration for contemporary struggles.

The guides told these stories, with historical photos on hand to bring the events to life. They also discussed the overall evolution of the waterfront from a largely industrial landscape (sawmills, canneries, etc.) to the primarily recreational space it is today.

The tour also was a journey through Canada’s “Gateway to the Pacific”—the Burrard Inlet—passing close to many of Vancouver’s most famous landmarks, such as Stanley Park, the busy cruise ship terminals, the spectacular city skyline, historic Gastown, the breathtaking North Shore Mountains, and more. Although forewarned that Vancouver weather in mid- November is often cool and drizzling, tour participants enjoyed a sparklingly clear afternoon and inspirational sunset.

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Photos from the ASA 2011 Montreal Meeting – People and Events