This year’s American Anthropological Association meeting is likely to be one of the weirder ones in recent memory. The general feeling is that: 1) the conference costs far too much money, 2) both younger and older generations of anthropologists are feeling alienated from the AAA, and 3) the benefits of an in-person gathering are questionable at best in the midst of a pandemic (though, to be clear, the event is now hybrid). I was ready to miss this meeting, as I had missed the previous two, but my colleague Anna Willow invited me to participate in a virtual round table session that asks its participants to reflect on anthropological engagements with optimism. Despite my growing pessimism with academic anthropology, I accepted the invitation as an opportunity to consider – as the title of the round table suggests – “what could go right.” The round table will happen this Thursday (11/18) from 4:15-6:00 PM EST and will include the participation of Rebecca Bryant, Clint Carroll, Samuel Collins, Patricia Widener, Anna Willow, and Kelly Yotebieng.
Each of the participants is given the opportunity to present a 5 minute introduction. You can read mine below. In it, I articulate my deep ambivalence about investing hope in academic anthropology. Instead, I center my comments on the work of my undergraduate mentor, Diane Austin, who modeled a more optimistic vision of anthropology for me and for many others.