AAA Review

By Dara Culhane and Denielle Elliott

What do we want from an AAA conference? At the very least, we want to leave feeling provoked and inspired. Here are some ideas, words, phrases, and images drawn from our notes from AAA 2014 that we’re taking home with us to chew on.

What sticks out in mind most obviously at this year’s conference was how ill suited the AAA format is to experiments in multi-media, workshops, and performances. For those interested in presenting complex, or even simple, multi-media exhibits, they had to wrestle with constant technological failures. No sound, sound too loud, no visual, rooms too big or too small .. from one session to the next, they seemed plagued by technological failures. It’s hard to know if we should blame this on the technology of the Marriott, or the failure of scholars to be prepared in advance, AAA institutional issues, or a combination of – but regardless, one gets tired watching the awkward fumbling of anthropologists and technology.

Maybe next year we’ll plan a satirical session about anthropologists and technology?




Joao Biehl “The Right to a Nonprojected Future: Social Becomings through Law and Medicine.”

(paraphrase) Theory-making should bring us closer to the people we work with…pay attention to plasticity, agency, world-making practices of becoming …

Angela Garcia “Beyond Constraint: Violence as Healing on the Edges of Mexico city.”   This paper was about Garcia’s research with “Annexo’s” — drug treatment centres working at the edges of legality in Mexico where “patients” are taken—often against their will—at the request/demand of family members and/or friends and/or compatriots, who are often also involved in the drug economy. Treatment may include required performances of one’s “abuse narrative” several times daily for weeks and months. These narratives so performed in this context, Garcia said (paraphrase) “Don’t express life. They are life.”

Garcia described the stories of and from the Annexo’s as a (verbatim) “Roar on the other side of silence…”


We’d be amiss not to mention the Imaginative Ethnography Roundtable on Thursday evening (which happened to be technology fumbling free). Stuart McLean, Todd Ramon Ochoa, Shannon Rose Riley, Ken Little, George Mentore, Anand Pandian, and Alex Bourdreault-Fournier engaged in a collaborative roundtable providing a range of presentations including sound, storytelling, poetry, performance, and satire. We were pleased and inspired by the presentations and look forward to on-going dialogues that emerged from the discussion.

Imaginative Ethnography Roundtable, AAA 2014

Imaginative Ethnography Roundtable, AAA 2014


With such a fabulous title, how could we miss this two-part session? The morning started with an installation showcasing the multimedia work and digital experiments of a series of Anthropologists working with Indigenous communities, and was concluded with a discussion by Audra Simpson.

Beth Povinelli showed a new community based collaborative film – “Karrabing Low Tide Turning.” Unfortunately, this morning installation was one of the sessions plagued by technological problems so we didn’t get to view the ethnographic, graphic novel NeoMad.

Regardless, we were inspired by the experiments in creative arts, engagement with indigenous youth, digital mediums, and ethnography. We look forward to more!

To read more about these great projects, see here:




A highlight for Denielle, surprisingly, was an Ethnographic Poetry workshop being held by anthropologist icon Renato Rosaldo.

There was a great turnout for this workshop (and the one following on Memoir by Ruth Behar), which itself is encouraging for the suggestion that many anthropologists are growing weary of traditional writing methods and looking for new experiments. Rosaldo reminded his audience that in fact we have a long history of experimenting with creative forms in the field, reminding us of Edward Sapir and Anne Singleton’s poetry (Ruth Benedict’s pen name), and their detailed correspondence to each other about poetic forms.

The workshop focused on poetry in pedagogy (getting students to write), in writing, and in praxis. Rosaldo reminded us that poetry not only expresses the world in a different form but it forces us to engage with writing, the discipline, and the world in different ways, in a way that could potentially be more attentive to the sensory, the felt, and the intuited.

Then, he urged us to do it: an experiment in the accretion method, and then in free writing. He reminded us many times that the first draft is always shit! But he encourages us to share and read those shitty first drafts regardless.

So in the spirit of Rosaldo, poetry, and shitty first drafts here is my ode to Rosaldo’s Workshop:

Room 8219

An institutional icon






transformative force

Poets gather

Daniel’s Tampa addiction

Eunice’s unpublished poetic ethnography

Julie’s poetic madwoman, or was it a mad poet

Translate, remember, memorize, read, write shit, workshop, rejection, rewrite, rejections, bootcamp, write …







The AAA Business Meeting was attended by an unusually large number of delegates, mostly because of a motion put forward that AAA NOT support a motion circulating in academic institutions around the world to SUPPORT the boycott of Israeli institutions, in solidarity with peace organizations and many scholars. Opponents to this motion included AAA members who felt undecided on the issue, as well as those pro-boycott members who had agreed not to put forward a motion in support of AAA joining the boycott in favour of a proposal for a year of discussion and education process among the AAA membership to be led by a AAA Task Force established for the purpose, and which would precede a vote.   In sum: a vote AGAINST the motion was a vote FOR a one-year long education and discussion process in preparation for voting on a motion to support the boycott that will be presented at the 2015 AAA annual meeting. A vote FOR the motion was a vote AGAINST the boycott, and AGAINST the one-year education and discussion process.

Speakers to the motion argued for and against. Only one provoked spontaneous and negative responses (“boo’s”) from the audience when he suggested that supporting this boycott when many other nations stand accused of waging unjust military campaigns would indicate that AAA had a “Jewish problem.” A subsequent speaker put the argument against this succinctly, and she was roundly applauded for doing so: “Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism.”

Inspiring that the delegates voted overwhelmingly against the motion.

Looking forward to next year’s vote on the motion to support the boycott.

AAA Votes

AAA Votes

Read for more information:


We are most definitely biased reviewers of the Ethnographic Terminalia installations at the AAA. We love what Kate Hennessy, Craig Campbell, Trudi Smith and others are doing each year. This year’s opening night on Friday was packed.


Dara Culhane viewing/listening to Alex Boudreault-Fournier and Marie-Josee Proulx’s “DataTrack” at Ethnographic Terminalia [ET2014_Datatrack-02]

Die-In: 12:28 Thursday

A Friday afternoon die-in demonstration attracted a few hundred in the lobby of the Marriott. The silent demonstration was meant to raise attention to the two recent grand jury dismissals of cases against police offers who had killed black male youth in the line of duty. We hadn’t heard about this being planned and came across it by accident. What a great sight to behold: 350-400 people lying down and carpeting the lobby at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel with their bodies.


Die In: Black Bodies Matter

Die In: Black Bodies Matter

It was inspiring to see this – a political demonstration, an intervention at a AAA conference! Look forward to more.

Read for more information:

Association of Black Anthropologists:

5-0990: Installation: Producing anthropology through re-generation participatory ethnographic theatre

Debra Spitulnik Vidali (Anthropology, Emory University) and John L. Jackson (Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania).

This workshop began with Vidali discussing “re-Generation Initiative” theatre projects that seek not just to represent conventional “data” but consider performance as an ethnographic methodology that brings theoretical questions about embodied and affective knowledge, and micro-processes embedded in relationships, into research processes, relationships, and lived practices and experience. Vidali argued for imagining performance as strategic practice with potential to break through logjams in contemporary anthropological theorizing, especially logo-centrism, and Cartesian mind/body dualism.

Theatre as a generative process.

Theatre as a mode of argumentation.

The Second part of the workshop consisted in warm-up exercises, and a few provocative teaching/learning “games” offering a quick taste of possibilities for teaching anthropology through performance in anthropology classrooms, and creating interventions. I was struck, again, by how challenging it is to describe learning experiences in performative and embodied knowledge work before and after they are undertaken. Performative, embodied research really must be done to be done. It is experience-based knowledge creation. Provocative! Inspiring!

Read for more information:

View videos on the YouTube ReGenInitiative channel

Tell us what you thought of this year’s AAA … contribute to the blog here by using our REPLY feature.

Arriving back home ..

And a sad, disturbing comment on Canadian immigration greeted Denielle when she arrived home at the international Toronto Pearson Airport.

The conversation went like this:

Border Guard: Where have you been?

D: Washington, DC for the Annual American Anthropology Association conference.

Border guard: Have you been to West Africa in the last 3 weeks?

D: No

Border Guard: Have you come into contact with anyone who might have Ebola?

D: No.

What sort of answers are they expecting?

Shame on Canada.