Last Updated: Thursday, January 27, 2022
Theme: Unsettling Landscapes
The 2022 AAA Annual Meeting theme “Unsettling Landscapes” encourages anthropological discussion of past, present, and future unsettlings of the world – be it through environment, power, political economy or through the collective efforts of unsettling and disrupting oppressive structures while building worlds otherwise. While our worlds are defined by nothing if not change, the current unsettling of landscapes brings with it an urgency that demands conversations which may elicit feelings of discomfort and disturbance, but may also stoke hope and determination. This orientation towards unsettling pushes us beyond easy narratives and facile binaries into moments of transformation. In essence, this theme asks two questions: In what ways are we, and those we work with, unsettled? How are we also unsettling landscapes and to what end?
These two questions push us to carefully contemplate anthropology’s role as we work with communities that are severely impacted by dehumanizing policies and ideologies and the ways that these systems of oppression are accelerated through the surveillance of increasingly digitized lives. In light of this year’s meeting location in Seattle, WA (a technological epicenter in a state located on the lands of 29 federally-recognized Native Nations), we also call for contemplation on the ways that greater digital accessibility and circulation of our work are changing. How are we made accountable through this increased access that unsettles who the stakeholders of anthropology are beyond what some have previously imagined as our audiences and interlocutors (students, teachers, and colleagues)? How has our discipline theoretically and genealogically been unsettled because of this expansion of access to, and acknowledgement of, BIPOC1 authors’ legacies once minimized and hidden? Methodologically, while digital social ecologies have engendered emergent forms of sociality for decades, as anthropologists studying during COVID-19 assumptions about the physical nature of our work have also been unsettled as field sites have been radically altered. What kinds of long-term impacts might this greater centering of digital methodologies and analyses have on how we envision and enact anthropology (including, for instance, issues of ableism)?
Anthropologists have long interrogated the unsettled end(s) of anthropology (the 2009 meeting theme was, most directly, “The End/s of Anthropology”), from the slow fizzle of irrelevancy to the flash of flames. These inquiries mark moments of shifts – be they epistemological, axiomatic, theoretical, and/or methodological. Furthering these shifts, this call extends into an internal reflection on and articulation of what a decolonizing and unsettling of anthropological foundations may involve and what concrete steps can be taken collectively to ensure the discipline’s accountability to the communities and the public discourses we have, and continue to, impact. Current debates surrounding harm, such as in the case of withholding relatives’ bodies under the guise of teaching and research, bring to the forefront questions regarding what constitutes harm, which stakeholders are involved in those determinations, and how we as anthropologists manage our responsibilities to multiple parties, especially those communities we work with, on their own terms.
Anthropologists are already productively utilizing these types of unsettlings in a recursive process with activists through social movements, such as #LandBack and abolitionist projects, to build new communities. This contemporary unsettling of the landscapes of power structures both within and outside of anthropology has propelled the discipline’s current potential for applied and theoretical relevance while amplifying the voices of those working towards equity, justice, and accountability. However, current politicized efforts to dismantle university systems often occur via attacks on these very forms of academic expertise. These potential “end/s of anthropology” efforts range from the elimination of tenured professorship to the legislating (both banning and requiring) of targeted teaching materials. How then is anthropology as a career unsettled, and how do we prepare ourselves and our students for this potentiality?
It is through unsettled tectonic plates that landscapes are constantly built and reformed. Similarly, continuous shifts in our anthropological ecosystem have created a more flourishing diversity within our discipline. We hope that this call for participation stimulates conversations that embrace the multitudes of unsettling in this current moment along with deep reflection on our discipline, how we can create actions of unsettling, and the ways in which this process is an investment in the role of anthropology as a collaborative project of unsettling toward a more just world otherwise.
1 BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color