Digital Anthropology at the AAA’s

Included in this post are two Call for Participants from individuals interested in organizing sessions around digital themes. Contact these folks promptly if you want to join!


What we mean by the phrase “public anthropology” reveals as much about our discipline as it does our own imagining of it. The application of the label “public” and the increasing engagements with new lines of public discourse by anthropologists have resulted in an expansive landscape that encompasses classroom, journal article, ethnography, blogosphere, and beyond. In our discipline’s history, Margaret Mead remains an iconic public anthropologist, a figure widely recognized outside of anthropology and touted as emblematic of an ideal practitioner who was able to bridge the spaces among the academy, public policy, popular discourse, and speak to issues at home and abroad. Why does contemporary anthropology claim no singular public anthropologist and struggle with our role as public intellectuals? Is this because the world has changed; the discipline has changed; and an individual who can embody all of the threads of public anthropologies no longer exists? Or is it because we have an outmoded notion of public anthropologist? This session seeks to redefine public anthropology by looking at what cutting-edge practitioners are doing and how their work can intersect and support the various efforts.

This roundtable discussion will consider the question “What’s at stake?” in the various iterations of public anthropology through a series of questions and topics considering the topic from multiple angles and circulated to participants in advance. After an introduction of roundtable participants, each participant will reflect briefly on the first of five related themes—transparency, authenticity, application, theory, and accessibility—in public anthropology, fostering a provocative, personal, and interactive discussion among the panel. Time will be provided for engagement from attendees.

New publics, new public spaces, and new forms of public anthropology are emerging at a more rapid pace and the audience for our work and insight has both grown and splintered. Engagement happens in classrooms, in one-on-one conversations, virtually, locally and globally – all simultaneously. As this fragmentation occurs it raises issues related to the quality and status assigned to work, the applications for anthropological insight, the translation of contributions into metrics for professional advancement, and the role of technology and biases related to technology. It is these threads of inquiry that have brought together this group of scholars and professionals to engage, debate, and provoke our thinking as anthropologists with a stake in the publics with which we align

Contact Sarah Ono at []


The use of digital media has become increasingly pervasive in many dimensions of urban life. Although people and institutions frequently celebrate digital development, these often naturalized new technologies invite new inquiries into the relationship between power and media. The organizers of this panel are involved in Philadelphia-based ethnographic research that explores the use of new media in urban planning/public participation, youth media programs and social exclusion, cultural branding of immigrant organizations, and the spectacle of broadcast news interventions of neighborhood blight.

We invite papers that reflect upon similar topics in other U.S. cities with the hope of illuminating the commonalities and points of disjuncture between different cities living out post-industrial poverty and segregation. While our focus is North America, we also welcome research from international sites. Ultimately, we hope to bring ethnographic insight to the relationships between digital media, urban policy, activism, and land use.

Topics may include:
– listserv communities and neighborhood watch organizations
– the use of digital media in urban planning and participation
– new systems of surveillance
– smartphone coverage of police brutality – the strengthening of community-based radio and tv programs in light of new media policies and media consolidation
– news media representations of race and gender in urban spaces

Please send abstracts (up to 250 words) to [] by Saturday, March 16.


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