Reviewed by: Society for Humanistic Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Resistance
Secondary Theme: Inclusivity
Fiction and other forms of creative expression have long offered an outlet for anthropologists pushing against the academy’s representational, institutional, and cosmological bounds. Scholars like Zora Neale Hurston and Ella Deloria posthumously created a far-reaching audience for creative anthropological expression even as their work has remained largely excluded from the disciplinary canon. In 1993, Ruth Behar wrote that “[anthropologists] are becoming aware of our silences” but that “we should go farther in our self-critique and in our exploration of other ways of telling anthropological narratives.” A decade later, Vincent Crapazano remarked that “anthropology should always be pluralized,” that “the beauty of the field lies in its fluidity—its resistance to tight compartmentalization and territorialization.” And one could well argue that recent decades have seen North American anthropology become more pluralized, fluid, and open to creativity. We can see signs of this in recent initiatives like the Sensory Ethnography Lab, the Paper Boat Collective, and the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography. Yet, the major conferences that many of us are compelled to attend feel increasingly formulaic and uninteresting -- artifacts of a discipline that remains far too elistist and exclusionary. This does not bode well for our collective ability to connect with the concerns of our students, with the efforts of activists, or with the uncertainties of a flailing global order, nor it is a positive sign for inclusivity. How do we inspire broader publics if we’re failing to inspire ourselves? In this roundtable, we ask how we can enliven, unsettle, and extend our work through creative, artistic, and experimental forms of expression. How might such forms of expression make the discipline more inclusive, equitable, and accessible? And how might they help connect us with broader efforts to make the world a more just and healthful place for all? The discussion will bring together a diverse set of ethnographers whose creative works seek to challenge both the strictures of academic prose and the oppressive social orders that often render such prose untenable. After we each share very brief snapshots of our work, the discussants will challenge us and our audience to consider what this kind of work can(not) do in relation to the questions we raised above. Our perspectives reflect a range of theoretical, geographical, (sub)disciplinary, and cosmological perspectives, and the creative work we bring varies widely -- from recipes for police raids, prayerful land-play through ethnographic poetry and pottery, and ethnographic fiction composed with and for youths, to conversations with orangutans, sync-cinema, speculative history, and immersive installations on colonial violence. Together we hope to reinvigorate a sustained conversation on the limits of academic prose amid the harsh realities that we face as members of flesh-and-blood communities and of scholarly disciplines. Creative anthropology is not new, but it is due for renewal.
Behar, Ruth (1993) "Expanding the Boundaries of Anthropology: The Cultural Criticism of Gloria Anzaldúa and Marlon Riggs." Visual Anthropology Review 9(2): 83-91.
Crapanzano, Vincent (2004) Imaginative Horizons: An Essay in Literary-Philosophical Anthropology. University of Chicago Press.