Reviewed by: Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Identity and Equity
Secondary Theme: Inequality
This roundtable series, designed to take advantage of localized media knowledge and participation, brings together journalists, linguists, and anthropologists to discuss timely issues of language, representation, public discourse, social responsibility, and critique. Key themes include the roles of the news media and the academy in the production of public discourse, the extent to which academics can influence journalistic practice, identification of knowledge gaps in the two professions, and discussion of “representation politics” regarding particular communities. The topic for 2018 pertains to incarceration and justice system reform, with a focus on the long-running inmate-led San Quentin News alongside public discourse about prisons and the criminal justice process, interventions and reframing at the arrest and trial stages, and the role that academics can play.
Currently, there are 2.2 million people in US federal, state and local prisons and jails – a 500 percent increase over the past 40 years, according to The Sentencing Project, a reform advocacy group. With this comes issues of race, class, and gender: African-Americans comprise 37 percent of the general population but 67 percent of the prison population (ibid.); women in prison (the numbers of which have increased faster than men, comprising one-third of incarcerated women worldwide) are more likely to have experienced sexual violence or abuse and have children at home. Reforms that pertain to community-based prevention, youth support, policy change, and opportunities after release are part of the larger “progressive” discussion. This roundtable will bring the anthropologist’s and linguist’s understanding of community, family, institution, identity, and practice dynamics to the conversation and demonstrate ways sociocultural insights can influence process (building on early work by Gumperz in criminal trials).
The roundtable will include West Coast journalism educators, former San Quentin News reporter-mentors, advocates, and academics. Participants are, in effect, ethnographic informants who can speak directly to the issues of justice system reform as well as the effects of journalism both within and outside the prison walls and at earlier stages of the process, from arrest to conviction. Unlike the standard panel format, this roundtable encourages active participation from audience members throughout the discussion. This is an opportunity for journalists, media scholars, policy researchers, and anthropologists from all subdisciplines to talk to each other about complementary and divergent objectives within the professions, as well as to better understand the constraints of the other's occupations and the opportunity for joint engagement – and how together we might take that forward. Professional Divides VI continues previous discussions in San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Washington, DC, in which academics, area journalists, and community activists addressed topical issues like “fake news” and truth, race and reporting, the efforts to reshape immigration discourse and terminology, gender and politics, the larger role of journalism in social justice issues, and applied cross-cultural case studies of anthropologists working with local media – in the process problematizing the practices of anthropology alongside journalism and identifying loci for responsibility and impact for both professions.