Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Biological Anthropology Section
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Science
Secondary Theme: Inclusivity
In much of the Global North, we have recently seen the persuasive power of framing to create and control narratives that suit particular actors. In the 2016 US presidential elections, both major parties scrambled to characterize the most pressing national issues in ways that would touch the right emotional nerves in the largest number of citizens, allowing the victorious party to cast its agenda as the best set of solutions. Meanwhile, in Europe, parties of the radical Right have gained ground in terms of their appeal and their representation in legislative bodies. Largely, they have done so by appealing to nationalism and by stoking fears that the immigrant “other” is responsible for current—or purportedly imminent—social and economic upheaval. Furthermore, the term “fake news” in the United States has gone from a description of fabricated stories infecting social media to an epithet used to cast suspicion on and discredit traditional news media outlets.
Such phenomena acutely demonstrate the Kantian truism that our perceptions of “facts” are at least as important, if not more so, than facts in themselves. At a time when more information is available to more people than ever before, we do not seem to be more informed. Rather, the overwhelming amount of information only increases the importance of the sources of our information, and the way in which that information is organized, framed, and presented, in determining our perspectives on the world.
As a social science focused on describing and explaining the diversity of the human experience, anthropology is uniquely positioned to provide powerful insights into the condition of the world today and how it came to be so. And biological anthropology, with its relationship to “Science” (the dominant epistemology in the centers of power), has particular clout in the production of “legitimate” knowledge. Given that the perspectives and standpoint of the scientist are ipso facto involved in the process of making observations, developing and testing hypotheses, and presenting results, biological anthropologists have a duty to be cognizant of the ways in which we affect the knowledge that we produce. And beyond simply reflecting on the unavoidable and unconscious ways we influence our research, we have conscious decisions to make about how to construct our studies and frame our results.
Accordingly, this session seeks to explore the ways in which current bioanthropological research engages with pressing issues of our time. Authors variously focus on case studies featuring their own research, and/or on theoretical perspectives on the following and related questions:
How do our own experiences impact our research, and how can this be harnessed for maximum impact? What problems, perspectives, events, groups, or individuals should we center in our research? To what extent should we have the potential impacts of our research in mind throughout the research process? Who is our audience, and what is the best way to reach them? Should we strive to present our work as relatively objective, or should we openly advocate positions within current social and political debates?