Ep. #27 TFS at AAA: Elevator pitches, problem labels, public anthropology, & estrangement in practice – Guest panel with Dr Esteban Gómez & Dr Carie Little Hersh

This month we bring you a special panel episode straight from the AAA (American Anthropological Association) Conference in San José, California. In this episode, our own Julia Brown and Ian Pollock are joined by Dr Esteban Gómez, a professor at University of Denver and co-host of the Sapiens podcast, and Dr Carie Little Hersh, an associate teaching professor at Northeastern University in Boston and host of the Anthropologist on the Street podcast. This conference sparked a lot of questions for our Familiar Strangers about the nature of anthropology and academia, producing a very thought-provoking discussion – each topic could be an hour-long episode itself.

(This episode was not recorded in our usual studio so you may notice a difference in sound quality  – but it really adds to the conference vibe, in our opinion!)
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This month Julia (1:26) starts us off by sharing some of her observations at the conference. As a graduate scholar from Australia, she finds it fascinating how under-prepared she feels while trying to network with other academics and compares the way Americans approach career goals compared to Aussies. She asks the other panel members what they think of the ‘elevator pitch’ and the cultural practice of ‘putting yourself out there’ that seems to come across in American academia. Esteban considers that “we’re all in that mindset of … ‘how am I going to benefit from this?’ and that’s how you’re taught in graduate school, to always think of yourself and how you brand yourself … branding has infiltrated academia in so many ways”.

Next Esteban (6:56) draws our attention to another topic in America: the contemporary issues of immigration. His interest is specifically in the cases where individuals are being labelled as ‘undocumented’ migrants despite carrying enough paperwork to prove they’re not. Ian compares this situation with our own here in Australia regarding ‘boat people’ and Carie offers further insight from a legal anthropology perspective, where one may observe a disparity between the laws the state is supposed to enforce and those that are acted out in everyday practices.

Carie (11:46) then segues into our next topic about the place of anthropology in public conversations. “So many people talking about these critical issues at the AAA…whether they’re about immigration or health care or about the concepts of race – whatever it is – what I keep hearing over and over again…is that we need to get anthropology out there more”. Coming from the perspective of anthropologists that try to do that through podcasting, questions arise in the conversation about the mode and method of disseminating anthropological enquiry to the public, the importance of target audiences, and the ethical considerations that need to be made when communicating in the public arena.

Finally, Ian (17:30) wraps up the conversation on a political note, by sharing his experience over the past decade as an American living outside America during a time of great political change. Sometimes we forget as anthropologists that we come with our own sets of labels as we move through social worlds. For Ian, coming back to America he feels a “deepening estrangement from this country … I had not thought of myself as a migrant before but just yesterday for the first time in an elevator at the hotel, somebody asked me where I was in from, and I said I’m just in from Australia”.

You can read more about this year’s AAA Conference using the Twitter hashtag #AmAnth2018.

Check out Esteban’s and Carie’s podcasts here:
Sapiens podcast https://www.sapiens.org/kicker/podcast/
Anthropologist on the Street podcast https://anthropologistonthestreet.com/ 


For an explanation on the Aussie term ‘tall poppy syndrome’ see:

A ‘how to’ guide on elevator pitches can be found here:

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour, by Kate Fox, 2004, London: Hodder and Stoughton.

For a quick overview of Kate Fox’s book, see:

A definition of ‘biopolitics’ from The Anthropology of Biopolitics is available here:

To learn more about Franz Boas and his contribution to anthropology, try these introductions: (1) https://www.reference.com/world-view/franz-boas-major-contribution-anthropology-244cde5ce97d2b80
(2) https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/social-sciences-and-law/anthropology-biographies/franz-boas

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and theAustralian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com

Shownotes by Deanna Catto

[Image by Julia Brown at the AAA Conference
P.S. you can see the handles of the scooters Ian mentions!]


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