Sunday, November 19, 2006

Review: The 105th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association

This was my first and hopefully not my last experience visiting and presenting at "The Triple As." I was happy to have presented early in the week as this left me relaxed to enjoy the rest of the conference. My favorite panel was “Exploring Activity as Culture, Community, and Identity” because it addressed issues relevant to my interests and presented new ways for thinking about old things; it is exactly the kind of anthropology that inspires and excites me. The papers in the panel would make a great reader for a mid-level, major and non-major, undergraduate course in Anthropology. That is not to say that they are not theoretically complex and worthy of more advanced consideration, however they have a certain mass appeal that makes them perfect for getting students inspired, excited, and generally interested in Anthropology and anthropological thinking (approaching things from the mindset of an anthropologist). I especially enjoyed the comments made by discussant Bradd Shore.

Dr. Shore used a term he coined "activity fetishism" in his response to the papers on topics such as Capoeira, Irish Folk Music, Ballroom and Salsa Dancing, and Tae Kwon Doe. In the Fall 2003 Newsletter from the Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life (MARIAL), Shore elaborates on Max Weber's "Protestant ethic",

"In contemporary America, this old work ethic is still with us. However, in the context of middle-class consumer culture, it has become difficult to distinguish work from consumption activities. Work as a moral virtue has morphed into obsession with activities as status markers, much as if they were consumer items."

This "obsession with activities" is essentially the "activity fetishism" to which Shore refered in his discussion and which I find particularly relevant to my own research on the contemporary western practice of body piercing as well as my interest in, and proposed research on social networking websites. I haven't formulated any sort of argument relating activity fetishism to my work, but the gears are turning, expect to see a post about it shortly.

Although I found the conference as a whole to be very rewarding, I'd have to say, subject wise, I got the most out of the Exploring Activity panel. I also enjoyed the panel titled, "Anthropology at the Crossroads of Digital Society," Mike Wesch and Shelly Errington's panel on digital ethnography, Ken Anderson's panel on anthropology at Intel, Adam Fish's panel titled, "Cultures of Production in Film and Television," and of course, all the SVA presentations and films. The conference also went logistically well, with only a few minor (unimportant) issues:

1) No scheduled nap time. As one of my colleagues pointed out during an especially drowsy moment one afternoon, most of the world has some form of mid-day rest time (ex: siesta), yet the AAA, which of all organizations should be most "culturally sensitive," schedules panels straight through the day, from 8 am to 9 pm. Luckily there were several coffee shops inside, connected to, or very close by the convention center, and we were able to drug ourselves awake every morning and keep ourselves going every afternoon.

2) How about a workshop on "How to dance at contemporary western social events?" I'm joking, everyone was having a good time at the dance and that's all that matters, right?

3) Why can't Anthropologists clean up after themselves? I understand setting down a coffee cup or water bottle, forgetting about it, and walking away, but blatantly leaving trash on tables, chairs, and the floor . . . what's up with that?! I witnessed multiple instances, especially with the food served at the conference, of people getting up from their table and leaving their trash. This was not a table service situation, but a common area for people to eat, work, and talk, and it was not being taken care of by those who were sharing it, rather the conference center staff would routinely come by to clean up after those who couldn't clean up after themselves, it was quite a shame.

4) I love the Bay Area and I was born in San Jose . . . but it is so damn expensive!

All in all, the conference was good, I enjoyed myself, and it sure beat actually working!

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