From the 1st to the 4th of November, I attended the AAS Conference @ Melbourne University. I has taken me until today to write this post as I was mentally exhausted (in a great way) from everything I got to see at the conference. Unfortunately there were so many panels that I didn’t get to see as I was attending others. If anyone else reading this would like to share their insights, please do so 🙂 I would love to hear others experiences other than what I have been reading on Twitter. I have grown to love Twitter, but you can’t explain just how great the conference was in such a small amount of characters. I am just writing off the top of my head at the moment, so apologies if I gloss over any important factors.
So anyway, the day before the official conference began, I attended three workshops that were set up by The Australian Network of Student Anthropologists. Thank you to Michelle O’Toole and Kara Salter for all your hard work organising these. Even though I am only at the start of my PhD journey, I found these invaluable as I will be looking to publish in journals as soon as I have a cohesive piece of PhD writing together. Thankyou also to the people who took the time to chair these panels.
Before I go in to details about the days, I want to make an important point. NO MATTER what stage you are in your Anthropology journey, conferences are important. I attended my first one as an undergraduate which helped me prepare for presenting at this one as well as for my Honours thesis which I completed in 2014.
So without further ado…
The first panel I attended was about how to write for journals. I found this invaluable at the beginning as it has made me think about what I’ll be writing, and who it might be interesting to. During my literature review I will be keeping an eye on my favourite journals and authors whom I respect greatly to see how I can a) improve my writing, b) ensure it is keeping up to date with contemporary debates and c) where my writing could fit within these debates so I can enter in to the discussion.
The second panel I attended was in regards to grant writing. This again was invaluable as it taught me to keep an eye out on places where I may be able to get funding other than my university. For example, if you are currently undertaking research, you should be looking at your research outside of the square and looking at which organisations might benefit from your research. These are the places where you should be looking towards for funding as well as your normal academic grants. Put yourself out there and explain to these places how your research can benefit them. Sell yourself.
The third panel was about getting your work published. Going back through my notes I realised how important this workshop and the final plenary was as they tie in together beautifully (I will talk about this plenary later). Again, like grant writing, you should be looking at areas that your work covers. You need to dissect your work and examine the various themes that your work covers. Then you need to network with people in these areas. Ensure that your work is readable to the public. This is something that is important not just when getting published, but also important when writing your thesis. Make sure it is accessible reading to all, including those who do not know anything about your topic.
The fourth and final panel for the day was about networking. Conferences are a great place to learn about other peoples research, to present your own (like I did in the postgrad panel) and also to connect with people. I have to admit I didn’t do enough networking at this conference, but will make sure I do for future conferences. Networking is important as it gets your research out there, puts you in contact with people who have similar research projects to yours, and also helps you to network with people who you may be able to further your research or career by knowing.
Martha Macintyre was the first Keynote speaker of the conference, whose speech opened up the conference. Her talk discussed the anthropological works that have been carried out in Malenesia. I unfortunately missed some of this trying to make my way to the venue and find the disabled access, but my take home point from this talk was that anthropologists should not just study people as if they are still in the past, which is a unintended consequence of anthropological literature. Instead of treating people as if they live in a vacuum, focus on the now as it is what is happening now that is important. I touched on this briefly in my own Honours thesis which you can find on Research Gate and academia.edu regarding policies towards Indigenous Australians being a perpetuation of previous policies that created and continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes, and in turn causes problems for Indigenous Australians rather than helping to overcome these problems. As the theme of the conference was Moral Horizons, this was such a fitting message to kick things off.
On to the first official day of the conference. Although I love conferences (was on the biggest high during and post conference until I had to go back to my day job), what I don’t love is having to miss panels in place of others as I know I’ve missed some really awesome panels. Regardless, the panels I did go to showed me the range of research and the scope of opportunities in the discipline of which I am studying and wanting to be employed in one day. If I gloss over some of the panels I attended it is not a reflection on the interest of the panel at all. Rather, I wrote down some take home points whilst being enthralled by the issues being spoken about.
The day kicked off with a keynote from Michael Lambeck who spoke, amongst other things, about marriage. Looking back through my notes, I can see just how much I was enthralled in each topic as my notes are somewhat lacking and blending in from one topic to another. So if I did attend your talk and your name doesn’t appear here, it is in no way a reflection on your work. That’s one of the things I love about these conferences. Even though I may be listening to a talk about research that is not aligned with mine, I still learn things. How to write, how to present, how to structure, things that will be useful for my own thesis which I had not considered before.
After the keynote I went with a fellow Deakin student to a panel about relativism and relationality. The amount of papers that were accepted were so many that they had to hold numerous panels on the same topics. Therefore we also went back to this one after lunch. One of the topics which aligned with my interest in Indigenous Australian issues was the talk by Ute Eickelkamp. Ute spoke about the language, specifically the meaning of truth and falsity in an Aboriginal community, and the influence that colonisation has had in their meanings.
To end the day I went to my first postgrad panel. For anyone who is in the postgrad phase of their anthropology journey, I cannot recommend enough, the importance of presenting at these sessions. These sessions are a safe and friendly way to introduce/talk about your research to your peers, and you can get feedback from a discussant about your research. It was nice to see experienced anthropologists sitting in on these panels. I got so much great feedback from my presentation. At this stage in my academic life I do not think I would be prepared enough to speak at one of the other panels but hope to in the next year or two. Sydney next year and Adelaide the year after for those thinking about it! This first one that I went to really inspired me. Sidrah McCarthy from La Trobe University spoke about her research that she is currently undertaking about Aboriginal identity. So many things I took from this talk about how to bring out the best in my own.
One thing I noted about the difference between postgrad presentations and experienced anthropologists, is the way in which theory is used and spoken about. This is something that was mentioned in the final plenary also. Theory is focused on greatly by more experienced anthropologists, whereas it appears to only be mentioned in passing to ground the research. This is something I will be endeavouring to do in my own research, to speak about theory in relevance to a particular case study I am talking about. That is the idea now anyway, if it turns out like that with the finished product of my PhD, well, we will see.
On the Thursday, the keynote was Nancy Scheper-Hughes. Hughes’ work has always been the backbone of my own in one way or another. I remember as an undergrad reading E. E. Evans-Pritchard in my first year. At the beginning I remember being taught and also thinking that it was the job of an anthropologist to sit back, observe and write about these observations. I was then introduced to the works of Nancy Scheper-Hughes in the form of her “Death Without Weeping” (Scheper-Hughes 1985). I remember being taken aback reading about how Scheper-Hughes raised one of the children from the shanty town in which she did her research, and then returned the child to his family. It was my thought at the time that this was wrong, that an anthropologist should not get involved as this would then taint their research. I have since changed my mind after seeing how important anthropologists are in helping people and believe we have a moral responsibility as anthropologists to get involved, get our fingers dirty. If we witness things and stand back and do nothing, we are no better than the perpetrators of violence. Nancy’s talk reiterated this point. Morality and ethics should always come before culture, not the other way around.
Nancy’s talk also reminded me of an undergraduate subject that I took, The Anthropology of Crime and Violence. Hearing her talk and thinking about the issues spoken about in this undergraduate subject that still stick with me until this day, we need to understand situations before we can be equipped to help in any way. In Nancy’s case this means helping people to understand where violent acts are coming from. Violence is not the same as evil. Violence is usually the result of something deeper. Once we understand this, understand where the violence is coming from, we can begin to help others understand and hopefully to overcome these situations.
The same day I did my own presentation on my PhD. I basically spoke about my proposal as I am still at the very early stages due to a mid year deferral which finishes this week. I am looking at how Indigenous Australians of mixed heritage who face stigma, racism and negative stereotypes because of their identity, are afforded agency online. Our panel had a discussant (as did all the postgrad panels) and her feedback (as well as those listening to my talk) is going to be so helpful in shaping my research. I also got to listen to some really interesting research that aligns with mine in certain themes so cannot wait to see how these projects also progress and take form.
On Friday, the final keynote speaker spoke about the issue of Comfort Women in Japan from a legal anthropology perspective. Just this alone is what I love about anthropology, it is so wide and varied. Anthropology can be found in, and applied in any field. The reparation of Comfort women is a complex issue as it involves many nationalities in different countries and therefore the question is which law is responsible for persecuting, if at all.
The last two panels I attended on Friday was one on Aboriginal Heritage in Australia and also the Crown and the State. Whilst all talks were interesting, the topics, along with the keynote I just spoke about, showed just how complex each issue is and how complicated it can be solving these issues. Sometimes however, the solution is less complicated in reality, but bureaucracy ensures it remains complicated and unresolved.
THE FINAL PLENARY
This was an awesome way to end the conference and I was (and still am when I think about it) on an absolute high. The plenary focused on engaging the public in anthropology and ensuring anthropology is relevant. This made me think about my own research and I will be looking at how I describe my research to people who are non-academics, as I know when I mention my work, eyes can glaze over, or faces look confused. This is because I am explaining my work in a theoretical way, rather than explaining it in a non-academic way. I have not since discussed my research with non-academics so I haven’t yet tried this out.
This plenary was convened by Gerhard Hoffstaedter and the panel was made up of Tess Lea, Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Greg Downey.
Tess spoke about the ways in which to put your research out there, as well as talking about the ways NOT to. Tess pointed out that using film to present your work can be costly and time consuming. Also, our work as anthropologists should (if we are headed in that particular direction) help to ensure that there is good social policy. Bureaucrats don’t have time to read, and we are therefore responsible in ensuring that bureaucrats know the facts so that they can make good social policy. WE ARE RESPONSIBLE IN ENSURING THAT BUREAUCRATS KNOW THE FACTS SO THEY CAN MAKE GOOD SOCIAL POLICY. I say that in uppercase because it is SO important. Having studied what I have so far, and seeing the myriad bad policies implemented, we have the ability to change this, and we have an obligation to help change this, or any wrong doing we see.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes was second and spoke about the need to put yourself out there as an anthropologist, get stuck in to things, take risks. Scheper-Hughes reiterated her keynote speech from the day before, and hearing about all the work she has done as an anthropologist, shows how important it is that we get out there. Anthropologists help people to see the world as others do, but for what? Not just so that they can see, but so they can understand others, understand themselves and make decisions accordingly.
The final talk was by Greg Downey. Downey said, amongst other things, that we would shift away from the idea of publish or perish. He reiterated that we should make out writing available to the public. This way we can learn to implement our anthropological knowledge in real life, not just in the confines of academia. We should embrace our anthropology colleagues, regardless of what they are versed in researching. We should stop this superiority complex that appears in places such as AASnet (which I personally believe gives anthropology a bad name at times), and instead love our work collectively as we are all doing anthropology, we all love anthropology We all have something to share to the field of anthropology and to each other. These conferences prove this, as I have learned so much from so many people who probably don’t know I have, just by watching them talk. This plenary was also a great place for people in the audience to talk about the wonderful things they are doing for anthropology and how we can connect to each other through social media and other online spaces.
Having been so engrossed in my own research over the last two years doing Honours, and now PhD and having that lack of communication with peers that I had in undergrad, I know I have been bogged down looking only at things that I deemed relevant to my own research, whereas when I attended my first conference in undergrad I was in awe about all the things people were researching, as it showed what a wide and wonderful (and sometimes scary and downright sad and depressing) world we live in.
Ok, so that’s my conference review! What I thought was going to be brief, has actually taken me hours to write. Since the conference I’ve been on Twitter adding people like mad! If I haven’t added you and you would like to connect, my handle is @anthromusings. I cannot wait for #AAS2016!