By Bill Roberts
Program Chair, 2012 SfAA annual meeting
St. Mary’s College of Maryland
Next year’s annual meeting takes the Society from Seattle on the Puget Sound across the country to Baltimore on the Chesapeake Bay. The last time we met in Baltimore was 1996, when then program chair Tim Finan (U of AZ) and the planning committee organized a memorable conference around the theme of Global – Local Articulations. Please join us in Baltimore for our annual meeting, to be held jointly with the Society for Medical Anthropology, at the Sheraton Hotel in Baltimore City Center from Wednesday, March 28 through Saturday, March 31, 2012. The Tuesday before the meeting, March 27, is likely to include a number of events and activities with local communities.
I want to congratulate again Darby Stapp and his program committee for the fantastic job they did in the planning and implementation of the Seattle meetings. The Traditional Foods Summit on Tuesday, March 29 was a veritable buffet of “food for thought” that allowed us to learn more about the advocacy and activism of Native American communities. The summit emphasized the central feature of cultural identity that has such a significant impact on individuals’ health status. Thanks again, Darby, for all your efforts!
2012 will be a memorable year!
We all know about the general elections in the US next year. Right now elections are underway for positions within the American Anthropological Association. As you may have heard or read, if those of us who belong to both the AAA and SfAA vote for our SfAA colleague candidates in these elections, we’ll have additional reasons to celebrate expanded roles for applied and practitioner anthropologists while in Baltimore.
In addition to marking the end of the current baktun according to Mayan calendars in December, 2012, next year also marks the bicentennial of the US war of 1812 with England. Francis Scott Key, author of the US national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, wrote the composition after viewing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor. I plan to send along the words to the US national anthem in a future column, with an early invitation to all participants to join in song, followed by a dance, at next year’s welcome reception.
Baltimore and the surrounding region offer a great venue at a propitious time for our society. Next year’s theme, Bays, Boundaries and Borders, in addition to alliteration with Baltimore, offer excellent entrees for intellectually invigorating single sessions on a broad range of topics. Already, members have offered their time and energy to collaboratively plan and organize a meeting that will highlight the region’s academic, cultural, environmental, historical, and political resources, to name a few. There are excellent opportunities in the region for tours that will be described in a future column. Next year’s meeting is about two weeks before the Cherry Blossom festival in Washington, DC, but spring will have sprung, so it is a good time to visit Baltimore.
Baltimore is served by three airports: Baltimore-Washington International (the closest), Dulles International (VA) (the furthest) and National Airport near Washington, DC. Amtrak and a variety of commercial bus lines service the city. City buses can take a person just about anywhere in the city.
There are many attractions in Baltimore that include churches, galleries, museums, neighborhoods, night clubs, universities, or the waterfront at the Inner Harbor. Historic Annapolis and the national capital are less than an hour away (depending on traffic) by ground transportation.
The Theme for Baltimore 2012
This meeting invites advocates, activists, policy makers, scholars and researchers to respond creatively to the 2012 program theme, “Bays, Boundaries and Borders,” with papers, posters, roundtable discussions, sessions or videos on a broad range of issues, problems or topics including those that arise from the interaction of people with their natural or community environments; those that help us better understand or “push beyond” the current boundaries of our knowledge, methods, practices or theories in helping resolve human problems; and those focused on border control and the crossing or transport of goods, people or ideas across borders.
I encourage you to consider questions such as these as you think about your participation in the Baltimore meeting: What efforts are we part of to mitigate the problems associated with increases in the human population and activities in coastal areas where over a third of the planet’s population lives? We know that people have depleted natural resources and polluted bays and coastal environments around the world, thereby undermining the wellbeing of their own communities. Recent natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, landslides or tidal waves have shown how vulnerable bay and coastal communities are, and just how quickly people’s lives can unravel. What knowledge and skills have we gained in resolving the problems that follow the initial devastation from such disasters? What challenges remain that impede recovery—where have we failed, and what might we do differently? While large scale sudden disasters necessitate rapid responses, what are we doing to avert the impending disasters we are warned about as sea levels continue a slow, steady rise that threatens the long term viability of contemporary coastal communities?
What are we learning from efforts to expand the boundaries that currently define domains of knowledge, paradigms of practice and best practices? What have we learned from past failures or attempts to solve the seemingly intractable problems or issues that people face? The Chesapeake Bay is a microcosm that illustrates the complex issues that arise when people apply boundaries to an open environment like the bay. Dealing with the many issues associated with the bay illustrates historical disputes over boundaries imposed on commercial crab and oyster fishers. It also illustrates issues with boundaries imposed by the allocation of legal jurisdictions among local, state and federal policies and the institutions that formulate and implement policies. Boundaries define entities, yet the more we learn about the interconnections between people and the problems they face, the more we realize the need to bridge, push beyond, or redefine boundaries—and this is particularly salient in the application of skills and knowledge.
As we witness increased efforts by governments to control and secure national borders, what actions have we taken to mitigate problems arising from the interactions and misconceptions of potential migrants, security personnel, or host country nationals determined to keep “undesirables” out of “their” country at any cost? What have we learned from efforts to apply our knowledge and skills to stem the increase in the number of involuntary migrants and refugees around the world that create pockets of highly vulnerable communities? How have we responded to the heightened concern for stopping the threats posed by terrorist groups with a demonstrated ability to strike fear across borders, or the longer standing problems of cross border trafficking or trade in guns, human beings, or illegal drugs?
Responses from members of the SfAA board have been positive and include concrete suggestions such as: encourage the involvement of representatives from organizations that hire applied social scientists to work on issues of international, national or local scope; develop sessions or events that illuminate dimensions of the intersection of applied social science and scientists with the policy process and policy makers; develop a session that focuses on issues of Open Access publishing; more visibility and involvement with the Local Practitioner Organizations, and especially the Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists (WAPA). And of course, let’s remember to have fun (have we ever forgotten this before?) and include events that feature music and dance. Those of you who attended the Seattle Business meeting remember “troubadour” Bryan Page’s musical offering as the Margaret Mead Gavel was transferred from former SfAA president Allan Burns (“Reign of Chocolate”) to current president Merrill Eisenberg (“Reign of Music and Dance”). Having agreed to review and coordinate sessions and papers submitted by members of the Society for Medical Anthropology for next year’s meeting, I plan to ask Bryan to also consider leading off an open-mike night next year if we can find an appropriate venue where meeting goers will be able to share their musical talents for others to enjoy.
One of our challenges as a society is to reach out to other practitioners of applied social sciences with whom we work, and bring them to our annual meeting. Please take to heart my encouragement that, “each one bring one” as one of the most effective ways to expand and diversify next year’s meeting. Now is the time to talk to a colleague from another organization, college/university, country, or to students who have yet to attend their first SfAA meeting, about Baltimore in late March, 2012.
Speaking of students, several members of the SfAA’s student committee have formulated an idea, or perhaps an experiment of sorts, for the participants at next year’s meeting to create an alternative political economy. For example, participants at the meeting could barter such things as editorial assistance or help with child care, exchanging services rather than money. Stay tuned for more details that will be forthcoming in a future column of this newsletter.
A final note of thanks to everybody who stopped by the Baltimore table in Seattle and left me a note about your ideas for next year’s meeting. I will respond to you. By the time I write the next annual meeting column for the August newsletter I will introduce the logo for the meeting and provide more details about the progress we make over the summer in developing plans for the meeting.