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Turning Points: Core Messages

Turning Points; Core Messages

By: Seleste Sanchez

Proseminar 500, Wilk, Spring 2013

What is the canon? How can it be measured in anthropology? Throughout the semester during our discussions of canonicity, we have discussed the ability of certain authors to break into new ground with their perspectives and abilities to express it. One phrase used by Dr. Wilk during class was that, “Canons produce turning points”. I believe that one way of thinking about the canon is that they discuss issues in a way not previously understood. While discussing Eric Wolf’s Europe and a People without History, Joe Heyman said Wolf opened up history and connected it to global relations. During our class discussion on Sidney Mintz, people argued that Sweetness and Power was canonical because of its ability to effectively combine cultural and material information. All throughout class, we have discussed the ability of canonical works to connect ideas in ways that help us better understand our world.

The hypothesis for this paper is that people who create canonical works in anthropology are invited to give prestigious speeches. I located anthropologists for this paper by searching for two types of speeches; keynotes and the Distinguished Lecture at the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Annual Meeting. Keynote is defined as, “an address designed to present the issues of the primary interest to an assembly (as a political convention) and often to arouse unity and enthusiasm” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/keynote accessed 3/4/13). The AAA Distinguished Lecturer, “is named biennially to recognize intellectual contributions in anthropology” (http://www.aaanet.org/about/Prizes-Awards/Distinguished-Lecturer-Award.cfm accessed 3/4/13). Both of these types of speeches are designed to bring out core messages from the conferences where they are delivered.

I began with a general Google search using the search terms, “keynote” and “anthropologist”. I was drawn to keynote speeches on Youtube. Some Ted Talks presentations given by anthropologists are incredibly popular on Youtube. For example, Micheal Wesch gets over one million hits. However, most of the anthropologists who had a strong Youtube presence, are not strong academically. Wesch has written one book that does not seem to be getting any rave reviews. Arturo Escobar was one interesting case that I found on Youtube. One of his keynote speeches is on Youtube and has over 1,000 hits. Escobar lists all of his publications as open access and they are offered in both English and Spanish. This led me to consider how the online presence of an anthropologist and accessibility or their work may affect canonicity. Now, even after an anthropologist is retired, or passed away, their presence can continue on the internet. How will this affect the canon of tomorrow?

Many anthropologists that have a large internet presence are anthropologists that study the internet. Dr. Mimi Ito, the “Media Guru”, has at least nineteen keynote speeches. However many of the events that Ito speaks at are events such as technology conferences. She may be a canonical person, but I believe that her influence may be outside of anthropology.

I needed to be able to find prestigious events where anthropologists were speaking, events that hold prestige across the discipline of anthropology. I decided to turn to the AAA. What I found was that there is a very prestigious speech given bi-annually at the AAA meetings which is called the Distinguished Lecturer. I added these lecturers to the keynotes that I had already collected. I searched through the curriculum vitae for each anthropologist, in order to tally up their total number of prestigious speeches. It becomes more difficult to find information about keynote speeches as you head back in time. Putting the curriculum vitae on the web is a relatively new practice, at least within the last ten years has the practice become common. Some anthropologists only put part of their C.V. online. For example, Sidney Mintz has a summary of “Honors” where his AAA Distinguished Lecture is listed, along with nine other honors

The goal of this paper is to find canonical anthropologists by searching through keynote and AAA Distinguished Lecture speeches. Below I am presenting four anthropologists who I located by searching through prestigious speeches. The list has a strong bias for current anthropologists, because their C.V.s are online and their speeches are locatable.

Leo Chavez is an interesting anthropologist, who has fourteen prestigious speeches listed on his C.V. Most of his keynotes were given in California, but he has also done two internationally, one in Japan and the other in Germany. He has numerous awards including,   Distinguished Achievement in the Critical Study of North America. His book awards include the Margaret Mead and the Association of Latina and Latino Anthropologists.

Jeremy Sabloff is an archeologist who focuses on the Maya area. Sabloff is the only person that I found who has given the AAA Distinguished Lecture twice. He has several distinguished lectures, and his most recent book, A History of American Archaeology has three editions published including a Japanese translation.

Yolanda Moses has an impressive C.V. Not only did she give the Distinguished Lecture at the AAA meeting, she has also been the president of the AAA. One of the most impressive pieces of information from her C.V. is the amount of money she has raised or helped raise in grants, which is well over six million dollars. I am sure that she has funded, influenced and continues to influence many students. She is part of the highly visible Race: Are we so Different? project. Her book, Race, is getting good reviews. However, besides her AAA Distinguished Lecture, most of her other speeches were in places that were not exactly prestigious to anthropology; one was even at a church.

We can all agree that Sidney Mintz is canonical, and that Sweetness and Power is a canonical work. He was also invited to the AAA Distinguished Lecture, but his online C.V. is abbreviated. He listed his AAA Distinguished Lecture under honors, which was a humble, short list. I continued to search for more speeches given my Mintz, and found a few more. I am sure that Mintz has more prestigious speeches than those I was able to record.

My project is missing one essential step. In the beginning of the paper I argued that canons provide turning points. Is there a link between the number of prestigious speeches and the anthropologists that provide us with a turning point in anthropological theory? The next logical step would be to find out whether the above mentioned anthropologists have produced any canonical works in the form of a book. Are they breaking ground with their perspectives and their abilities to express those perspectives? Are they connecting ideas in a way that helps us to better understand the world around us? This cannot be seen by merely totaling the number of prestigious speeches given by a particular anthropologist. The next step would be to read the publications of the anthropologists presented in this paper in order to judge their perspectives.

I enjoyed searching for the canon by examining prestigious speeches in anthropology, because I was able to explore such a diverse group of anthropologists. This method of nomination has provided me with many anthropologists who come from the underrepresented populations, which is important to me. I believe that the canon shapes anthropology, and that we have the ability to shape the canon. This was an interesting exercise that has opened my curiosity for the process of canonization within anthropology, however I believe that zeroing in on one area, such as prestigious presentations, will only allow us to see a very small part of a much larger picture of what is considered to be canonical. In order to find the canon one must use in depth qualitative measures. Turning points and core messages in the field of anthropology cannot be measured with purely quantitative methods.