Another November has passed, and with it my annual trip to the AAA conference has come to a close. No, this is not the AAA you call when you get a flat in the middle of nowhere – this is the American Anthropological Association. This year marked the 115th Annual Meeting and Conference of the American Anthropological Association. Held this November 16th – 20th in Minneapolis, MN, with more than 6,000 attendees annually it is the world’s largest gathering of anthropologists.
Anthropology – the study of man – is by definition a huge academic field. Everything from religion to sexuality to food and fashion are covered in the hundreds of presentations that take place over the five-day conference. Most of the attendees are anthropologists, but psychologists, communications specialists and even businesspeople come both to listen and to present. Everyone has the same goal in mind – to better understand mankind. Anthropologists come together each year in a major city to present each other with their latest research and network with others asking similar questions. Of course, you needn’t be presenting to attend: many college students (and even some high schoolers) come to learn more about anthropology and find their place in the community.
My father and I arrived on Friday around 5 in the morning after taking a red eye flight from LA. The light rail ticket only cost $2, and took us within a few blocks of our hotel. The rain (and snow!) were a welcome change from California’s endless summer. I was also intrigued by the abundance of beautiful architecture to be found on the streets of Minneapolis. Sadly, our schedules were too packed to go on any tours this year.
You can go many different directions with anthropology. You can be an archaeologist and study ancient, long lost civilizations. You can be a linguist and examine the intricacies to be found in the hundreds of languages and dialects around the world. You can be an applied anthropologist and take what you’ve learned into other fields such as business or government work. Me, I’m a geek at heart, and I come to AAA to see panels studying all things in geek culture, from cosplay to social media to gaming.
Devin Proctor of George Washington University specializes in digital anthropology. His presentation (as far as I could follow) discussed the qualities of communities that exist solely online. Since people’s interactions online are virtual and often not even with other humans (but instead computer programs), does that mean that these programs have animism, a sort of life of their own?
By asking the question, “What does it mean to be human?” anthropologists often push at mental boundaries and assumptions that people don’t realize are there to begin with. You start to realize that the ideas you had on what is “normal” represent just a small portion of the myriad of concepts and practices throughout the world. Being an anthropologist is humbling because you repeatedly realize how little you know about the world and humanity, but also exciting since being presented with these questions fills you with a desire for knowledge and further exploration. There’s always more to learn, and that’s a truly beautiful thing.
I believe than anthropology is for everyone. The empathy and curiosity that anthropology encourages are qualities that can help not only career-wise, but in daily interactions with other human beings. Humanity is puzzling, inspirational and endlessly entertaining. We all people watch, but anthropologists have the benefit of being paid to do so.
As New Year’s rolls around, try out a new resolution other than the annual pledge to eat right and lose some weight. Give anthropology a chance. Take a class, read a book. Whatever your interests may be, whether scientific, academic or artistic, anthropology has something to offer you. Why not see what that is?
Want some fun insights into the gender roles and power dynamics of your local bar? Try out The Cocktail Waitress!
Learn more about the special effects makeup and masks we see onscreen and the stories they tell in Making Faces, Playing God!
Immerse yourself in an anthropological classic with The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual!