ASAP/AN 2016-07 (Stubbs/Shore/Haines)

Notes from the Section Leadership: ASAP sessions at the IUAES in Dubrovnik (May 2016)

Paul Stubbs, Cris Shore, and David Haines

Reposted from Anthropology News Online (June 2016)

The Association for the Anthropology of Policy (ASAP) contributed three sessions to the recent May meeting of the International Union of the Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in Dubrovnik, Croatia. This is part of the ASAP effort to find venues beyond the American Anthropological Association to discuss anthropological approaches to policy, especially to enable better contact with colleagues in other world regions.

The first of the three sessions (Stubbs/Brkovic) concentrated on translating policy in the semi-periphery with a particular focus on South East Europe. Combining the lenses of policy translation and semi-periphery proved fruitful in terms of understanding the role of policy in the work of modernization in perverse conditions, marked by both too much and too little social change. A common thread throughout the panel was that, by moving South East Europe from the margins to the center of discussion, new insights of relevance far beyond the particularities of the region were able to be addressed. The diversity of the ten papers showed the importance of combining structural and political economy overviews with fine grained ethnographies, and the importance of understanding reform projects as encompassing processes of re-domaining policy issues rather than working exclusively on what, in the West, tend to be accepted as traditional policy sectors. The inter-disciplinary nature of the panel, and the combination of historical and contemporary studies with grounded theory, proved immensely productive, and the panel organizers and panelists are considering joint research and publishing opportunities in the future.

The second of the sessions (Haines/Randeria) focused on migration and displacement with two papers each on East Asia, North America, and Europe, and one additional Europe/East Asia comparative paper. The papers were perhaps most revealing in tackling the interplay between policy and politics on a very contentious issue. Clearly, the challenges to developing settled policy on unsettled populations are particularly acute in times of sharp, hostile response to particular migrant groups. Collectively, the papers also illuminated the many ways different kinds of policy are interwound with migration (especially economic, demographic, and security policies) and on the great difficulty in comparative analysis because both the reception countries and the migrants in them are highly varied. One possibility is that we need to find a better way to integrate cross-national and sub-national comparisons, both of which must contend with difficult policy/politics contaminations.

The third of the sessions (Shore/Wright) explored changes occurring in academia as a result of the pressures on universities to succeed in a competitive global knowledge economy. A key question that framed the panel was how individuals and institutions are coping with the contradictory assemblages of neoliberal-inspired policy reforms and the new management regimes that these are creating. The six papers drew on ethnographic case studies from Europe, the U.S. and Australasia, presenting both personal and anthropological accounts of how academics are engaging with these challenges. Key topics addressed included the impact of these changes on academic freedom and academic subjectivities, performance management, research ethics, research assessment exercises, casualization of the workforce, gender relations, risk management, audit culture, institutional autonomy, and the social construction of the “ideal academic.” Collectively, the papers provided valuable insight into the way “academic capitalism” is transforming universities and how academics might challenge or respond to these processes.

Although the three sessions aimed in rather different directions, they do suggest topical areas worth further attention and highlight the value of international and interregional comparison per se and the importance of international venues in pursuing them. The education session tapped this potential especially well with about an hour of spirited comment and discussion after the papers themselves. The migration session, with less time for discussion, also elicited new thinking on comparative matters, including such intra-regional issues as the very different policies of Canada and the U.S. towards Syrian refugees. These responses suggest that an anthropology-of-policy focus resonates more broadly for anthropologists seeking better understanding of how their individual academic interests align with more practical involvements.

Paul Stubbs is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Economics, Zagreb; Cris Shore is a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Auckland; and David Haines is a Professor Emeritus at George Mason University. Haines and Shore are currently ASAP Co-Presidents Elect, and Paul Stubbs has just been elected as one of the next Co-Presidents Elect.