ASAP Column – 2016 March (Wedel/Haines/Shore)

Notes from the Section Leadership: ASAP Yearly Report

Originally: Anthropology News (March/April 2016; pages 28-29)

Message from Janine Wedel (ASAP President)

With the new year upon us, let me take this opportunity to reflect on the Denver annual meeting and what we’ve accomplished in 2015. It’s been just three years since we founded ASAP. I’m inspired by the energy around the anthropology of policy as a field, ASAP as an organization, and its growth as a section. Unlike most other AAA sections, ASAP isn’t losing members; it is, in fact, growing. It’s encouraging that much energy comes from graduate students, junior faculty, and other anthropologists launching their careers. We’ve had considerable interest in joining ASAP’s board, with top-notch scholars competing, most recently, for our officer-at-large position.

ASAP’s annual business meeting in Denver attracted robust attendance and the quality and breadth of our panels was noteworthy. The mentoring session in which I participated was initiated by Fayana Richards, our graduate student board member, who thoughtfully organized that and another session aimed at helping graduate students and early-career anthropologists think through livelihoods. We plan more mentoring-related activities.

The professionalism, vision, and commitment of our board and committee members is impressive. We have active communications, education, and public policy school outreach committees, chaired by David Haines, Carol MacLennan, and Rebecca Peters, respectively. Judi Pajo and Ted Powers edit ASAP’s newsletter column and are initiating exciting activities, including book reviews. We have a first-rate book series with Stanford University Press, edited by Cris Shore and Susan Wright.

For next year’s AAA in Minneapolis, we’re lining up panels on pressing policy issues, including migration and internally displaced persons, dispossession and displacement due to climate change, and health and
education policy. We look forward to seeing you there and involved!

ASAP at Denver: Comments from David Haines and Cris Shore (ASAP Co-Presidents Elect)

The Denver meeting continued ASAP’s progress as a new section. Our sessions began with the invited roundtable “Studying Through,” which provided tips, tools, and strategies for emerging policy scholars.
The panel yielded strong consensus on several issues, including background research, tracking of key developments, being involved, following up (including with reciprocity), and the continuing importance of individual personality and sometimes sheer luck.

A session on “Managing Resources” spanned North America, South America, and East Asia. What was clearest from the session was the complexity of the interactions among national and local policies, public and private sectors, and people’s political and personal interests. Policy in such cases features a continuing discussion of shared interests but from diverging strategic calculations. A panel on “Reconfiguring Welfare in an Age of Crisis” also utilized a global range of cases to illustrate its central
premise that most discussions of welfare have been restricted to the formal bureaucratic programs of advanced industrial states. As one example, the panel suggested that patron-client systems need to be reassessed not merely as political variants but as potentially effective mechanisms for meeting the same goals as more formal bureaucratic welfare systems.

On a more regional basis, the panel entitled “On Policy and Power in the Postcolony” offered critical analyses of the contemporary policy process in Africa by utilizing cases from Uganda, Ivory Coast and South Africa. Through the examination of issues such as HIV/AIDS, land, and ethnicity, the presentations underscored areas of continuity and discontinuity between the colonial and post-colonial periods. The roundtable on “Cultural Heritage in Conflict” also used a regional focus to explore issues around the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage sites, drawing on Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq to highlight the challenges facing heritage management in conflict zones. The panel sought to identify both the research questions to be answered and the practical, technical questions of documenting and mapping destruction to heritage sites.

There were also more focused panels on particular issues. With an especially wide range of participants from education, government, labor, and business, the panel on “The Anthropology of Cannabis Policy” demonstrated how complicated policies can be because of their internal constraints (e.g., regulating a program that is legal at the state level but illegal at the federal level), and because of the overlap between different kinds of policy, especially the health consequences of marijuana use and the labor implications of changing from illegal to legal distribution mechanisms. The roundtable on “Defamiliarizing Anthropological Interventions for Social Justice” examined the BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) debate within the AAA and anthropological engagement with questions of social justice in regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Participants in the panel of distinguished US and Israeli anthropologists were lucid and thoughtful, highlighting the moral and ethical complexities of the debate, particularly on the limitations of the BDS proposal. The final regular ASAP panel on Sunday, “Governing Populations,” threaded domains of health and capacitation policies. Presenters found common ground in exploring how the ownership of visibility is contested across administrative, government and private agents. Cases ranged from the management of medical records, to the rhetoric of international education policy, to the definition of who is homeless.

There were also ASAP events with more flexible structures. An author-meets-critics session explored the contribution to the anthropology of policy of the book Making Policy Move. Drawing on diverse conceptual and methodological strategies, the authors provided philosophical ref lections on the concept of policy travel and translation, followed by two discussants, ensuring lively discussion. A roundtable on “Collaborative Engagements In Policing” brought together anthropologists and practitioners involved in policing, security, and law enforcement, including representatives from the Denver Police Department and Colorado State House of Representatives. The panel was a timely illustration of how anthropologists can build connections with policy professionals.

Finally, ASAP hosted a mentoring session, drawing some 15 younger scholars in small group discussions with senior ASAP faculty members. The discussions covered both research and practice in the anthropology of policy, ranging from general construction of the field to how to communicate effectively with all the different policy sectors. Some of these discussions are continuing, particularly toward using social media as a mechanism for discussions of policy domains and issues that may be of special relevance to ASAP members. Stay tuned!