SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Being an Anthropologist in Academia and Beyond


Date: 8 November 2011Time: 10:00 AM

Finishes: 8 November 2011Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G2

Type of Event: Workshop

The idea of this workshop was first proposed at a London Anthropology Forum (LAF) meeting last summer.  Some members aptly noted a curious situation within anthropological practice: whilst ethnographers have spent much time examining the agency/structure dialectic among their research subjects, they have rarely scrutinized their own position and power, whether as academics operating under the changing structures of higher education or as public anthropologists caught in the wider global political economy.  Since at least the 1980s, anthropologists have persuasively critiqued the politics of fieldwork and representation, but they have largely ignored the actual circumstances and structures under which they write and work.  Rather than providing definitive plans for future action, the workshop hopes to foster a platform for discussing how anthropologists see their own role and practice in an increasingly corporate-oriented world of knowledge making.  Although abstract, philosophical ruminations are welcome, all participants are highly encouraged to share their lived, everyday narratives.

Session 1: 10:00-11:30 – The Changing Environment in Higher Education

Occupying a variety of positions within the academy – as senior professors, as graduate students, as untenured part-time faculty, and as administrators – the speakers will share their different experiences of studying and working in today’s universities.  Their stories will hopefully illuminate a number of key questions.  In what ways is academic life impacted by the spread of managerial and market logics into various aspects of higher education?  What is to become of an educational order that reifies knowledge as commodity and students as customers?  Are we witnessing a gradual erosion of intellectual autonomy brought by an increasing reliance on corporate funders and on government funds that are typically tied to policy directives?

Speakers: Academic Staff Richard Fardon, PhD Student Brendan Donegan, MA Student Julia Howe and Administrator David Martin, followed by open discussion with participants invited to share their experiences

Chair: Anne Mette Fisker-Nielsen

Session 2: 11:30-13:00 – Constraints and Opportunities: Disseminating Anthropological Knowledge

How far is the phrase ‘publish or perish’ a realistic picture of the current structures of academic credibility?  What happens to the pleasure and passion of academic work in the face of unceasing evaluation?  Are there any alternative, experimental avenues for producing and presenting anthropological knowledge, beyond the emergent logics of ‘excellence’?  Does participation in non-normative scholarly pathways, especially by budding anthropologists, necessarily mean committing academic suicide?  What lessons can be learnt from those anthropologists who prefer to pitch their scholarly tents far from the crowds and conventions of disciplinary correctness?

Speakers: Gustaaf Houtman and Caroline Osella, followed by open discussion

Chair: John Campbell

Session 3: 14:00-15:30 – Shifting Perceptions and Practices of Expertise: Anthropologists and Global Politics   

In recent years, some anthropologists have bemoaned the lack of wider interest in ethnographic knowledge.  Others, however, have drawn attention to the ethical and epistemological compromises entailed in anthropological collaborations with governmental and international agencies.  Others, yet, have embraced working with media conglomerates, defence departments, and foreign policy researchers.  What are we to make of such divergent perceptions and practices of anthropological expertise?  How do anthropologists, whether working within or without academia, see and frame their own entanglements in national and international constellations of power?

Speakers: Jeremy Keenan and Kathryn Tomlinson (TBC), followed by open discussion

Chair: Parvathi Raman

Session 4: 15:30-17:00 – Where do we go from here?

Open discussion to decide on a plan of action

Chair: David Marsden

Organiser: Anne Mette Fisker-Nielsen

Contact email: