Ethical Questions in Post-impeachment Brazil

By Rafael Estrada Mejía (São Paulo State University)

Last year, Brazil was in the world’s spotlight due to political turmoil and to its appeal as a tourism destination giant.  The global media followed with ferocity both former President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment with its accompanying massive protests for and against it, and the 2016 Olympic Games, when for the first time in history, ten refugee athletes from four countries competed together as the Refugee Olympic Team.  The great irony is that, in the same time period, almost sixty thousand people were displaced because of sports mega-events such as the World Cup and the Rio Olympic Games.  This occurred to make space for sports venues, tourism projects and transport, and to improve the international image of the host cities by eliminating slums from areas exposed to visitors and television audiences.

Two main concerns motivated me to write this piece.  The first one is the unrest I felt because, for the most part, the Brazilian elite and middle classes (many of whom are white, intellectuals and university professors) paid no attention to the forced displacements, and later enthusiastically supported the coup d’état against Rousseff.  Although outraged, I was not surprised. This scene is repeated in Brazil’s history. Disdain for democracy is the common denominator of both the coups of 1964 and of 2016.  The difference is that this most recent coup follows the rules of financial capitalism, thus requiring the neoliberalization of the state and making both dictatorial and social welfare regimes anachronistic.   

The second concern has to do with questioning the ethical implications of my own practice as an anthropologist and the role of social scientists at large in today’s political conjuncture. This reflection was fueled by my experiences as a postdoctoral researcher conducting studies of the elite.  I am the only anthropologist in a research team formed by a group of renowned geographers who study the production of urban space in mid-size cities in the states of São Paulo and Paraná.

One of the research lines of the project is the real estate sector and the role of closed condominiums (the Brazilian version of US gated communities) in the context of public space

Operarios (Tarsila do Amaral, 1933)

production. My contribution to the the study of the processes of subjectivation of the emergent Brazilian elites who live in these spaces. I also study how closed condominiums have become one of the most desired living arrangements for all Brazilians. The project aims to overcome the dominant macropolitical framework used to understand closed condominiums to move the focus to a micropolitical approach.  My understanding of these frameworks is based on the French thinkers Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, for whom both macropolitics and micropolitics are inherently political, public and private, and operate simultaneously from small to large levels so the distinction is based on the scale of the components interacting in a network, and not the scale of the network itself.

The Brazilian version of the 1% is not composed of millionaires, but by those who earn more than 30 times the monthly base salary (currently at R/.880 or approximately 244 dollars). The 1% in Brazil are people we see walking down the streets every day. It includes university professors, many of whom chose to live in closed condominiums.  For the record, I am not part of that elite and do not live in in a closed condominium.  But many of the professors I have interviewed for my research are part of this elite; some of them are social scientists and shared with me the belief that our role as researchers should be strictly confined to the analytical space.  These remarks have made me wonder about the role of academics and intellectuals in Brazil.  What are the implications of being progressive, analytic, and critical only within the confines of academic walls, and once the daily labor ends, comfortably returning to an individual paradise inside the walls of the closed condominium?  What are the mechanisms that allow us to ignore the criminalized alterity that the media and institutional powers have constituted and reconstituted? What are the ethical and political challenges of anthropologists and social scientists in the Brazilian context? 

The discipline of anthropology in Brazil tends to look at applied anthropology with disdain. This contrasts with other Latin American countries where there is a seamless flow between anthropological reflection, university life and applied projects.  Except for the committed work of anthropologists with indigenous peoples and peoples of African descent, Brazilian anthropology has tended to be restricted to university life.   

Studying Brazilian elites as an anthropologist and from a micropolitical perspective suggests a framework applicable beyond academia, as a map to navigate this complex world. By looking at the mode of existence of privileged groups who choose to isolate themselves from public life, we see that we cannot be committed and engaged at the macropolitical level, while remaining complacent at the micropolitical level.  We need to find a way to eliminate microfascism from our discourse, our acts, our heart and our pleasures. By microfascism, I mean the desire that individuals have that others follow their own personal rules, which ultimate enable fascism at the state level. This kind of totalitarian view operates in both the public and private spheres.

It is important to suspend common sense or what Brazilian scholar Renato Ortiz calls the “a-critic consensus.”  It is important to stop using the concepts of ethics and morality interchangeably.  Morality deals with a series of external coercive norms, assumed to be universal and based on punishment.  Ethics, on the contrary, deals with a series of facultative rules through which individuals constitute themselves as subjects, problematize their own actions, and create new modes of existence. Brazil is in dire need of ethically committed and engaged scholars.

Studying the elites is indeed a way to combat inequality in a country considered among the most unequal in the world.  However, this is certainly not enough.  It is essential to overcome the paralysis that sometimes accompanies the social sciences, to go beyond the academic sphere and reach a truly ethical dimension. It is essential to demonstrate acts of resistance in our lives, and to oppose all the established forms of fascism to impede that more be erected. As Brazilian scholar Suely Rolnik once said, “It is time for micropolitics to guide us!”

Rage and Despair, in Response to Trump’s Executive Orders

By Marnie Thomson

I share this Facebook post with the permission of Berhanu Gurach, an Ethiopian refugee who lives in Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania. He posted this six days after Trump signed his first executive order banning citizens of specific Muslim countries and all refugees entry to the U.S.

Berhanu’s post represents the despair of refugees who endure in UN camps, clinging to the hopes of resettlement in the U.S. It expresses the dismay of those for whom promises of resettlement have now been reneged. His picture captures his raw emotion in the immediate wake of the first ban. Berhanu posted this before the first stay, and the ban had taken effect immediately, even in remote refugee camps like Nyarugusu.

During this time, refugees from Nyarugusu camp began asking me questions. “Why does Trump hate us?” “Why did Obama like us?” “What about the 30,000 that the U.S. promised to take from Tanzania?” “What is going to happen to us now?” Refugees who had already been resettled in the U.S. also had questions. “How does this order affect those of us who are already here?” “Will Trump issue an order about us?” The one question that refugees in the camp and those already in the US both asked me was: “What can we do?”

This is the ethical question I have been asking myself too. It stems from a place of dismay and distress. As Bianca Williams contends, emotion shapes not only how we embrace and understand social theory but also how we anthropologists position ourselves as allies and take action.

After the first Muslim/immigration ban, many anthropologists also took to social media.

Some joined the airport protests or started contributing to the ACLU and other organizations. The AAA called for the immediate reversal of the executive order. AES endorsed the AAA stance and contributed additional points in their own statement against the order. APLA/PoLAR issued a three-part response to the ban called Speaking Justice to Power. Six of us spoke out as anthropologists. In our classrooms, we spoke with our students about the implications of the ban. 

Do anthropological ethics need to change in this new Trump era? In many ways, no. As Ruth Benedict said, anthropology’s purpose is to make the world safe for human differences. Yet as we work against racism, xenophobia, nationalism, white supremacy, and many other social injustices, we also need to take seriously anthropology’s complicity in creating today’s political landscape. In the special issue of American Ethnologist on the 2016 Brexit referendum and Trump election, Yarimar Bonilla and Jonathan Rosa urge anthropologists to unsettle our field, including recognizing the ways in which this political moment is not exceptional, but rather is consistent with both domestic and global political currents.

As part of unsettling anthropology, we need to ask: how should our ethical engagements change? How should they stay the same?

In a time where public anthropology may no longer suffice, Carole McGranahan suggests we take cues from the National Park Service and other governmental institutions and consider what going rogue would mean for anthropology. In her words, “Public anthropology is to be engaged. It is to communicate anthropological knowledge in a way that will be useful. Rogue anthropology is to be enraged. It is to communicate anthropological knowledge in a way that will disrupt, stop, resist, refuse.”

Rage, as Glen Couthard shows in Red Skins, White Masks, fuels the communal fire of resistance. By refusing and resisting Trump’s first immigration ban and seeking to disrupt and stop it, the anthropological responses mentioned above are the makings of a rogue or an enraged anthropology. What else might collective outrage mean for anthropology? Anthropologists should continue along the lines of producing swifter responses to more urgent matters. Anthropologists are well-positioned to respond quickly and incisively thanks to our longitudinal research, or what can at times seem like the field’s “unbearable slowness.” Our sustained commitments to specific communities also means that we can maintain the momentum of going rogue.

The federal court has overturned both of Trump’s executive orders. In some ways, however, the bans are still working. For example, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has not been back to Tanzania since Trump signed the first order on January 27. This means that no new cases can be approved for resettlement in the U.S. Moreover, refugee resettlement quotas have historically been determined by executive order so there is no telling what that means for the future of refugee entry to the U.S.

Furthermore, where does this leave refugee hosting states and aid organizations? In Tanzania, for example, an entire aid apparatus has been built around resettlement in Nyarugusu camp during the past three years. The Tanzanian government, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and its partnering organizations are now trying to figure out what to do with the infrastructure, funds, and staff they had designated for U.S. resettlement purposes.

Even overturned, the Muslim ban/immigration ban reverberates. Certainly, there are other communities of refugees, immigrants, and Muslims, as well as humanitarian organizations and state governments feeling its effects. This is not to mention the other executive orders and policy changes of the new administration. Anthropologists take their cues from the reactions of affected communities. Ethics, emotions, anthropology, and action are all entangled.

Just yesterday, another Nyarugusu resident messaged me to ask about the status of Trump’s order on refugees. He wanted all the details. I explained that a few days earlier I had corresponded with a UNHCR representative in Tanzania, who said that they were still waiting to hear if interviews for resettlement in the U.S. will resume. He was disillusioned to learn that there had been no new developments. As Renato Rosaldo has taught us, rage seethes with devastation and loss. This occurs even as emotional subjugation accompanies political subjugation, as Frantz Fanon has illustrated. Refugees’ disappointment, the UNHCR representative’s dismay, Berhanu’s despair: this is how we stay engaged and enraged. We stay tuned in—emotionally, ethically, anthropologically, and actively.

Ethical Responsibility in the Face of the Incoming Administration

By Kurt E. Dongoske

For most people, the beginning of a new year offers a renewed sense of hope, happiness, and prosperity for the future. For me, as the Zuni Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and an archaeologist working in cultural resource management in the Southwest for 40 years, the dawning of 2017 brought anxiety; anxiety born out of a feeling of foreboding that our future, the future of our careers in cultural resource management, and the future of our environment are in imminent danger. Normally, I’m a pretty optimistic fellow, but the results of the recent presidential election left me feeling more than pessimistic. My sense of foreboding is based, in part, on the campaign platform of the President-elect in which he promised to diminish or abolish regulations, underscored by his anti-science, anti-climate change and fact denying rhetoric. Moreover, his recent announcements of identified individuals for key administrative positions heighten my apprehension.

Once the President-elect is in office, I fully expect an executive and legislative branch assault on all environmental and historic preservation legislation and regulation that industry currently views as being unnecessary impediments to so-called ‘development.’ The incoming administration most likely will move quickly to effectively promote and encourage gas, oil, and coal extraction on federal lands and couple this with a move toward seriously reducing compliance with environmental protection legislation and strong arm tactics to any push back by environmental or professional organizations.

Closer to home, I anticipate that the incoming administration will act to fundamentally undermine the preservation community’s commitment to protect, preserve, and interpret historical properties and cultural resources. Now more than ever, as the natural resource extraction industry is afforded unique privileging by the federal government, archaeological sites, sacred sites, traditional cultural properties and landscapes may be threatened with destruction without the current appropriate consideration or treatment. Efforts by the new administration to exempt categories of development projects from Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review, including reforming NEPA and the Section 106 process (e.g., diminishing or exempting compliance for privileged projects), will have a deleterious effect on cultural resource management.

But it is not just archaeological sites, historic properties, places, landscapes and the environment that will be threatened. The Republican Congress may entertain bills that seek to change what types of research are funded under the National Science Foundation (NSF). Republicans have already introduced legislation to remove archaeology, anthropology, and other social sciences research from NSF funding. If the attempts to eliminate NSF funding for these fields of research are successful, it will have a profound impact on academic-based anthropological and archaeological research for professors, graduate students, and the communities with which they work. This will cause negative reverberations throughout the academy and, even more importantly, historically and geographically marginalized communities that rely on the academy to make their voice, concerns, and struggles more public and responsible entities more accountable.

While the new Republican held Congress is anticipated to work toward diminishing environmental and historic preservation regulations, they may concomitantly attempt to curtail federally required Tribal consultation by reversing previous Executive Orders on tribal consultation. Should this occur, it will have a profoundly negative effect on the ability of Tribal Nations to put forth meaningful and effective voices in the protection of their places of sacred and traditional cultural importance. One need only look at the Dakota Access Pipeline, the resistance by the Standing Rock Sioux and the militarized response by the oil industry as an example of what may be in store for Native people. The “other”-izing of immigrant Mexicans and Muslims by the President-elect can be anticipated to extend to Native Americans as a form of delegitimizing and dismissing their claims of primacy of association to the landscape and to natural and cultural resources. If all of this occurs, not only will archaeological sites, traditional cultural properties and landscapes be threatened, if not completely disregarded, but also it will result in the violation of basic human rights for Native Americans to express a meaningful voice in the protection of their sacred places, cultural identities and living heritage.

As anthropologists and archaeologists, we should be deeply troubled with the President-elect’s past and current turgidity toward dismantling or decreasing legislation that provides for the consideration and protection of clean air, clean water, and healthy ecosystems. We have a professional ethical responsibility to work collaboratively and effectively to advocate for and protect the archaeological and cultural resources record and to speak out and work against any and all efforts that threaten these important places. Moreover, as anthropologists we have a profound ethical responsibility to advocate on behalf of indigenous people when they are being disenfranchised from a regulatory process that has been altered to privilege oil, gas, and coal extraction efforts on their ancestral lands.

The American Anthropological Association (AAA), the Society for American Archaeology, and the Register of Professional Archaeologists all have ethical principals or codes of conduct that define our responsibilities to the archaeological record. For example, the Society for American Archaeology’s ethical principle No. 1 calls upon all members of the Society to be "both caretakers of and advocates for the archaeological record for the benefit of all people," and "to use the specialized knowledge they gain to promote public understanding and support for its long-term preservation." Recently, the Society for American Archaeology’s Board of Directors issued direction to the membership (Our Ethical Principles, Our Actions: Member Responsibilities in a Time of Change) in response to what is viewed as a pending time of change. They added the following directions to the membership regarding ethical principle No. 1:

As members, we will therefore oppose any initiatives to weaken the present legal protections of archaeological sites and materials, be these through legislative process, rewriting of agency regulations, or other means. Moreover, our stewardship responsibilities require that we support and defend initiatives aimed at mitigating the impacts on cultural heritage of accelerating climate disruptions.

The AAA’s code of ethics speaks to our professional responsibilities to support and defend the rights of indigenous peoples and this is important for us, as anthropologists, to never forget and always act on. The AAA represents all anthropologists and archaeologists working in the United States and our collective economic viability and our ability to secure federal funding for academic research and cultural resource management projects will be under assault. It seems to me that every archaeological, anthropological, historic preservation and environmental professional organization has a dog in this fight and must be willing to speak out and lobby against any efforts to abolish or decrease environmental protection and historic preservation legislation.

As members of professional organizations we should encourage and support our organizations to establish strong lobbying coalitions with fellow environmental organizations in order to actively and effectively thwart any legislative or executive efforts to weaken current legal protections for the environment and historic properties, places, and landscapes. As individuals, I encourage each and every one of us to act locally, at the state level and nationally by contacting your congressional representatives and senators and expressing your concerns regarding the movement to rollback regulations, for those regulations not only help protect our collective cultural heritage and a healthy environment for generations to come, but are the backbone of providing appropriate consideration for and attention to various places that are central for the identity and ongoing traditional practices and benefits of countless indigenous and traditional communities.

Beyond Preservation: Expanding the Ethical Responsibilities of Archaeologists

Beyond Preservation: Expanding the Ethical Responsibilities of Archaeologists

M. Jay Stottman
University of Kentucky
Kentucky Archaeological Survey

In this blog post I will examine how the use of archaeology within the education of primary and secondary students challenges our notion of preservation-focused ethics and compels us to expand our ethical responsibilities. In particular, I will discuss the example of allowing school children to participate in real archaeological excavations. Traditionally, ethics in archaeology and anthropology have been focused on preservation in one form or another, and more recently, interactions with stakeholders. Ethics policies and statements have, rightly I believe, placed an emphasis on the preservation and protection of cultural resources and research with the prime directive of causing “no harm”. Our colonial past necessitated preservation-minded ethics to prevent misguided research and to differentiate scholarly pursuits from treasure hunting. Although we have modified our ethics policies over the years, as applications of anthropology and archaeology have increased interactions with communities and stakeholders, they still privilege our control over and responsibility for the preservation of cultural resources and research. A consequence of such policies has been the limiting of public access to and interaction with cultural resources, which has presented an ethical dilemma for those interested in advocacy and activism, as noted by several other blog postings. This consequence is perhaps less an issue for applied anthropologists than it is for archaeologists, as the former have a more established tradition of activism and advocacy. Recent iterations of the AAA ethics statement reflect ethical responsibilities to communities and stakeholders. However, most AAA ethics principles do not seem to be aimed at archaeologists, as cultural resource protection and stewardship is foremost in archaeology. Since interactions with or research on present-day living communities within archaeology is seen as limited, such principles tend to be absent or understated in archaeology ethics policies. Thus, activist archaeologists wrestle with the dilemma of negotiating between our preservation ethics and the desire to use archaeological processes and information to benefit and advocate for present-day communities.

Many activist projects engage with and educate the public by using archaeology to develop educational curricula and to provide hands on learning experiences for primary and secondary students. When we typically think of archaeology and education, we tend to think of training our students in academia to become archaeologists or educating the public about our preservation ethics. However, many public and activist archaeologists have found that teaching archaeological skills and perspectives to primary and secondary students is an engaging and effective way to benefit communities. Students not only learn about history and culture, they also learn math, science, language arts, technology, and art by participating in real research. By doing real research, students not only can learn skills and concepts, they also can understand larger cultural contexts and examine issues of social justice. Thus, some projects have educational goals which are just as important as our traditional research and preservation goals. Such projects force us outside of our comfort zone and invariably challenge our notion of preservation ethics.

My experiences in archaeology-based education programs have at times been at odds with preservation ethics and certainly have drawn criticism from some who feel that such programs are unethical. For example, I have allowed children to participate in all aspects of real archaeological research from research design to dissemination, including excavation. No sandbox or fake digs here. Some might feel that I am sending the wrong message to kids which can encourage them to loot. Others may feel that having untrained children digging could cause irreparable harm to the archaeological record. I would argue that with proper supervision students can participate in excavations with little to no risk to the quality of the archaeological research. Through the experience of doing archaeology, students gain a better understanding of and respect for archaeology and thus are more likely to accept our preservation message. Additionally, through archaeology we have helped students learn important curricula concepts, such as the scientific method, historical inquiry, grids and coordinates, measurements, and yes, ethics.

However, when we do such projects, we are confronted not only by our ethical values, but also many additional ethical concerns and responsibilities not unlike those faced by applied anthropologists. We have additional responsibilities with our foray into education, such as to the safety of students, to the curricula of teachers, to assessing the effectiveness of programs, and toward collaborating with and respecting the field of education. These considerations should be a part of our ethical values, as much as our preservation rhetoric. How do we balance our traditional ethical values with our desires to make our field more relevant to the public and advocate for communities? How do we incorporate new ethical responsibilities into our policies? How do we reconcile the inherent tensions between our traditional ethics and our responsibilities to the people for whom we advocate? Our ethics should not only be derived from the fear of our colonial past or a looter’s shovel, they also should be derived from archaeology’s articulation with present-day communities. We are now beginning to address our ethical responsibilities related to educational projects. The work of the recent AIA outreach and educator’s conference on heritage education ethics stands as an example. The development of additional ethics principles has drawn and should draw from our applied and cultural colleagues, because what has traditionally been seen as diverging interests among the subfields of anthropology, public, activist, and educational archaeology demonstrates that when it comes to ethics, archaeologists have much more in common with our anthropological brethren than we may think.

Meeting the Ethical Responsibilities of Activist Research while on the Tenure Track

Nelson Flores

University of Pennsylvania

I consider myself an activist researcher whose research is embedded within a larger activist agenda that aspires to dismantle social inequality and improve the conditions of racialized communities. The question I have been grappling with for the past three years is how to balance the ethical responsibilities of being an activist researcher with the demands of a tenure-track faculty position at a research university.

Because the tenure review process usually privileges research over community work it can be tempting to solely advocate for racialized communities at academic conferences or in academic journals. The irony is that many well-meaning researchers end up further contributing to the marginalization of racialized communities by converting them into commodities at the service of the researcher’s tenure process. We, therefore, have an ethical responsibility to engage in direct advocacy work in the communities that we serve. In my work this has included a range of activities in educational settings including facilitating parent meetings, assisting in the writing of grant proposals, providing professional development to teachers and developing curricular materials.

How does a tenure-track professor have time to do all of this community work? The answer is best illustrated by a recent meeting that I had with local school district officials. While we were developing a plan of action one of the district officials asked, “How will this fit into your research?” My response was “What we are doing right now is my research and whatever we plan to do will become my research.” My advocacy work is my research and my research is my advocacy work. Some might argue that this blending of research and advocacy makes me biased. I would argue that it makes me an ethical activist researcher who ensures that I have the time to contribute my expertise to the communities that have opened their doors to me.  

This ethical responsibility to engage in community does not need to become a distraction from presenting at academic conferences and publishing in academic journals. In my work I try to use academic journal articles as venues for developing counter-narratives that refuse to represent racialized communities through the white supremacist frameworks that have historically and continue to permeate social science research. Specifically, in my academic journal writing I develop critical genealogies of hegemonic concepts that are complemented by empirical data from my community work to offer an alternative approach that rejects white supremacy. The goal is to challenge dominant academic framings of ideologies as existing “out there” in research sites and critically examining the ideologies “in here” in academia that have been and continue to be complicit in the marginalization of racialized communities.

My end goal is for these two levels of work to coalesce around a coherent theory of social transformation—the one level embedded in local community struggles that are directly relevant to the day-to-day lives of my community partners and the other level embedded in larger epistemological concerns that are directly relevant to my academic peers. Though working toward a coherent theory of social transformation while worrying about tenure and promotion is certainly daunting, being strategic with how I organize my time has helped me balance these two goals that I hope to achieve.

Hoffman Report Comments

Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban

The Hoffman Report is an independent investigation of actions by members of the American Psychological Association (APA) who collaborated with and profited from their direct involvement in ‘intensive interrogation’ at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The report was initiated and funded by the APA in response to critics within the profession who had complained about this unethical and unprofessional application of Psychology by APA leaders and members. A workshop organized by key critics and activists within the APA who are keen to develop protocols for going forward, will take place September 18-20 at Boston University. As the only anthropologist asked to join this workshop Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban has been asked to post the Hoffman Report on the AAA Ethics Blog seeking comments from anthropologists in advance of the meeting. The AAA is seen as a positive example for its two proactive commissions (CEAUSSIC I and II) that explored and took clear positions on anthropologists’ engagement with defense, security and intelligence agencies.

Encountering Racism while ‘Doing No Harm’

Raymond Scupin

In my 1994 ethnographic research on Muslim communities in Thailand I confronted an ethical dilemma that has never been resolved to my satisfaction. In 1976-77, I conducted dissertation research with Thai-speaking descendants of Malay, Iranian, Indonesian, Pathan, Indian, Cham, and Chinese (Yunnanese) Muslims who had migrated to Bangkok and other areas of Central Thailand. Most were Sunni, but some of the Iranian and Indian descendants were Shia. The mid-1970s was the height of the Islamic Awakening throughout the Muslim world, with the embryonic Iranian revolution developing alongside other forms of religious assertiveness. In my dissertation I discussed the different types of Islamic movements that were taking place — reformist, fundamentalist, and secular — along with the ongoing changes in ritual practices and beliefs within these various Muslim communities. Despite the assimilation or accommodation of many Muslims to the majority Thai Buddhist cultural environment, I witnessed an increase in ethnic and religious assertiveness that is still prevalent today.

I was not able to do follow-up research during the 1980s despite being awarded a Fulbright grant, because the Thai government would not approve clearances for Westerners wanting to work among Muslims. But finally, in 1994, through my Muslim academic contacts in Thailand, I was able to return. While conducting interviews with various informants, including Muslim university professors, I discovered that some of them were involved in translating Henry Ford’s “The International Jew” and the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in order to promote anti-Semitic views within the Thai-speaking Muslim communities. When I questioned them about their rationales, they answered that they wanted to demonstrate the true nature of the Zionist and World Jewry for the Muslim populace. Of course, I knew that these portrayals were widespread throughout the Middle East, but I was shocked that they had become an aspect of these Muslim activities in Thailand. I argued vociferously with the individuals who were involved in these translations and tried to reason with them about the negative portrayals of Jews that they intended to promote. Some did have second thoughts when I pointed out how the translation project violated the norms regarding the Islamic acceptance of Jews as “People of the Book.” Nevertheless, the project was completed.

I found the matter very troubling. While the majority of Muslims in Thailand played no role in translating the anti-Semitic documents, some of the Muslims involved were my close informants and friends. I viewed their activity as immoral, harmful, and a violation of basic human rights. However, while I considered reporting their activities to the Thai Buddhist authorities, I worried about the potential consequences. The Thai authorities tend to have negative essentialist stereotypes about Muslims, so the possibility of political repression or other repercussions for Muslims as a result of such a disclosure was very real. At the time I decided not to report. Since then, however, I have been haunted by the thought that I might have been able to prevent the distribution of these anti-Semitic documents had I tried. Recently, I wrote a chapter for a volume dealing with Buddhist-Muslim relations in Thailand that mentions the translation of the anti-Semitic texts. I reasoned that the Thai authorities were unlikely to ever read this academic research and so the publication would not have negative consequences for the Muslims in Thailand. Would reporting to Thai authorities when I saw what was happening in the 1990s have violated the principle that anthropologists should “Do No Harm”? Am I violating the “Do No Harm” principle by describing the Muslims’ activities in my chapter? Am I violating it by writing this blog post now? While I know no ethical principle can be absolute, this one seems to be a pervasive aspect of anthropological ethics. I just don’t know how to it apply it in this case.

Raymond Scupin, Director, Center for International and Global Studies, Lindenwood University.

Professional Precarity, Ethics, and Social Justice

By Netta Avineri and Steven P. Black

“As long as we participate in social systems we don’t get to choose whether to be involved in the consequences they produce. We’re involved simply through the fact that we’re here. As such, we can only choose how to be involved, whether to be just part of the problem or also to be part of the solution. That’s where our power lies, and also our responsibility.”

–Johnson (2005) Privilege, Power, and Difference, p. 89

There is a labor crisis in academia. Scholars throughout the country now recognize that a system of privilege and marginalization is permeating our classrooms, faculty meetings, and institutional cultures, placing many academics in precarious professional positions (see As a discipline, anthropology presents unique perspectives on this professional precarity. Recently, the Committee on Labor Relations, the Committee for Human Rights Task Group/ Society for Linguistic Anthropology Committee on Language & Social Justice (Avineri), the Committee on Ethics (Black), and the presidents of the various AAA sections independently recognized the importance of this issue and are now beginning to take collective action. We are collaborating to craft a statement on adjuncting and precarity to present to the AAA Executive Committee (through liaison Rayna Rapp). We encourage you to use the comments section of the blog to share thoughts and experiences with us that might be helpful in shaping our perspective and constructing a statement.

The Ethics of Professional Practice

Professional precarity is an ethics issue. Principle seven of the Principles of Ethical Responsibility, “Maintain Respectful and Ethical Professional Relationships,” is impractical or even impossible in the face of the current situation. The supporting information for this principle states, “Anthropologists should at all times work to ensure that no exclusionary practices be perpetrated on the basis of any nonacademic attributes.” While once there may have been a legitimate distinction between adjuncts and tenure-track faculty in terms of academic attributes, that distinction (if ever there was one) is no longer present. This principle also states that anthropologists, “must not exploit individuals, groups, animals, or cultural or biological materials.” The promotion of a small number of tenured anthropologists while the majority remain untenured/in non-tenure-track positions is a form of exploitation, even if not directly initiated by the actions of particular anthropologists. The research productivity of tenure-track faculty is in many ways dependent upon this existing structure.

The Language of Marginalized Identities

While propelled by institutional policies, unethical practices are also constituted in professional activities and spaces, especially through the unreflexive discourse that occurs within them. The ways that people talk about academic and non-academic positions are rooted in conceptualizations of temporality and spatiality. The labels “tenure-track/tenure-stream” indicate a sense of directionality and future-oriented possibilities. On the other hand, “contingent”/”part-time”/”adjunct”/”visiting” point toward the now, to positions that are dependent on more important things, a temporary placement outside of the system, and finding oneself elsewhere and not truly present. Professional introductions, as a system of person reference, are one example of exclusionary and marginalizing language. At conferences, introducing oneself or others using titles (e.g., associate professor, visiting lecturer) become sites for positioning and identity maintenance. Seemingly less direct questions like, “What’s your teaching load?” index particular identities, priorities, and possibilities. Even the evaluation of affiliations can become problematic–are you in an academic position? Is your university a teaching institution? R2? R1?

Such ranking systems are invalid in the contemporary professional market. The incredible scarcity of available tenure-track positions means that one’s ability to land an academic job at an R1 institution is less a commentary on one’s worth as a scholar or anthropologist and more an indication of one’s professional connections (and in some cases, luck). Our continued use of these terms, and the underlying ideologies they evidence, constitutes a conceptual and linguistic inertia that hampers our ability to be more inclusive, ethical, and just.

Safe Spaces, Leveling Policies, and Creating Communities of Practice

Our goal is to reevaluate professional discourse and AAA policy to promote a more inclusive space that fosters academic freedom, growth, and productivity in the face of the current crisis. In doing so, we hope to  contest precarity at an institutional level while simultaneously shifting our practices and policies to change the scholarly landscape from the ground up. Our suggestions are meant to complement collective action that would rectify the current reliance on contingent labor in academic institutions (eg. higher wages, a higher proportion of stable positions in departments, or changes to the tenure system itself):

Below are three proposals for actions that individuals, groups and the AAA might take in this direction:

1) End the use of rank and/or affiliation for gatekeeping. Currently, one’s rank and affiliation may determine one’s ability to serve on particular editorial boards, gain access to funding (e.g., NSF), or write pieces for venues such as Annual Review of Anthropology. These positive and negative feedback loops become a vicious cycle. Rather than the arbitrary metrics of rank/ affiliation, utilize the evaluation of expertise, knowledge, and quality scholarship.

2) Stop using the AAA Annual Meeting as a venue for interviews. Those in “contingent” positions frequently do not receive funding to attend conferences and are therefore automatically in a less desirable position than those who have the money to make face-to-face contact with potential employers. Once difficult and confusing, digital interviews (eg. through Skype) are now easy and cost-effective for initial candidate screening.

3) Create safe spaces in which academics in a variety of positions are able to share ideas freely and experiment with their pedagogy without fear of being fired because their positions are less-than-secure. The field of anthropology can then move forward through enacting many of its basic tenets of perspective-taking and depth of understanding through experience over the long-term. Adjuncts’ teaching positions are highly dependent on student evaluations but don’t generally have the support they need to do their best in their teaching. For example, as a field we should support one another through anonymous online spaces for support and advice, online writing groups and retreats, teaching resources websites, “non-academic” advisors, and scholarships — where hierarchies can be flattened and various knowledges can be valued to allow for a variety of mentorship models.

Our sincere aspiration is that these and other policies will help to alleviate the current labor crisis in conjunction with direct action, while allowing for more flexible career trajectories and a level playing field. In doing so, we hope to encourage those in a range of jobs to feel confident and proud of what they are doing, to have the support they need to move them in the directions they would like at this point, and/or stay right where they are. Please share with us your thoughts on these proposals, or suggest alternatives, in the comments section of the blog.