We welcome another guest blog from Mark Sanders (Earth Search, Inc).
Dr. Jerry Sabloff of the Santa Fe Institute delivered the AAA’s Distinguished Lecture at this year’s conference. The title of his talk, The Circulation of Ideas: Anthropology and Public Outreach, was effectively a battle cry for anthropologists.
Our motto shouldn’t be “publish or perish, but rather, public or perish,” archaeologist Sabloff said to a crowd of fellow anthropologists. He noted how other scientific fields have their iconic scholars — think Stephen Hawking, or Cornell West, or Jared Diamond.
But anthropology? With the exception of the deceased (Margaret Mead) and the fictitious (Indiana Jones), not so much.
That needs to change, Sabloff says, especially considering the intensity and complexity of global issues. Take your pick of front page headlines. The Obama administration’s healthcare bill would benefit from having anthropologists share their perspectives in a public forum, such as an op-ed piece in the newspaper. The ongoing war in Afghanistan is another example; anthropologists could provide different viewpoints from the talking heads the public is used to seeing on television.
Part of the problem has been university departments’ traditional avoidance of the limelight. Worse yet, anthropologists who speak out in the media are often criticized by their colleagues. “We shouldn’t be sniping, but rather supporting, our colleagues who write op-ed pieces,” Sabloff said.
The lecture, which was as inspiring as it was bold, was met with wild applause, a standing ovation and likely more than a few anthropologists considering their future (however large or small) in the public spotlight.