This is unsettling; this is our discipline.

[This article was co-authored by Dick Powis and Savannah Martin. Please cite accordingly.]

Today, we are proud to launch Footnotes, a group blog by and for anthropology and anthro-adjacent scholars who want to advance anthropology, what it can do, what it means, and who can participate in it. It is thrilling to join 20 incredible scholars – mostly fellow graduate students – who express a deep desire to make this project work in light of a profound dissatisfaction with the current state of our discipline. Today, we inaugurate our collective ambition to break down barriers, question conventions, and challenge those who might keep us from fully expressing ourselves. To borrow a term from Manuel and Derrickson (2015), our goal is to unsettle anthropology.

Our objectives are simple. We want to emphasize the following frameworks, both in our own work and as a critique of the status quo:

Multimodal. Virtually all forms of unconventional anthropology and ethnography fall into or overlap with multimodality: from creative writing, film, and photography to social media, podcasting, and soundscapes to design, sensory ethnography, and full-blown experimental works. While writing may still be our bread and butter, we embrace the multimodal turn and we welcome any and all expressions of anthropological theory and practice. Further, we believe that the very act of producing multimodal material can be an anticolonial and iconoclastic practice, in that it frees authors from the conventional limits of very strict and linear modes of argumentation, production, publication, and dissemination.

Anticolonial. Much of our work targets threats to our lives and the lives of future generations: climate change and environmental destruction, White supremacy, capitalism and class inequality, patriarchy and toxic masculinity, in particular. We do so with a heightened awareness of the way that these threats proliferate in cooperation with colonial interests. However, these same problems exist within anthropology as well, and they impair our ability to do the very best work that we can do. Therefore, an anticolonial framework must be deployed to interrogate our own discipline. For example, scholars from marginalized communities – i.e. those communities which are often prime targets of research – fall victim to the institutional biases of their departments, of publishing practices, of grant review boards, and of peers at academic conferences. Footnotes is a space where marginalized scholars can come together and share their experiences, where their friends and colleagues can come and listen, and where, together, we can all activate toward a more inclusive and just practice of anthropology.

Iconoclastic. This thing that is shorthanded by the word “anthropology” – what Ribeiro (2006:365) delineates as North Atlantic anthropology – was built upon and in the service of scientific racism, colonialism, and the expansion of capitalism, and it is embedded in the patriarchy of academia. While many scholars would like to believe that those are issues of the past, we know that they bleed through into the present, and that they have reinvented themselves in new ways. We must always remember the foundations of anthropology; we must always question and decolonize “the canon” of anthropological theory; we must always challenge those who support systems of oppression within anthropology; and we must always be reflexive about the ways in which we benefit from those systems. Anthropologists pride themselves on speaking truth to power through their work – we shouldn’t shy away from doing so within our discipline as well.

All three of these frameworks are a response to the limitations of written prose; to the equivocal positionality of marginalized scholars in anthropology; and to the senior scholars who don’t want to change a harmful system that benefits them or who refuse to see how it does. All of these approaches are, in essence, a response to privilege, to power, to tradition, to capital. North Atlantic anthropology has been a settler project through and through, and each successive generation of anthropologists educated in North American and European universities is taught to reproduce those settler ways of knowing and practice. The goal of “unsettling” anthropology is not just a desire to shake foundations and discomfort those in need of discomfort, but to literally un-settle it – to decolonize it – in the process.

One of our many objectives is to amplify the voices, experiences, and work of scholars from marginalized communities. The creation of a shared space for marginalized scholars may be a response to the marginalization itself, but the scholars are not. They stand on their own without having to be contrasted against more privileged voices, without having to be anti-something. They operate from positions of lived experiences that are often shut out from the anthro-blog-o-sphere. This also means focusing our attention on and citing scholars whose works – while formidable – go overlooked in favor of canonical texts and their derivatives. However, while we wish to confront problems in anthropology, we want to be sure that Footnotes is equally reputable for the material we produce that looks beyond anthropology as well. In fact, we believe that undertaking the latter is a political action that serves the former.

Perhaps the clearest explanation is in our name: these frameworks and these scholars have long been relegated to the footnotes, as non-integral “asides” of anthropology, rather than powerful sources worthy of in-line citations. But as any perceptive reader knows, this is indeed where some of the most valuable, insightful, and generative knowledge is found.

We want to advance our discipline.

And it is our discipline.

We hope that you’ll join us.

[Thank you to Anne Spice and Taylor Genovese for your input.]

Works Cited:

Manuel, Arthur and Grand Chief Ronald M. Derrickson. 2015. Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call. Toronto: Between the Lines.

Ribeiro, Gustavo Lins. 2006. “World Anthropologies: Cosmopolitics for a New Global Scenario in Anthropology”. Critique of Anthropology. 26(4):363­­­­­–386.

Photo Credit: Gérard Aimé. “Mai 68, Les Murs Ont La Parole”. Gamma-Rapho-Keystone.

2 thoughts on “This is unsettling; this is our discipline.

  1. Just brilliant. Thank you. I’m looking forward to this blog and plan to help it guide me in teaching my first intro to cultural anthropology course.


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