#MeTooAnthro at ASA2018

We’re proud to share a full list of authors who will be presenting in our panel at the 2018 ASA conference, held in Oxford. To view on the ASA website, click here. From undergraduate students, to tenured professors, each offers valuable insights into this issue, and how we, as anthropologists, can collectively address gendered or sexual harassment and violence in the field, and in the academy.

MeTooAnthro will also be sharing our own proposed training program for students entering the field in a lunchtime session. Details will be announced in due course.

If you would like to participate in some way, send us an email.


PANEL ANT02 – #MeTooAnthro: sexual assault and harassment in anthropology

Tanja Kubes (TU Munich) – How far will we go? Fieldwork and sexual harassment

How can we handle sexual harassment, when it is an integral part of our field counterparts’ everyday reality and when letting people harass you is the only way to collect field data? How much harassment can we allow before losing our authenticity as scholars and feminists? Where should we draw the line between tedious field inconvenience and an attack on our integrity?

Some years ago, I did an ethnographic study on car show hostesses. Since hostess contracts usually contain a clause forbidding any disclosure of job details, established interview techniques were of little use for my research. Instead, I decided to work as a hostess myself – in fact, to become a hostess for a limited time.

According to the job description, my task was to stand next to a car in a nice (viz.: sexy) outfit, to smile, to let visitors (mostly men) take my photograph and to answer simple questions. In reality, however, many visitors treated my colleagues and me as an easy target for salacious talk and sexual innuendo. That put me in a tight spot: should I go along with the profanities “for the sake of science”? Or should I react the way my normal self would react? During my fieldwork, I mostly opted for the former – and by that helped to perpetuate a system that objectifies women and treats them as commodities and prey.

My talk discusses the fragile balance between total immersion in the field and the need for distancing self-protection.

Megan Steffen (Tsinghua University) – What metaphors we have: Making sense of sexual violence in and out of the field

This paper analyzes the figurative language anthropologists have used and currently use to make sense of sexual violence during fieldwork and outside of it. For anthropologists conducting participant observation fieldwork, establishing intimacy with interlocutors in the field can help establish scholarly credibility back in the academy; however, the wrong kind of intimacy—such as sexual assault—can undermine one’s professional persona. I compare the language my interlocutors used to describe sexual violence in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province in the People’s Republic of China, with the language anthropologists used to describe Henrietta Schmerler, a young student of Ruth Benedict’s who was raped and murdered in the field in 1931. While my Chinese interlocutors described themselves as “being irrigated”—a metaphor that captured their objectification and made their bodies both passive and productive—Schmerler’s colleagues describe her as an economic agent up until the moment of her death who made a mistake and “paid a price.” I ask what possibilities each of these imperfect analogies open up for intimate relationships—with people in the field and with colleagues outside of it—as well as what they might foreclose. Finally, I examine how disclosing experiences of sexual violence can change one’s sense of one’s self as it can collapse personal and professional personas.

Danielle Bradford (University of Cambridge) – ‘Blurred lines?’: Navigating professional relationships in the field

Safety for women and other marginalised identities within the context of academic fieldwork has been a concern for a long time, and since the recent #MeToo movement the extent to which assault and harassment occurs in these contexts — and the widespread, systematic institutional complicity in response to this — has begun to emerge. Significant pressure is now being exhibited towards the organisers, institutions, and universities within archaeology and anthropology worldwide. Often described as an area possessing ‘blurred lines’ of professional and social relationships between both colleagues and staff and their students, it is vital to both establish reasonable boundaries within fieldwork and to explore the power relations and dynamics that have fostered an environment that potential abusers have been thus far able to exploit. By conducting interviews and gathering survey data from archaeologists’ and anthropologists’ experiences in fieldwork it has become clear that a combination of being in a foreign environment and living and working in such close quarters with other academics has left many vulnerable to harassment and assault during an experience that should be enjoyable, enlightening, and foster intellectual growth. I conclude with suggested guidelines on how to maintain and manage professional relationships within the field and how to navigate unequal power dynamics that leave historically marginalised groups (particularly young female academics) vulnerable.

Melina Taylor (University of South Florida) – Preparing cultural anthropology graduate students to enter the field: Issues and considerations to establish pre-fieldwork training to address sexual assault/harassment

While anthropologists are prone to experiencing sexual assault/harassment conducting fieldwork, cultural anthropologists are particularly vulnerable as they are usually in the field alone, potentially isolated in remote locations, and/or establishing trust and rapport with individuals that they have no prior relationship with. This increased exposure can lead to potentially tricky ethical situations when it comes to protecting the emotional and physical wellbeing of the anthropologist’s body. As such, many graduate students are not given resources or training before entering the field, except in relation to how the anthropologist may impact local populations, not vice versa. This is an important gap that needs to be filled in anthropological training. This can be accomplished in university departments which can provide input, experience, and expertise to help better prepare graduate students entering the field. This paper will draw on past master’s fieldwork experiences dealing with sexual assault/harassment, as well as future preparations being undertaken to conduct dissertation fieldwork. A guideline of issues to address from the student perspective with university departments will be provided to highlight issues related to early career researchers with emphasis on both physical and emotional needs. Particular focus will be placed on gender dynamics in the field, and racial/ethnic divides of the researcher and participants, with a discussion on power dynamics and how to approach issues of sexual harassment/assault while respecting the needs and daily lives of the local population.

Elizabeth Beckmann (University of Sussex) – Me Too Anthropology

Anthropologist; story-teller, philosopher, documenter, person, survivor. For many working within the field of anthropology, personal experiences of trauma and survival are elements of research often omitted from ethnographies and open discussion on our return, particularly in cases of sexual trauma. However, a great deal of ethnographic research is focused on the trauma and survival of our informants. This short piece considers how the #metoo campaign of 2017 has perhaps offered anthropologists not only a potential outlet through which to consider their own traumas (even those of their colleagues) in and out of the field and within our own institutions, but furthermore this personal reflection asks what we as anthropologists can do to support and give voice to momentous campaigns such as #metoo in a show of solidarity if not unity with our past and future informants as well as our colleagues and indeed ourselves. Now is a time to pay attention, to encourage each other to document these realities, to share these stories and to lend ourselves to this remarkable and pivotal moment in this current and ongoing global social transformation.

Megan Jane Douglas (University of Edinburgh) – Best practices to improve fieldwork experiences for PhD students

PhD students undertaking fieldwork in difficult contexts are particularly vulnerable, both in the field and on their return. Welfare issues are varied though often related- ranging from anxiety/depression, to serious traumatic incidents related to sexual assault and harassment. While the experience of these issues is diverse, there is consensus among PhD students that pre-departure preparation is often inadequate. Constraining a response to this challenge is a limited evidence base – both of the problem itself, and in terms of possible solutions to replicate.

In response to these challenges, a cross-disciplinary team of students and faculty members at the University of Edinburgh have formed a working group in an effort to improve pre-departure support for students undertaking fieldwork. One of the group’s tasks is the formation of a report outlining best practices among universities for pre-fieldwork preparation, and the organization of a pre-departure workshop for 1st-year PhD students researching in Social Anthropology, International Development, and African Studies. This paper will discuss the progress and challenges of this project.

In addition, I will share a testimony of a personal encounter with sexual assault while on fieldwork that led me to become involved in this discussion. My experience inspired me to submit an article to the University of Edinburgh student newspaper in March 2018, in the hopes of inspiring other students to come forward. This article acted as an impetus for faculty to address institutional and cultural barriers to student safety and wellbeing, ultimately contributing to the formation of the working group.

Jennifer Wies (Ball State University) & Hillary Haldane (Quinnipiac University) – The personal is structural: Ending violence against women by re-creating the academy

Anthropology is practiced across varied sites, including non-governmental organizations, healthcare systems, policy areas, development agencies, corporate and industrial business settings, and many more domains. However, the main locus of its social reproduction is within the academy. To consider how one can imagine anthropological inquiry and engagement differently, university-based anthropologists must interrogate the structures (physical, policy, and otherwise) that contextualize and shape the pedagogy, theory, and practice of our discipline.

This paper explores sexual misconduct as a key locus for understanding the constraints on our discipline, as well as how addressing and responding to sexual misconduct demonstrates the potential for re-creation.

Through an analysis of community-level sexual misconduct responses (including case studies from the non-profit sector, higher education, and the Society for Applied Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association), we examine the experiences, policies, and processes of sexual misconduct responses and prevention across three sites within higher education- the frontlines, institutions, and the discipline- to point to the possible transformative futures for our community.

We question the acceptance, refusal, and adaptability of sexual misconduct policies and practices, drawing clearly from the anthropological commitment to local perspectives, voices, experiences, and structures. As anthropologists across the globe call for change to the often sexist, racist, and ableist approaches to education and training, this paper cautions against “quick-fix” solutions and refocuses our efforts to anthropology’s strengths- holism and ethnographic studies.

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