Earlier today I was writing a paper for my Thought & Praxis course. I had to use Metta Baba’s The Fifth Subdiscipline: Anthropological Practice and the Future of Anthropology (1994 Human Organization 53(2)). The article is about the relationship, or lack thereof, between “practicing” anthropologists and “applied” & academic anthropologists. She presents some reasons why this relationship is the way it is and some of the affects of it on the entire discipline. While reading this article it reminded me of a presentation that Baba did in Sante Fe at the 2005 meeting of the SFAA. There she spoke about “hybrid” anthropologists and the pro’s and con’s of identifying as an anthropologist and as a member of another discipline.
I went to the SFAA meeting in Sante Fe because Linda Whiteford was encouraging all of her students to make the trip. In 2005 Dr. Whiteford was the president of the society and USF’s very own Gil Kushner was being honored with the Sol Tax award. I made the trip because it seemed like an excellent excuse to go to Sante Fe.
When I arrived at the conference, I wasn’t really sure what to attend. I had only been a student in anthropology for a year and my interests had not really developed. The only thing I knew at that point was that I did NOT want to go into academia and that I liked business anthropology, well I thought I liked business anthropology- I hadn’t really learned too much about it at that point because no one in my department was interested in it. I picked the first session I attended because Dr. Whiteford was presenting- I didn’t know who the “celebrity” anthropologists were and who I should see. This happens to be the very first time I got to see Metta Baba speak. More importantly- the focus of the session was practicing anthropologists. It just so happened that most of the speakers at the session either were working in the private sector or had experience in it at some point. The session really had an impact on me, obviously if I can still recall it, because it was the first time I had heard or seen anthropologists that were not academic and some had a focus in business. Because I loved that session so much, I was enthusiastic to attend another session later that day where some other “business” anthropologists spoke. That day I saw four of the six (or so) anthropologists that I still follow, look up to, inspired by, speak and I didn’t even realize who they were. They all influenced my decision to set my goals as becoming a “practicing” anthropologist in the private sector- and it was all because of their presentations. I’ve since had the great pleasure of meeting all four of the women face-to-face at other conferences and chit-chatting with them for a few minutes. Each time I see them, I think to myself, “you have no idea how much you’ve influenced me”.
So what does this have to do with undergraduates attending conferences?
*Conferences are a very easy way to get exposure to topics that are outside of your department’s focus.
*If you take good notes, you can reference them in future papers, discussions
*You may get a chance to see someone you really admire- on the way back to the airport after the conference, I shared a taxi with Gil Kushner. He was with a few other USF people and I got the chance to talk to him.
*You’ll have a chance to network (post on this in the works)