November 27, 2011
At the American Anthropological Association meeting in Montrealin November, I was heartened to see how much major American journals are internationalizing. The Editorial Boards of American Anthropologist and Current Anthropology, to name just two journals, increasingly bear the names of anthropologists from across the world. Of course this is a very good thing. But at the same time, that’s the easy part. The hard part of internationalizing anthropology is to make the content of these journals international.
This is problematic because of one simple fact. Anthropology is not the same in different places. What constitutes a good anthropology article for Americans is not necessarily the same as what constitutes a good anthropology article for Japanese, or for Indians, or for Brazilians, or for Eastern Europeans. This can be seen by reading the different flagship journals in different societies: this is one thing that our publication list on the WCAA website reveals. The topics, the approach, and the writing style of these different anthropologies significantly differ.
So, if American Anthropologist and Current Anthropology and other top American journals seek to internationalize, will they publish foreign anthropologists only to the extent that their articles are couched in American discursive terms, reading like American anthropology articles? This will in effect render these different anthropologists American. Or will they publish these articles even if they are not discursively American—not addressing American anthropological concerns, and not following the norms of American argumentation? This runs the risk of alienating these journals’ largely American audiences. Because anthropology is not the same the world over, there seems to be no way beyond this dilemma.
Some journals in the United States will probably remain unaware of this dilemma, implicitly assuming that American standards of anthropology are universal standards of anthropology, and publishing accordingly. Other journals will indeed understand; but there’s no obvious way out. These journals may attempt to take a middle line, both preserving standards and encouraging diversity. But where and how, exactly, is that line to be drawn?
In short, the era of internationalizing anthropology is only beginning. It will be a lot more difficult than most anthropology journal editors, and most anthropologists, now may realize. To repeat a refrain I’ve often stated, anthropology must leave the era of Morgan and Tylor, with anthropologists from rich countries studying cultures from poor countries, and dominating the discipline, to become instead a truly global discipline. That day will come, eventually; but it certainly won’t be easy.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong