[URBANTH-L]CFP for AAA: Studying Expertise at Home: Cutting Edge or Disciplinary Dead-End?

Cathy Stanton cstanton at tiac.net
Mon Mar 23 10:01:22 EDT 2009

We are in search of additional panelists for a AAA panel that will  
raise questions about whether there's a place in the discipline for  
those of us who study expertise.  Since time is very short before the  
April 1 submission deadline, we're hoping to see abstracts from  
potential panelists as soon as possible - no later than Saturday,  
March 27.  Please send 250-word abstracts to both of us at:

Juris Milestone
juris at temple.edu

Cathy Stanton
cathy.stanton at tufts.edu


Cathy Stanton
Juris Milestone


Studying Expertise at Home:  Cutting Edge or Disciplinary Dead-End?
Juris Milestone (Temple University) and Cathy Stanton (Tufts  
University), co-organizers

Junior scholars who have taken anthropology’s reflexive turn  
seriously, choosing to specialize in the study of “mainstream”  
expertise and professional knowledge production ‘in their own  
backyards’, are finding themselves in both epistemological and  
occupational dilemmas that challenge our discipline’s supposed  
embrace of an “anthropology of modernity”.  This begs a return to the  
question: are we able or willing to follow up on theoretical  
commitments to bringing a wider range of actors and social processes  
under the ethnographic gaze?  By exploring various facets of this  
dilemma, our panel will also explore the question: “Are we, as a  
discipline, failing to act as an innovative and critical voice within  
the contemporary academy?”

Much innovative anthropological work has been done recently on the  
creation of expert knowledge and professional authority, particularly  
in medical and economic anthropology, and science and technology  
studies.  However, significant structural barriers hinder these  
exciting fields from serving as portals into full-time work in  
anthropology for newer scholars.  Within the academy overall,  
anthropology’s underlying function is still very often to introduce  
students to “other” cultures, a function clearly reflected in hiring,  
enrollment, and curriculum.  Those (permanently employed)  
anthropologists who specialize in the study of high-status  
professional knowledge production are usually the exceptions proving  
the rule:  either they have turned to this field after traditional  
fieldwork among "others," or their work on knowledge production is  
framed in relation to similarly marginalized or "exotic" groups.

Anthropology’s traditional focus on the “other” and the marginal,  
then, works against the fuller inclusion of anthropologists  
(particularly beginners) who have chosen, for theoretical, political,  
or personal reasons, to specialize in the study of mainstream  
expertise at home.  Such scholars have sometimes found an academic  
home within other disciplines or sectors—for example, cultural  
studies or fields that overlap with the particular area of expertise  
they study.  However, as a solution, this offers both advantages and  
disadvantages.  It does promote the interdisciplinarity and often the  
public-ness that anthropologists often tout.  But it also  
marginalizes these discourses within the discipline, making it  
logistically and professionally less likely that a range of scholarly  
voices speaking about these processes will inform our core  

And though there are many very productive anthropological critiques  
of neoliberalism, power, and discourse, the ‘intramarginalization’ of  
critiques of expertise that operates close-to-home should be of  
particular concern to anthropologists, especially within the  
contemporary corporatized university, which increasingly services the  
needs of other knowledge-producing sectors through the production of  
innovation and the reproduction and expansion of the professional  
sector. Is it possible for the anthropology of expertise to flourish  
within this setting, or is its typically deconstructive viewpoint too  
risky for departments already struggling to defend their importance  
within an academy that privileges expertise and professionalism?  A  
perusal of recent hiring trends would suggest that an embedded and  
internal critique of high-status knowledge production is likely to  
be, at the very best, problematic.

This panel will create an informed but informal setting for opening  
these interlinked questions about hiring, theory, professionalism,  
and the contemporary university.

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