The AfAA had a highly successful
year in 2008. Many of the plans
and projects initiated over the previous two years came to fruition during
2008. We have maintained the membership
drive and outreach activities started in 2007. Our membership as of June 2008 reached 341, making us among
the larger small Sections of the AAA.
Our membership increase was due not only to an updating of our
membership list via Alice Horner, an independent consultant in 2007, but was
also the result of spirited Section elections along with a strong focus on our
Section reception and awards ceremony.
Our revenue and assets continue to be strong, showing an increase from
$37,258.13 at the beginning of 2008 to $41,010.54 in September.
Among our most important innovations in 2008 was the
launching of three awards: the Elliot P. Skinner Book Award, a Graduate Student
Paper Award, and an Undergraduate Paper Prize. At the 2007 AAA meetings in Washington, D.C., we formed
committees for these awards and established the general guidelines for
submissions due by May 30, 2008.
Due to the fact that 2008 was our first year to have these awards in
place, we ultimately extended the deadline for receipt and review of these submissions
until June of 2008. We also plan
to place a special announcement in the Spring Anthropology Newsletter concerning the upcoming awards for
2009. The Elliot P. Skinner Award
for originality of scholarship and visibility of a book in the field of African
Studies and Africanist Anthropology consists of $1,000. The 2008 book award was presented to
Deborah James (London School of Economics and Political Science) for her book
entitled Gaining Ground?:
“Rights” and “Property” in South African Land Reform (Routledge,
2007). It was agreed that this
book offered an excellent and provocative example of engaged anthropology under
the apartheid and post-apartheid régimes in South Africa. An honorable mention was awarded to
Sabine Jell-Bahlsen (Director of Ogbuide Films and Editor of Dialectical Anthropology) for The Water Goddess in Igbo Cosmology: Ogbuide
of Oguta Lake (Africa World Press, 2008). This study of religion and cosmology was based on several
years of extensive field research in southwestern Nigeria.
>Betty Harris (Oklahoma University) chaired the book award
committee with the participation of Gwendolyn Mikell (Georgetown University)
and Bennetta Jules-Rosette (UC San Diego). At the 2008 San Francisco meetings, the AfAA Board agreed
that the book award committee would remain in place for a minimum of two years
in order to preserve continuity.
As per the suggestion of Book Award Committee Chair Betty Harris, we
will also add two new members to the committee so that four scholars will
review the 2009 award. In 2008,
the committee received nine submissions.
Its most difficult challenge was obtaining all of the books from the
publishers in a timely fashion. At
the 2008 Board Meeting, Betty Harris proposed improving the process of book
distribution for the 2009 awards by asking publishers to send the books
directly to committee members.
The graduate student paper award, consisting of $500, was
presented to J.R. Osborn (American University of Dubai) for his paper entitled
“Writing Culture with Arabic Letters: The School of Khartoum and Contemporary
Calligraphic Art.” The outstanding
undergraduate paper went to Natalie Spritzer (University of California, San
Diego) for “Health Care for All,“ which was based on Natalie’s original
fieldwork in Ghana. An honorable
mention was awarded to Ryan Hewey (Central Connecticut State University) for
his paper entitled “Negrotown: An Archaeology of African Agency from Colonial
Connecticut.” At AfAA’s 2008 Board
breakfast, it was agreed that efforts to find awardees for the two student
prizes need to be expanded and intensified through broader and more systematic
contacts with AfAA members and their mentees and students. This year’s award nominations are due
by June 1, 2009. Based on last
year’s experience, this date change allows extra time for award submissions.
AfAA Invited Sessions and Distinguished Lectures
During 2008, the AfAA sponsored four invited paper sessions,
as well as one roundtable session.
David Turkon (Ithaca College) and Maria Cattell (AfAA’s new
President-Elect) served as the program committee. Nancy P. Schwartz, the outgoing Treasurer, will serve on the
Program Committee with David Turkon in 2009. AfAA’s invited sessions for 2008 included a panel entitled
“HIV/AIDS: Underscoring Needs and Challenges to Collaboration” organized by Alexander
Rodlach (Creighton University) and David Turkon. This panel covered critical issues in the areas of cultural
and political responses to the AIDS pandemic with an emphasis on cases drawn
from West Africa and southern Africa.
Jennifer Coffman (James Madison University) organized an invited
roundtable chaired by Mwenda Ntarangwi (Calvin College) on “Governing Kenya:
Insights on Inclusion, Collaboration and Engagement from the 2007
Elections.” This pathbreaking
roundtable session dealt with important issues of political transition in
contemporary Kenya. Karen Tranberg
Hansen (Northwestern University) and Soyini Madison (Northwestern University)
organized a lively and engaging session on African dress and performance in
relationship to social action and practices in a variety of African settings,
including Congo (DRC), Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia. This panel is a prelude to a larger conference on African
dress and fashion organized by AfAA member Karen Tranberg Hansen as part of the
60th anniversary celebration at Northwestern University. A session on “Reconsidering Islam and
Muslim Youth Culture” was organized by AfAA International Liaison Benjamin
Soares (African Studies Centre, Leiden) and Marloes Janson (Zentrum Moderner
Orient, Berlin). This panel analyzed
contemporary Muslim youths’ turn to religion as projects of ethical
self-fashioning and moral reform in the context of new modes of sociality and
public life, productive activities, and patterns of consumption. Kristin Phillips (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
and Erin Dean (New College of Florida) organized a session on “Political
Parties and Subjectivity in Africa,” which considered the social life and
cultural work of African political parties and their roles in statecraft,
development and everyday life in African contexts. Other non-invited panels included a session on African art
and museum culture in France organized by Bennetta Jules-Rosette and J.R.
Osborn as well as the active participation of AfAA members in a large
cross-section of panels in their areas of specialization. The AfAA Distinguished Lecture at the
2008 AAA meetings was a Presidential Address delivered by Bennetta
Jules-Rosette on November 21. The
lecture followed the AfAA reception, which had a record number of attendees reaching
out into the hallway. Music was
provided by Afro-Caribbean percussionist Gene Perry. AfAA utilizes this occasion as an important vehicle for
outreach. Bennetta Jules-Rosette’s
multimedia lecture and presentation entitled “Innovation and Agency: Structures
for Change in Africa and the African Diaspora” covered major social problems
confronting the African continent and the symbolic and practical responses of
grass-roots leaders as agents of change.
On the whole, the AfAA Board is pleased with the vigorous responses to
our receptions and the accompanying Distinguished Lectures each year.
Status and Use of AfAA Section Communications and Publicity
The AfAA website was launched by Board member J.R. Osborn in
the spring of 2007. Osborn
maintains the website and keeps it updated with future plans and awards. Although he has recently assumed a
faculty position at the American University of Dubai, Dr. Osborn has agreed to
continue his work on the website from that location. The website contains updated Bylaws, information on current
Association officers, and notices on upcoming awards and events, AfAA Section
News columns from Anthropology News,
and news and information submitted by AfAA members.
The website is also supported by the AfAA listserv, which
allows the Board to update the general membership about AfAA events and
activities. In terms of
communication with the central AAA office, most events and announcements have
run smoothly. We did, however,
face the hurdle of a tie-breaking presidential election, which was handled both
by the AAA Section Liaison’s office and through the website. Additionally, our ballot for the 2008
AfAA Board elections was subject to some sort of computer error, in which the
Treasurer running for election was listed as a Secretary. This matter, which was an inadvertent
error on the part of the AAA central office via its new balloting program, was
quickly and efficiently rectified.
AfAA Contributing Editor Jennifer Coffman has submitted
columns each month to Anthropology News
that highlight AfAA events, members’ scholarship, and other relevant
information of interest to our membership and beyond. We have developed a system by which she recruits submissions
and writes the column, circulates the draft through our Board for any
additions, and then officially submits the column to AN Editor, Dinah Winnick.
This practice further demonstrates our Board members’ regular
communications with one another and efforts to share pertinent information in a
timely manner with our membership.
This year, we once again presented the wrist bands reading
“Putting Africa Back on the Map” for sale at the AAA book exhibit location for
Section publicity. Due to a
signage problem, our sales were rather low this year, but they will certainly
increase. We also distributed
wrist bands at the AfAA Reception on a complimentary basis to new members who
attended the reception and the business meetings. We have a surplus of about 100 wrist bands
to recycle again in Philadelphia, but we plan to develop a new promotional
series (book bags, t-shirts, and buttons) for the 2009 meetings. This plan depends upon further Board
consultation and development in order to devise the most effective outreach
Future Plans and Programmatic Suggestions
In addition to the awards discussed at the opening of this
report, the AfAA plans to offer a Distinguished Lifetime Service Award for
which both US scholars and scholars from the African continent will be
eligible. Granting of this award
relies on the Board’s discretion as well as the availability of candidates, and
it will not necessarily be offered annually. Gwendolyn Mikell received the first Distinguished Lifetime
Service Award in 2007. We also
plan to make minor revisions in our book award procedure. AfAA President Bennetta Jules-Rosette
presented two inscribed glass Presidential awards to Board members Nancy P.
Schwartz and J.R. Osborn for their exemplary service to our association. Certificates of outstanding service
were also given to all AfAA Board members. These certificates and awards were given at the discretion
of the AfAA President and are separate from our competitive awards.
At its 2008 Board breakfast, the AfAA Board also established
a new Travel Committee to be chaired by Betty Harris. The Travel Committee will provide stipends for AfAA
members-in-need participating in invited sessions and will make structured
attempts at outreach toward African scholars who are already planning to attend
AAA meetings. These travel
stipends will be reviewed on a request and submission basis only and in no way
entail a formal commitment to bring scholars from Africa or other international
locations on an annual basis due to our budgetary priorities and constraints. Further details on the travel stipends
will be available on the AfAA website during 2009.
In terms of Section size, the AfAA hopes that the Section
Assembly will continue to develop procedures for exemption from the minimum
membership requirement threshold for some of the Sections focusing on area
studies or minority and marginalized populations. This membership threshold exemption may be useful to the
AfAA in the future, although our current numbers are robust.
On balance, the AfAA is healthy and thriving. The current AfAA Board is proactive and
enthusiastic. Our membership is
growing, and our panels are extremely well attended. The book and paper awards have attracted a cross-section of
new faculty, professional, and student members. We have voted to leave our dues configuration ($20 for the
AfAA Section) stable.
President-Elect Maria Cattell will assume her full duties as President
of the AfAA at the end of the Philadelphia meetings in 2009. The AfAA is enthusiastic about its
bright future and the exciting new awards, programs, event plans, and panels
that are already in place for 2009.
As stated above, we are currently one of the larger small Sections of
the AAA, and during the past year, we have come a long way toward attaining our
goals of heightened visibility, communication, outreach, and intellectual