Our Approach to Anthropology
Engagement with Activist Research
Anthropology and Social Change program is best described as activist research of concrete utopias. We believe that good anthropology begins and ends in the field. Anthropology and Social Change is a part of the broader movement that seeks to return ethnography to the forefront of anthropology. Together with contributors to the Insurgent Encounters, Constituent Imagination, and Engaging Contradictions book projects, we are interested in the theoretical potential of activist ethnography. We are particulary interested in activist research of real or concrete utopias, possible alternatives to the capitalist-colonial world we live in. Both as scholars and activists, we are interested less in the "ruthless criticism of all that exists" and more in "prefigurative" theory that embodies, in its very organization, the kind of scholarship we advocate. Going back to the critical concepts we bring from the field, and returning those concepts back to the people we do research with, in a manner of gift, is what makes us both activists and anthropologists.
In our graduate program we give special attention to research and to what we call activist research. Our signature approach to methodology rests on investigation of different research models and strategies associated with activist or militant research. We emphasize co-research and direct action, horizontality and self-activity, seen as essential ingredients of collaborative knowledge production. Activist research, our distinct approach to investigation, attempts to combine research interest in militant ethnography, drift, mapping, co-research, workers inquiry, and radical oral history with collaborative and engaged participant observation. In this experimental play with different forms of politically engaged collaborative research, we strive to construct a distinct model of activist research. The second element of our approach is our active interest in other ways of organizing society and life, in alternative but real and concrete utopias.
The graduate program in Anthropology and Social Change brings together scholars and activists engaged not in teaching but in co-learning. Our approach to co-learning is inspired by a long and beautiful history of education developed in popular universities, modern schools, universities of earth and without walls, and free schools. We find ourselves in the tradition and legacy of educators such as Leon Tolstoy, Paul Robin, Francisco Ferrer, Emma Goldman, Alexander Niell, Ivan Ilich, Paul Goodman, Angela Davis, Bell Hooks, and Paulo Freire. We are excited to learn from past educational experiences in the Bay Area: Black Panther community schools, San Francisco Liberation School, New College of California, and Berkeley Free School -- these are only some of the exciting traditions that inspire our educational vision. We conceive of the classroom as a convivial space of facilitation and consultation, of interactive and horizontal processes of knowledge exchange and production.
We offer several forms of convivia, or convivial spaces of knowledge communication:
The program regularly hosts lectures, conferences, and workshops on variety of social justice issues that bring together scholars, activists and artists, both local and international. A one-day political laboratory on Radical Pasts, Radical Futures combined the intellectual and political experience of social movement theorists and activists Selma James, Peter Linenbaugh, Andayie, George Katziaficas, Ruth Reitan, and Scott Crow.
Aymara feminist from Bolivia, Julieta Paredes, gave a workshop presentation of "feminismo communitario." Against the Grain producer Sasha Lilley interviewed Iain Boal on his book on communes in Northern California. Silvia Federici and Selma James gave lectures, and organized a political laboratory, around the issue of Reproductive Labor and the Commons. Anarchist anthropologist David Graeber gave a key-note lecture on the first 5000 years of debt. Arturo Escobar presented on anthropology and post-capitalism.
Our visiting activist scholars include John Holloway, Jason W. Moore, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, David Graeber, Silvia Federici, Arturo Escobar, Adrienne Pine, and Havin Guneser. We co-sponsor events such as American Indian Movement West conferences, Howard Zinn Bookfair, The Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival, World-Ecology Research Network Annual Conferences, Anarchist Studies Conferences, Revolutionary Organizing Against Racism Conference, and the Institute for Social Ecology summer school. The Anthropology and Social Change Program now has its own book imprint-- Kairos-- with the PM Press publishers.