Our Approach to Anthropology

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 new Journals like HAU, or contributors to the Insurgent Encounters, Constituent Imagination, and Team Colors book projects, we are interested in ethnographic theory, and share the ambition to rekindle the theoretical potential of (activist) ethnography. As activist anthropologists, we are interested less in the "ruthless criticism of all that exists" and more in "prefigurative" theory. 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.

Distinctive Approach to Methodology

In our graduate program we give special attention to research and to what we call activist ethnography. Our signature approach to methodology rests on investigation of different research models and strategies associated with activist anthropology. We emphasize co-research and direct action, horizontality and self-activity, seen as a essential ingredients of collaborative knowledge production. Activist ethnography, our distinct approach to ethnography, attempts to combine research interest in drifts, militant research, co-research, workers inquiry, insurgent investigation, and guerrilla 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 ethnography.

Participatory Approach to Learning

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.

Convivial Approach to Communication Knowledge

We offer several forms of convivia, or convivial spaces of knowledge communication:

  • Emergency Library: a space that affirms the original meaning of the library as a communal institution: it is a convivial space of exchange of books, poetry, and ideas. In this convivia, we exchange ideas, skills, and organizing knowledge with the communities outside the Institute. We are scholars on call, responding to the emergent needs of the communities in struggle, who might be in need of legal advice, activist companionship, scholarly input, or a media suggestion. We bring this information not as impositions but as gifts, in the spirit of exchange and mutual aid, learning from the communities in the process.
  • Political Laboratory: held once each semester as a weekend-long convivial encounter of local or international scholars working on a particular project, students, and selected participants from the local community. Together they think collectively about a particular idea, book, concept, or project.
  • Atelier of Insurrectionary Imagination: a space of occasional magic, where artistic production is combined with political imagination, and subversive creativity. Here, artists inspire students and members of the community to dream collectively and explore the unsettling alchemy of art and social justice.
  • Autonomous Classroom: an experimental class created convivially by MA and PhD students, a class where the world is turned upside down, students become teachers, teachers become students, and all graduate students autonomously design a class that they teach and self-manage over the course of one semester.
  • Guerrilla Workshop: an improvised event-space where students, faculty, or students and faculty, present on their current work. This includes papers to be presented at various conferences, report backs from academic or activist events, and dialogues relevant to anthropology, social justice, and critical theory.
  • Dialogues and Interrogations: Instead of interrogating people, in this public convivia, coordinated by Sasha Lilley, we interrogate ideas. This takes form of a bi-monthly conversation between activist journalists and prominent organizers and activist intellectuals.
  • Nomadic Cafe: where we have nomadic discussions on spaces, places, and non-spaces.
  • Insight/Incite: our participatory cinema monthly event, in collaboration with Shaping San Francisco and New Nothing Cinema.

Events, Workshops, Research Working Groups, and Visiting Scholar

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, Gustavo Esteva, 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 gave a lecture, 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 first visiting activist scholar was John Holloway. Our second visiting scholar is Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui. We co-sponsor events such as American Indian Movement West conference, The Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival, 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.

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