Call for Papers: Museum Anthropology in the Age of Engagement, Panel at the 2017 American Anthropological Association

A couple of decades ago museum anthropologist Michael Ames declared that the museum profession and anthropology were in “jeopardy,” and needed to be “reformed” if they were going to play any “useful roles in society.” Smithsonian anthropologist Richard Kurin also denounced anthropology and museums’ poor track in being socially relevant and publically engaged. Much has changed since Ames and Kurin made their justifiable critiques, but much reform also remains necessary. This panel considers change in museum anthropology from a historical and disciplinary perspective. Particularly significant is how barriers that have historically divided museum anthropology from other anthropological sub-fields are collapsing around the common cause of engagement. The age of engagement is understood not as a determined time with a beginning and end, but rather, moments when “complex interrelations between movements and tendencies” concerning issues of social relevancy and serving a public good have been “dominant, residual, and emergent” (Williams 1977). Panelists explore this history through discussion of a range of moments and case studies while critically reflecting on the many forms engagement can take and the meanings it can be assigned as a concept, an ethical and moral stance, research strategy, and approach to practice. Among the many questions raised by panelists are: How can we address the tensions between engagement as a tool of neoliberalism as well as progressive social change? How is museum anthropology particularly well-positioned to play “useful roles in society”?

Interested? Email Christina Kreps at