Anthropology Day 2019, a collaboration with the Research Center for Material Culture, was about FUTURES, focusing on the anthropology of the future and the future of anthropology. What futures do anthropologists imagine and strive for? What are the implicit and explicit agendas and ambitions for the future in the work of anthropologists (e.g., decolonization, sustainability, equality)? Which alliances do we forge in the process of making desired futures real? What is the future of anthropology?

The next issue of Anthropological Journal Etnofoor is inspired by this theme and will be about a wide range of questions concerning the future. Ruben Reus was inspired too…

Anthropology’s D-day and the contested future of the Dutch Anthropological Association

Auteur: Ruben Reus

There I was, sitting in the second row of a generously filled room in the National Museum of Ethnology. Anthropology Day. A day late, perhaps, but D-day nonetheless. For I was here to fight (for) anthropology. Fight (for) its institutions, (for) its knowledge production, (for) its relation vis-à-vis society. I was here to fight for a better future. 

A few days before, a friend told me about how each time she talks to people about genderqueerness, the conversation almost instantly becomes a pandemonium of personal experiences and opinions. We never got to musing about why this happens, beyond the simple statement that genderqueerness is, for most people, an awkward topic. Still, if that simple statement held any value, we’d be in for a treat the 7th of June. 

Halfway through the panel “Contested Histories and the Future of Anthropology”, I realized that the last thing I wrote about was a remark from at least ten minutes ago. As if I had been standing, shell shocked, on the shores of Normandy. 

Whom does anthropology serve?
What are we doing if not extracting knowledge from some constructed ‘other’, using it for our own benefit?
Is it because we think we are emancipated that we keep making the same mistakes? 

Critiques from the panel members are flying past me like bullets out of a machine gun; exploding behind me like mortar shells. 

Why should it be anthropology’s duty to decolonize anything, or everything?
Is it even possible to conduct research as a white anthropologist?
Who is there left to study if we can’t study the ‘other’? Myself?
I think we are not taking into account the structural powers shaping the discipline, and our work!
I think at least our methods have some value!
I want to hear something positive!     

Cries for help from desperate members of the audience were followed by orders from those who still had some fight left in them. The hopeful and the resigned united in a desperate attempt to save…

Save what, actually? What is this beast with its ever further reaching tentacles, born from and fed by the fires of colonialism, entangling all of us in a myriad of uncomfortable truths, stark contradictions and inexcusable blind spots? When you’re being attacked, you defend yourself. But what if your opponent seems to be coming from all sides? If the future, present and past of anthropology are being contested, how do we defend it? How do we secure any viable existence of the discipline at all?

This is a question we can all grapple with for the rest of our very short lives, and obviously I encourage everyone to do so. But as a board member of the Dutch Anthropological Association I’m particularly interested in the roles we as an organization can play. What should our relation with, for example, universities or the media be like? Should we reconsider the way we organize our events? Do we have a political role to play? What specific value do we possibly have for students or anthropologists outside academia? And what about the people(s) we study? I hope that you, dear reader, accept my invitation and share your thoughts on how we as an organization can start shaping our future differently.


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