Ignored: past participle, past tense of ig·nore (Verb) Refuse to take notice of or acknowledge
In a recent comment on a Savage Minds post by Chris Kelty, I asserted that there is a disconnect within the American Anthropological Association (AAA) in that the organization often (and I think sincerely) calls upon the membership at-large to collectively fact-find, discuss, weigh, evaluate, and solve big questions that are before the Association but then does little to actually attend to the efforts or inputs that follow from such promptings. I think that I am obligated to make clear why I think this.
Weblogs (blogs) provide a distinctive domain for collective discussion, one that some people appreciate, others do not appreciate, and others still do not know much about. While I think that a noteworthy amount of useful conversation about AAA governance, policy formulation, and problem solving has unfolded on various weblogs without prompting any signs of engagement by AAA leaders, it is probably not fair to assume that this audience knows about and is comfortable operating within this venue. While it is strange, I am not going to hold up the ignoring of weblog discussions as evidence for my point. (Such evidence is particularly easy to amass if anyone wanted to catalog it.)
Here are a three large scale interventions that have provoked remarkable silence. I offer them as illustration for my contention. None are blog based.
Kelty et al.’s “Anthropology of/in Circulation: The Future of Open Access and Scholarly Societies” appeared in the pages of one of the society’s most prestigious journals–Cultural Anthropology–and was intended to be a direct and useful contribution to a discussion of vital importance within the association. While it prompted significant discussion outside of the AAA, this article-length work precipitated, to my knowledge as a co-author, no rebuttal, no acknowledgment, no nothing in a AAA context. Being disagreed with completely and fully would have been a meaningful experience. Going unnoticed or being ignored is dumbfounding, especially when we describe our association’s journals as the key means by which we communicate with one another as professionals about those matters that are of shared professional interest.
As the person who was then editor of Museum Anthropology (another AAA journal), I played (with a sense of deep sadness) a key role in one of the most dramatic and durably transformative moments in the history of scientific/scholarly communication in anthropology. It was time consuming and really terrible and terrifying but I tried to do it in a way that would be therapeutic, as well as fair to all involved. In publishing our field’s first Expression of Concern (and not a temporary one but a eternal one), I pleaded in the pages of the journal that the CSC (now ACC) would take this moment seriously and reflect on where we were and where we were headed. If the matter has been given even a moment of consideration, this would be a relief and would come as news to me.
In an email, I recently asked Kim Fortun (outgoing co-editor of Cultural Anthropology) if anyone had addressed her thoughtful memo (available here, see discussion here) to CFPEP. She reported that she had received no reply at all, but that the Section Assembly-based committee (or task force) of which she is now a part had been asked by CFPEP to create a new memo that integrated her memo with the six or so other memos compiled by other committee members on behalf of their constituencies. I wonder how this would even be done? If we imagine a brief memo from one member who is reporting that her/his section and colleague-friends are all really happy with the new revenues that our association publishing program is generating for sections, does that just negate Kim’s hard work bringing attention to voices that express concern rather than happiness? Why wouldn’t someone involved in vital decision making not want to read and at least acknowledge and think about the memo that Kim wrote? It sure looks and feels like Kim is being ignored. As co-editor of Cultural Anthropology, she (and her co-editor Mike Fortun) worked as hard as one can work to advance the cause of this AAA journal and the association as a whole. Along the way, she gained important insights that make her a better, and more useful, member of the association. Is there any sense in alienating her and driving her out of involvement in the association by not acknowledging, let alone reading, a report that she clearly invested hours and hours in compiling for the sake of the association? Because she took her job seriously and polled a wide circle of colleagues, the matter is even more grave. This (risk of alienation) does not make sense, even if substantive analysis were to show that every concern raised by Kim and the many people that she consulted with were unequivocally unfounded.
This dynamic has already harmed the AAA. As a final piece of evidence, I propose the following test based on the specific case that I have followed most closely–the scholarly communications/publishing program. Find the early programmatic (and inspirational) documents about AnthroSource in Anthropology News and elsewhere. Make a list of people involved in the early days, then search for them now. How many are still involved in AAA scholarly communications policy? Are they still talking publicly about AAA scholarly communications policy or have they moved on to other pastures?
I deeply appreciate all the good work that the AAA does to support me today and all that it has done for me in the past (meetings, news of the field, advocacy, employment listings, etc.). It is an important organization to which I have tried to contribute meaningfully. It is this durable sense of investment, appreciation, and concern that prompts my observation. When other commentators take an increasingly sarcastic, impatient, and confrontational tone in their one-sided dialogues on AAA policy, I understand this (and they may understand it differently) as a common human response to the perception of being ignored. The frustration of being un-acknowledged is amplified with each new call for feedback, input, and involvement.
Coda: While I purposefully did not discuss this dynamic as it relates to weblog discussion, I think that it is fair to say that when the AAA staff posts an item on its own blog for the overt purpose of promoting discussion, that item and the discussion that it generates should be entered into the official record of the society’s business and should attended to in the same way that a official letter, memo, or other communication ideally should. The headnote for William Davis’ August 31, 2010 post to the AAA weblog says: “If you have any comments, you are welcome to post them below.” What is the status of these comments? Who might be expected to read them? Will they serve any purpose? It is a very rare blog that actually attracts comments from readers. This does not mean that it is unread or unappreciated. (I appreciate the AAA blog and am grateful for its introduction.) Blogs that do attract (sensible) comments are ones managed by people trying to cultivate discussion. This is very, very hard work and I do not expect anyone to invest that kind of labor in the AAA weblog, but when a call for comments actually generates them, there should be some signal as to what the nature of the transaction is. One minimal way in which this can be achieved is by someone (the chair of a relevant committee, for instance) joining the conversation at least to say “thanks all for your comments, I will make sure that they get shared with the other members of the [relevant] committee.” Scan the AAA blog looking for posts with more than one comment. They are few and far between, thus the response to William Davis’ August 31, 2010 post is noteworthy. Did that exchange increase or decrease alienation among those who participated as commentators or readers? If, in such episodes, facilitating more discussion is going to generate more alienation, it is not a good path to take. It would be better to turn the comments function off (both literally and figuratively) and to ask for input less rather than more often.