AA at the AAA

Tom Riley (triley@VMD.CSO.UIUC.EDU)
Thu, 22 Dec 1994 10:56:30 +0000

At the suggestion of some of those on the list, I am enclosing a version of
some of the events at the AAA meetings in Atlanta surrounding the issue of
the editorial directions that the AA has taken. I have tried not to
politicize our position too much and to stick with the actions that some of
us took to try to put pressure on the editors to broaden their vision of
the journal. Below is my version of events:

The AAA convention in Atlanta presented an opportunity for those of us who
have been upset with the editorial directions of the American
Anthropologist to present our problems with the editorial vision of the
journal, to determine our general areas of disagreement with the journal's
direction under the new editors, and to lobby the officers of various
committees and units of the AAA in regard to our objections to the
journal's direction.

Three major units of the AAA get the journal as part of their membership.
The General Anthropology Division is one of these, while the Archaeology
Division and the Biological Anthropology Division are the others. The
journal is supposed to represent General Anthropology in the broadest sense
of the term, including Biological Anthropology and Archaeology, both in the
breadth of articles that are considered by the Journal and its editors, and
in the interests that are represented in its publication.

Since the General Anthropology Division's Executive Committee met at 12:30
on Thursday, Dec. 1, a number of us who had expressed our disappointment
with the vision of the AA were able to meet with the Directors, and to
present the cause of our upset as well as action that we felt would serve
to put pressure on the AAA to change what we feel is a serious narrowing of
the mission of AA.

>From the perspective of those of us who were at the meeting with the GAD
Executive Committee, there had been a serious lack of consideration of
anthropological research and scholarship that presented the results of
empirically grounded research in the first issue of the journal. The
second complaint was that neither biological anthropology nor archaeology
were represented in the first issue of the journal under the new
editorship. The one piece that purported to be biological anthropology
asked the question why there were so many women primatologists, while the
pieces that purported to represent archaeology dealt with epistemology, and
modern political systems. At the same time, the summary of the December
issue, presented in the November Anthropology Newsletter that we received
shortly before the meetings, suggested that there would be a similar lack
of empirically based research in that issue as well. As an aside here, and
to be fair to the editors as well as to those who had published in the
first issue of the AA, a number of those critical of the editors had
enjoyed one or more of the articles that the editors had chosen to publish
in the journal.

Under the leadership of Brent Berlin, Marvin Harris and Kim Romney, we
presented a request to the GAD Executive Committee that they put pressure
on the AAA Executive Committee to change the editorial direction of AA back
to a balance of articles, including those that presented the results of
empirically based research and scholarship in the human sciences. We
requested them to ask for a change of bylaws in the GAD to unlink
membership in that Section of the AAA from automatic subscription to the
AA. This would have required a vote of the membership and would have shown
whether or not the change in editorial direction of AA was popular among
the membership.

After we had made our presentation and left, the GAD Executive Committee
voted not to consider our motion to unlink GAD membership from an AA
subscription, but did agree to ask the AAA Executive Committee and
President to consult with the editors about the direction that the journal
would take in the future.

That evening during New Business at the annual business meeting of the AAA,
Brent Berlin asked for the rules to be suspended to offer a motion urging
the AAA Executive Committee to take all action to ensure that strict peer
review was enforced at the AA, and to ensure that the results of empirical
research in the human sciences regained a place in the journal.

The motion was preceded by a preamble that pointed out that the
signatories, who included Harris, Romney, Riley, Nancie Gonzalez and Brent
Berlin believed the results of empirically based research in the human
sciences had been systematically excluded from consideration at AA. After
vigorous debate, the gist of which would, I am certain, be interpreted
differently by different readers, the motion was defeated 112 to 86.

President Peacock assured those present that the gist of the motion had
already been acted on by the AAA Executive Committee, who had been in
discussions with the editors during that day. The discussions, we were
assured, would continue, and he anticipated a productive direction for the
journal. He has since indicated the same thing to me in writing.

I had been scheduled to present a petition similar to that which had been
presented to GAD at the Archaeology Division Meetings on Dec. 2, but on
assurances that the directions of the AA would be taken up at the
Archaeology Division Executive Committee Meetings in light of the previous
night's Business meeting of the AAA, I withdrew so that their discussions
could be held without prejudice. The results of those discussions are
unknown to me or to the other signatories of the motion of the night

Thomas J. Riley

Thomas J. Riley
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign