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On Campus

"Revolutions!” Conference Welcomes All

By Sonja Patterson

Public Anthropology Conference 2010

Graphic design by Binnie Katti, an anthropology graduate student.

Here’s a conference seeking more than just discussion—it asks for action. In fact, the Public Anthropology Conference 2010: "Revolutions! Building Emancipatory Politics and Action," plurals “revolutions” to recognize that we may all seek a different revolution, but by working together, we can create change more effectively.

The event runs Saturday and Sunday, from October 16 to 17, all day, at various locations on campus. All interested individuals are invited to attend this free event for discussions and strategizing about how to better organize and collaborate across various sectors and disciplines to create new social justice alliances.

“Our goal has always been to bring people together, both those inside and outside academia, but now, the focus has grown. It’s about reaching out across disciplines, focusing on revolutionary ideas, so people can come in with different goals, but leave empowered by each other,” says Mahri Irvine, a graduate student and one of several organizers.

The Anthropology Department emphasizes an environment at the conference that’s open to all–-even to those who are not familiar with anthropology at all. “We’re interested in reaching across boundaries,” says Irvine, “and out into the public.”

This year marks the seventh annual conference and more than 200 people are expected. “Each year it gets bigger and bigger and the word spreads,” she says.

The conference has hit a chord with the community. Irvine speculates on why this topic is so important now: “Sometimes life seems really depressing because of the political climate and economic turmoil. We want to create a dialogue with the public about these topics. By listening to an individual's story, our research gains deeper significance. Creating a public discourse about political and economic issues is vitally important for social change.”

Irvine notes the buzz and excitement surrounding the two keynote speakers: Archeologist Dean Saitta, who wrote a manifesto of the working class, and anthropologist Susan Hyatt, who participates in the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program. She organizes classes taught in prisons to promote collaboration between inmates and students. “Both speakers represent the diversity of public anthropology,” says Irvine.

Other highlights include a film festival showing various short films that examine everything from the coup in Honduras to Facebook’s impact on modern life; a presentation by grassroots organization Hollaback D.C., which helps women reclaim public streets, combat harassment, and prevent sexual assault; and a workshop by the Mindfulness Center of Bethesda on self-care in stressful times.

Irvine explains the field of public anthropology as “ethically responsible anthropology.” She hopes the conference will help the public understand that anthropologists want to help individuals in the community, while spreading the word on how their research can help them. “We want to work collaboratively with disenfranchised people, understand the challenges of their everyday lives, and work with them to find solutions that they desire.”

In stirring different types of people together, from “the privileged” to “the disadvantaged,” the conference comes closer to representing society as a whole. No matter what your background, Irvine says it promises to be “a great opportunity for networking, building alliances, and reaching out beyond academia to community organizations, public policy experts, and alumni working in the field every day.”

“If people walk out and say, ‘You know, I never thought about that before.’ That is the first step to meaningful societal change,” says Professor William Leap, chair of the Anthropology Department.

Please register online, e-mail for more information, or drop by an event.