The Society for Latin American Anthropology

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The Society for Latin American Anthropology

Changes in the SLAA's definition of "Latin America" have gone hand in hand with changes in the intellectual, social and political goals of the Society. As then president Michael Kearney wrote in an open letter to the membership published in the Society's April 1997 column in the Anthropology Newsletter:" (Until recently the society's membership) was centered in North America while its objects of study were primarily to the South of the United States. The prevalent pattern in the production and consumption of knowledge by North American anthropologists was one in which "we" used to "go down to" Latin America to study the "Latin Americans", and then publish most of our work in English...In recent years, in dialogue with the membership, the Board has sought to redefine "Latin America" as an object of anthropological inquiry from a region defined in geopolitical terms to a sociocultural definition based on the de facto presence of Latinos." The term "Latin America" has been expanded to include the Anglophone, and Francophone Caribbean and Diasporic Latino communities. This push towards a more inclusive anthropology evident in their definition of "Latin America" is reflected in the Society's current goals and programs.

Creating a truly international community of scholars of Latin America is the most important goal of the Society. Current president Joanne Rappaport in a statement published on the SLAA webpage writes, reaffirming Michael Kearney's vision, that the mission of the Society is to create "a space for dialogue across boundaries, particularly national and ethnic ones, in an effort to view Latin America, not as a geopolitical reality upon which we as North Americans have an "impact", but as a place from which to speak, write, and to theorize."

The most important step in this mission to promote a dialogue between the different national Latin American anthropological traditions that constitute the field has been the creation of the Journal of Latin American Anthropology (JLAA). The Journal started in 1995 under the editorship of Wendy Weiss seeks to publish articles on anthropological research in Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean and the Latin Diaspora. So far, issues have been devoted to the state of current Latin American anthropology, the concept of Mestizaje, and the Zapatista movement for indigenous autonomy in Mexico. Articles have been published in both Spanish and English.

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In publishing articles by leading Latin American scholars such as Nestor Garcia Canclini (JLAA volume1 number 1) alongside North American scholars the Journal has exposed the work of Latin American scholars to wider audiences. President Joanne Rappaport's statement that the Journal has created "linkages not only between the U.S. and Latin America, but across Latin American countries as well" reflects the sentiments of other members (Royce 1999).

The Society has also tried to make the sessions and meetings they organize, their other major activity besides publishing, more inclusive. They have done this in two ways. The first is the creation of a travel fund to help bring Latin American scholars to SLAA meetings in the United States. The SLAA currently offers travel stipends of $750 to Latin American colleagues. The second way is through their Conversations series held at the annual AAA meetings. This series has made the SLAA sessions more reflective of their field's diversity. The series was inaugurated in 1996 by Nestor Garcia Canclini. His presentation (in Spanish) was attended by at least 300 people. Subsequent Conversations have featured Alcida Rita Ramos of the Universidade de Brasilia (1997) and Jalil Sued-Badillo of the Universidad de Puerto Rico (1998).

The SLAA has also made an effort to include scholars from Latin American universities on it's board of directors. The Society currently has one Latin American board member from the Universidad Nacional de Columbia; Marta Zambrano. Membership of Latin American scholars on the board of directors is seen as one of the keys to the success of the Society's outreach efforts.

Another aspect of the SLAA's commitment to diversity is its efforts to foster dialogues with other anthropological subdisciplines. The SLAA has traditionally been and continues to be composed of a majority of sociocultural anthropologists. The Society has been making efforts to reach out to bio-anthropologists and archaeologists. Joanne Rappaport has proposed a special issue on the politics of archaeology in Latin America and, last year the Society tried to organize a session on the role of forensic anthropology in human rights monitoring in South America.

While this session unfortunately fell through, it shows the diverse means the Society uses to tackle its other major issue: human rights and justice in Latin America. A major concern of the Society since it's inception, members continue to mobilize around human rights issues. As stated in their bylaws, the society uses it's authority to try and bring about positive change in the world. This dedication of the members is illustrated in the Society's monthly column in the Anthropology Newsletter. Many months the majority, if not the entirety, of the column is devoted to letters and articles keeping members abreast of current issues. Letter writing and faxing campaigns are some of the ways, beside their regular academic and more general publications, that the SLAA members try to combat human rights violations and change policy. The SLAA has sent letters of protest to the presidents of the United States, Mexico and Guatemala.

This concern for human rights has lead members to discuss the political and social impact of academic anthropological writing. Recent debates have centered on anthropologist David Stoll's historical revision of the life of Rigoberta Menchu.

In closing I would like to say that I encourage anyone whose curiosity has been piqued by this brief synopsis of the SLAA to consult the Journal of Latin American Anthropology and the Society's webpage. I would like to thank the following members of the society for their time and help; Linda Belote, Jeffrey Ehrenreich, Joanne Rappaport, Anya Peterson Royce, and Wendy Weiss.


Works cited

Kearney, Michael. April 1997. "From SLAA President Micheal Kearney."
Anthropology Newsletter. 38(4):53.

Royce, Anya Peterson. March 1999. Personal Communication.


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