2002 PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS BY DAVID A. KIDECKEL, CENTRAL CONNECTICUT STATE UNIVERSITY
My assuming the presidency of SAE continues the break in tradition begun by Sue Parman two years ago. Like Sue, I also have no ethnographic interest or contacts in Greece, or any intellectual heritage linking me with Hellenism, unless you count growing up in Detroit and spending hundreds of hours dancing and eating in wonderful Greektown. Unlike Sue, and virtually all my predecessors in this position, my own perceptions of and practice in Europe are taken from a vantage point exclusively east of the Oder. Not only does this encourage a slightly different sense about the study of Europe from anthropological perspective, but also shapes a modified notion for our own organization, its projects and possibilities. So considering SAE’s future from an East European vantage point and in the context of a changing Europe and a changing AAA, we need to ask, paraphrasing Lenin (that’s Vladimir, not John), “what is to be done?”
Now, much of my charge is essentially the same as that accepted by those preceding me as SAE president. From Susan Rogers to Susan Parman, I follow a long line of individuals, committed to service and to strengthening the position of Europe in the discipline and the association and, through a strong and active organization, to facilitate the professional growth and possibilities for each of us, individually and collectively. I believe we owe a debt of gratitude for the effective leadership we have enjoyed as an association and ask you to join with me in thanking our past presidents and board members, and Sue Parman particularly, for their service over the last years.
When Sue gave her presidential address two years ago she focused optimistically on the changing nature of Europe as a site of anthropological understanding and practice. She spoke of a new Europe characterized by a riot of world peoples entering, enriching, and sometimes perplexing the sub-continent. These included, inter alia, Kurdish refugees, Moslem students from the Middle East, Vietnamese, West Indian, and North African laborers, Chinese traders, and even captive prostitutes from throughout the world. What an anthropological laboratory of globalization Europe was set to be. Europe was a place where, as Arjun Appadurai (1996) sees it, the imagination of the global future was especially vivid and possible. In Ulf Hannerz’s terms Europe had truly become the crossroads of the “Global Ecumene (1996).” As Sue implied in her address two years ago, our anthropological sensitivities needed to be turned to mastering a global Europe.
Well, I am here to report the very self-evident news that Europe, post-September 11th, has been turned on its head, as have we all. In response to 9-11 and to the economic dislocations of the last years, our shared region of interest has embarked on a serious effort to strengthen its external boundaries and cleanse its internal populations (fortunately in relatively, though not totally, non-violent fashion), even as the project of unification via the European Union goes forward at a certain pace.
Like the twin towers themselves, the fruits of globalization in Europe lay devastated in the wake of 9-11, an event that particularly hastened European perceptions of the threat of international migration. Europe’s fear of American power and designs has also been stoked, despite cooperation in investigating terror and in the war in Afghanistan. This is legitimated, unfortunately, by American unilateralism on issues as diverse as the Kyoto environment treaty, steel tariffs, and talk of an invasion of Iraq. European suspicion of America is perhaps best, if not ludicrously, illustrated by the recent French best-seller, L’Effroyable Imposture,” or “The Horrifying Fraud,” by Thierry Meyssan. He claims September 11 a plot perpetrated by elements in the United States seeking justification to expand American military power and secure greater control over Mid-East oil by provoking war against Iraq. Hmmm. I guess current events demand we take European incredulity into some consideration.
In any case, post 9-11, the Europe we see is one increasingly polarized by changes of the past years and, most contradictorily, by the same process of unification designed to meld and blend the edges of European differences. Even before 9-11 Doug Holmes (2000) identified this new integralism, relating it to the “Fast Capitalism” set in motion by unification and vast demographic change. In this new “integralism” nationalist advances, be they the hard edge of Jean Marie LePen or Joerg Haider (though both recently suffered set-backs in their political careers) or the softer variety of the assassinated Pim Fortuyn, are evident throughout the continent. Meanwhile, in the eastern reaches of the region, the area I know best, nations curry favor with international financial institutions and compete with each other for entry into the EU by unemploying redundant labor and closing ailing industries, while legions of hard-pressed peasants and workers flirt with extreme populists like Self-Defense leader, Andrzej Lepper, in Poland or virulent nationalists like former Ceauşescu court poet, Corneliu Vadim Tudor and his Greater Romania Party.
Yet, from a scholarly distance, and bearing in mind my East European vantage point, the glass of European social change is really more than half full. Recent transformations of European social, political, and cultural processes makes for an exciting, enriching prospect for social science and, above all, for anthropology. The meaningfulness of uncertainty and reaction and the continuing process of European unification and globalized change implicate work in all the sub-disciplines.
It might be trite to say, but anthropology is especially well-suited to challenge the assertions of new/old Archaeology, Linguistics and Biological anthropologies that again are put in service to nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, and exclusivist ideologies of every stripe. Socio-cultural and Applied anthropology, in the meantime, provide us with tools to deconstruct and reconstruct, if only theoretically, social systems in formation. And in this we are united with our European colleagues, as Johannes Fabian’s lecture will no doubt highlight tomorrow evening.
True, American and European varieties of Europeanist anthropology occasionally diverge in ethnographic practice, theoretical purpose, and long-term personal commitments, as Tamás Hofer (1968) pointed out in his seminal Current Anthropology article some 34 years hence. However, the goal of an informed and critical anthropology remains everywhere the same; laying bare the mystifications of power, intensifying and deepening the understanding of diverse lifeways, and above all pushing the envelope of human possibility.
Now, all these goals and their related practices can be galvanized and facilitated within the structures of our Society that, I believe, holds a commanding position in the AAA for the intellectual currency our members have brought to critical debates within the discipline. The acuity of the program we offer year in and year out especially livens the annual meetings (as if New Orleans wasn’t enough this year).
My assuming the presidency of SAE comes, I think, at a significant time for the Society. This is not claim to some kind of divine purpose but rather just an accident of history. I guess I’m the first individual to assume the SAE presidency, coming from a background in Stalinist politics. Don’t worry. I’m not intending to import the personality cult into SAE business and board meetings. Still, having worked for most of my professional career in a centralized socialist system, one gains an appreciation for the input of many voices and diverse opinions that such systems lacked and conversely the energy and focus that centralization implied when faced with questions of, say, national development.
Thus, my vision for the next two years is both conservative and activist, inclusive and narrowly focused. SAE sponsors a great number of highly regarded activities, such as our journal under Kelli Kosta’s editorship, and the vigorous H-SAE discussion list that Tony Galt has organized and moderated over these last years. Those activities will continue to have pride of place in our agenda. At the same time, there are a number of organizational initiatives that I hope to move forward during my tenure.
Continued and expanding cooperation with Europeanist anthropologists in EASA and other organizations has always been a stated goal of SAE and this year we have a session that brings together both European and American anthropologists to consider the nature of European boundaries, so intensively challenged in the post 9-11 period. I believe that in this post 9-11 and pre-Gulf War II environment, cooperation between European and American anthropologists is not only more essential, but will also be more problematic. I would consequently encourage each of you to reach out to European colleagues, either individually or using SAE’s good offices, to find new avenues of cooperation and collaboration. Beyond this, the SAE, in coordination with the AAA initiative, needs to more effectively support applied work and policy research, especially given the profound uncertainties of the contemporary European (and American) social environment. Certainly the application of anthropological concepts in contemporary Europe carries with it its own problematic. To paraphrase Marx (that’s Groucho, not Karl) “Politics (or policy) is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies.” Even so, there is a need for us to keep looking for trouble and successful models as well. To that end over the next two years I fervently hope that SAE will encourage and organize a range of policy-related debates and discussions in whatever venue we can, whether at next year’s Annual meeting, in the journal, newsletter, or even in small conferences at diverse universities.
Furthermore, despite the intellectual acuity of Europe in anthropological thought, the position of Europe and Europeanists in university departments remains uncertain. Because of that I would hope to reissue an updated Guide to Europeanist Anthropologists as well as organize a survey of university departments to better gauge the position of Europe in the structure of the American anthropological academy. This will both reinforce Europe as a subject of essential anthropological inquiry as well as to obtain a better picture of where we stand and of directions we ought to move over the short and longer term.
In closing, let me reinforce my East Europeanist background and leave you with some words from the Internationale, the hymn of the socialist movement, though paraphrased for our organization and time:
Arise ye Anthros from your slumbers/ Arise ye Ethnographers of Want.
For Reason in Revolt now thunders/ Though submerged within this age of cant.
Now away with all your superstitions/ Of post-modernity and ethnic lies
We’ll change forthwith the old conditions/ And spurn the dust to win the prize.
The message my friends and colleagues: there is danger afoot, but opportunity aplenty, so get involved and stay involved.
Appadurai, Arjun 1996 Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis, Minn: University of Minnesota Press.
Hannerz, Ulf 1996 Transnational Connections: Culture, People, Places. London: Routledge.
Hofer, Tamás 1968 Comparative Notes on the Professional Personalities of Two Disciplines: Anthropologists and Native Ethnographers in
Central European Villages. Current Anthropology 9(4):311-15.
Holmes, Douglas R. 2000, Integral Europe: Fast Capitalism, Multiculturalism, Neo-fascism. Princeton U. Press
Lenin, V. I. 1968 (1902) What is to be Done. Collected Works of V.I. Lenin. Moscow: Progress.
Meyssan, Thierry 2002 L’Effroyable Imposture. Paris: Editions Carnot.