Sustaining and Stimulating Europeanist Anthropology by Jessica Robbins and Elizabeth L. Krause

Austerity. Refugees. Brexit. Far-right nationalism. Europe is in the headlines regularly these days, and the Society for the Anthropology of Europe (SAE) endeavors to understand and contextualize these phenomena. Through our annual book and paper prizes, pre-dissertation fellowship, and programming at the AAA Annual Meeting, SAE provides an intellectual home for anthropologists who study issues in Europe.

Many of our section activities relate to the challenges of the contemporary political moment, in which inequality, power, identity, and forms of exclusion are reshaping individual lives, social relations, and broader polities. Such issues also transform anthropological research agendas, methods, and commitments.

Recent winners of the William A. Douglass Prize reflect the vibrancy of anthropologists working across regional and thematic contexts. The society awarded the 2015 prize to Lilith Mahmud for The Brotherhood of Freemason Sisters: Gender, Secrecy and Fraternity in Italian Masonic Lodges  (2014). The book critically investigates the limits of Enlightenment values such as fraternity and equality. Mahmud’s nuanced engagement with anti-feminists provides a model for anthropologists wanting to study “others” with politics that are different from their own. In 2016, the prize went to Maple Razsa for Bastards of Utopia: Living Radical Politics after Socialism (2015), an intimate account of radical activists in the alter-globalization movement. His multimedia approach offers innovations in visual anthropology as method and analysis. The work serves as a remarkable example of the power of ethnography to illuminate and critically contemplate new possible ways of being in the world and even new possible worlds.

Razsa, Krause, and Mahmoud
Douglass Prize winners Maple Razsa (left) and Lilith Mahmud (right) with SAE President Betsy Krause after the invited session “Prize-Winning Ethnography as Evidence of New Directions in Europeanist Anthropology,” at the 115th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Minneapolis, November 17, 2016. (Photo by E. Krause).

Beyond acknowledging outstanding books, the prize serves to stimulate dialogue and reflection. For the past several years, the president-elect, as the lead juror of the selection committee, has organized sessions to explore new directions in Europeanist anthropology. This year’s prize stimulated a panel submission on “Prize-Winning Ethnography and the ‘Bastards’ of Social Movements.”

In numerous ways, SAE fosters forms of dialogue that sustain the exploration of contemporary complexities. During our “Café Europa” event at the AAA Annual Meeting, anthropologists of Europe gather over food and drink to share ideas on topics such as the rise of the far right, the anthropological imagination, and mobility and infrastructure. This Europeanist evening creates a space for networking in a convivial, supportive, and energizing atmosphere that stands out at a conference that can feel overwhelming.

The evening culminates each year with the William A. Douglass Distinguished Lecture. The 2016 event featured Verena Stolcke (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona). Her talk, “Walls in a Globalized World: Nationalities, ‘Blood’ and Sex in Contemporary Europe,” presented wide-ranging historical roots of belonging and exclusion.

A changing Europe was also the focus of recent SAE columns for AN by Elżbieta Goździak (Georgetown University) and Andrea Muehlebach (University of Toronto), both of whom explore the rise of anti-refugee sentiments in Europe at scales both individual and broad, that nevertheless exist alongside moments of openness, potential, and solidarity.

SAE extends its commitments to supporting students and junior scholars through a mentoring roundtable focused on professional development, as well as our annual graduate student paper prize and pre-dissertation fellowship, which is awarded in conjunction with the Council for European Studies. SAE provides intellectual and professional support and community for anthropologists of Europe across their career trajectories. Please see our website for more information and join us!

Elizabeth L. Krause is professor of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and SAE president from 2016 to 2018.

Naor Ben-Yehoyada (Columbia University, [email protected]) and Jessica Robbins (Wayne State University, [email protected]) are contributing editors for the Society for the Anthropology of Europe.

Originally published as Krause, Elizabeth L. 2017. “Sustaining and Stimulating Europeanist Anthropology.” Anthropology News website, August 4, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.556

© 2018 American Anthropological Association