Over the last month, we have been reminded that no anthropology of work worthy of the name is possible without reckoning with the roles of white supremacy, settler and extractive colonialism, and state-sponsored violence in contemporary capitalism. The Society for the Anthropology of Work (SAW) recognizes that as a scholarly organization, we still have much to do to make the anthropology of work more than a nominally antiracist, decolonial enterprise. We are resolved to build on our work with precarious and marginalized workers within anthropology—a disproportionate number of whom are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). In doing so, we also dedicate ourselves to making our journal, online spaces, and section of the American Anthropological Association platforms for engaged scholarship, particularly for BIPOC anthropologists who are committed to dismantling practices of anti-Blackness in the production of anthropological knowledge on labor and work and who actively analyze labor and capital accumulation as inextricably linked to historical and contemporary forms of racism, fascism, and colonialism.
To these ends, SAW is working to respond to the recent call by the Association of Black Anthropologists to “start at ‘home,’ to accept the ways that anthropology has been and continues to be implicated in the project of white supremacy (both in its implicit and explicit manifestations) and to lay out a clear path for moving forward.”
First, we are redrafting guidelines for authors and reviewers for our journal, the Anthropology of Work Review. We will ask contributors and reviewers to reflect on how white supremacy is embedded in scholarly knowledge production and to work against these hard realities by engaging scholarship that captures the diversity of our discipline and, specifically, contributions by scholars of color that have too often been overlooked or erased from the canon.
Second, we seek to bring attention to the ways that white supremacy and anti-Blackness limit the promotion of open access, broadly conceived. We are identifying ways to open up the peer review process and make it more transparent. SAW has already been piloting open peer review in its short-form web publication, Exertions. We are working toward addressing the unspoken forms of violence, gatekeeping, and structural racism embedded in peer review and contributing to a larger critical discussion about impact, or “what counts,” particularly for contingent and early-career anthropologists.
Third, we are expanding our mentoring activities for both graduate students and contingent faculty to more directly address issues of white supremacy and systemic racism in our field. We are beginning to think about ways to undo an implicit teleology in scholarly mentoring that privileges the academic career, using SAW as a platform and space to acknowledge the diverse trajectories of graduate students, particularly students of color. We are discussing how our future mentoring activities will explicitly include unpacking how white supremacy shapes the work we do as anthropologists and how challenging white supremacy leads to more robust, enriching ways to practice anthropology.
Fourth, we will use Exertions as an outlet for publishing collections of short, timely pieces that directly engage with issues of white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and structural racism. The first of these series will focus on labor and policing; a call for contributions will be published in the coming days. A second series has been proposed on the work of antiracism. These series follow our successful special forum on essential labor in the context of COVID-19.
Now more than ever, we as anthropologists must foreground anthropology as a labor process. We must be open to critiquing our field and to allowing worker-led reorganization and reworking to shape our futures. SAW’s elected leadership acknowledges that anthropology’s structures of power and recognition have directly benefited from legacies of white supremacy, settler and extractive colonialism, and racism at the expense of the most marginalized communities. Those legacies live and breathe in our field’s contemporary silences and silos, and they enact real harm to our colleagues as well as the diverse communities in which we work. Ignoring these realities prevents us all from engaging in meaningful and ethical research on labor and work. We acknowledge that the steps above are small and that some are as yet proposals in the works. We remain steadfast and committed to confronting these long-seen, but unchallenged realities and to building more ethical and just places for anthropologists to work.
Photo by Alex Motoc.