A return to my roots: Canadian adventures in anthropology

Emily Porth

From 20-24 November, 2019 I attended a conference jointly organised by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the Canadian Anthropology Society/Société Canadienne D’Anthropologie (CASCA). It was the first time the two societies had co-organised their annual meetings and it was epic, with approximately 5600(!) anthropologists from around the world converging on one city.

The meeting was hosted in Vancouver, on unceded lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, at the Convention Centre which provided stunning views over the harbour. It was an absolute delight to return to a city that I used to call home (I completed my undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Archaeology at Simon Fraser University back in 2003). It was also a return to a discipline that I haven’t been immersed in since I transferred from the first year of a PhD in Anthropology in 2006, into an interdisciplinary doctorate in Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto.

A late afternoon view of Vancouver Harbour from Canada Place

The topic of the conference was “Changing Climates: Struggle, Collaboration, and Justice”, and the poster presentation I delivered on 23 November focused on how Evidence Base is carrying out research to change the climate within STEM departments, and within higher education more broadly. The project was well-received by those who engaged with the posters and it was encouraging to hear from a couple of people who are doing similar applied work in North American universities.

For me, the highlight of the conference was participating in a number of workshops that were fantastic for networking and for further cultivating the skills I am using as part of my job for the “Growing the big grant club” project. In all honesty, I went a little overboard (6 workshops in 3 days!), but they were all brilliant and I have no regrets.

There were two workshops that stand out as being particularly inspiring. The first of these was called ‘How to Write for the Public’, which was hosted by members of the editorial team from Sapiens, a digital anthropology magazine funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. Writing accessibly is a form of social inclusion, so it’s something that I’ve long been quite passionate about and committed to in my own writing. That said, I still have to work hard to do it well! The presenters’ first point was that we need to remember we are both anthropologists and storytellers. In order to communicate a story well, we need to remember that the heart is more powerful than the mind: “effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know”. We also learned how to pitch an article or op-ed to a popular publication. The second workshop I want to mention was called ‘Methods for Disseminating and Translating Research to Action across the Lifespan’, and it proved to be incredibly relevant and valuable to our work in eBase. Hosted by a large group of researchers that included Jean Schensul, Narelle Warren, Margaret LeCompte, Andrea Whittaker, Jason Danely, and Stephen Schensul, the first half of the workshop involved presentations about how to plan to disseminate work that has been grounded in participatory action research (PAR). The presentations were inspiring and they helped all of us to feel excited about the possibilities for our work and for engagement with a wider audience. The second half focused on intervention design and I worked with Stephen to explore how the University’s resources and researcher’s resources can be used to create an intervention to solve some of the problems experienced by marginalised researchers. The knowledge and experience that each of the presenters brought to the workshop was invaluable and I’ve already begun to apply it to my work on intervention design.