Since 2005, Society of East Asian Anthropology (SEAA) has started Graduate Student Mentoring Workshop during the American Anthropology Association annual meetings. Over a decade, the spirit of the workshop has been to provide graduate students with opportunities to communicate with junior and senior scholars in the area of East Asian Anthropology and get better prepared for their professionalization in the field. In recent years, the workshop has been formatted in small-group discussions where students will be able to talk with all mentors.
This year, we continued this tradition and held a lunchtime workshop “Anthropology with an Attitude” in the aftermath of the 2016 American Presidential election. We asked: what is the relationship between politics and anthropology? To what extent has the intellectual substance of anthropology – its methods and techniques, its concepts and theories – been affected by the complex relations of power as we study in the world now?
More concretely, we focused on practical issues such as fieldwork and ethnographic writing as ways of engaging with the world. Prof. Lisa Rofel (University of California, Santa Cruz), Prof. Eleana Kim (University of California in Irvine), Prof. Akihiro Ogawa (The University of Melbourne) and Dr. Jessica Lockrem (St. Edwards University) accepted our invitation and became our mentors. We had twenty-five participants from a diverse range of institutions both in the US and from abroad. Participants included Ph.D. students, Post-doctoral fellows and junior scholars from different anthropology programs.
Both mentors and participants engaged in discussions during the workshop. Questions such as “what we can do in a Trump world” and “is it possible to be an anthropologist and an activist at the same time” were raised by participants. Prof. Rofel suggested that, rather than to think big, we start with “thinking small.” In terms of balancing professional life and other intellectual interests, Prof. Kim used her experience as an illustration of a two-way approach for students who were interested in dealing with different types of audience.
Besides the lunchtime workshop, SEAA also organized an informal dinner for graduate students this year. As students for a more consolidated and cohesive intellectual community, we planned to enhance and strengthen SEAA students’ bonding experience by having an informal gathering outside the conference venue. The cozy and relaxing environment provided a space for people to know other kindred spirits, develop networks and deepen relationships from the very early stage of one’s professional career.
After the workshop and informal dinner, we have received positive feedbacks as well as constructive suggestions for holding similar events in the future. One of the participants Wei Ye, a graduate student in the University of Minnesota, expressed his interest in seeing if “there is any kind of SEAA directory that may help folks build their connections later after the AAA events.”
For the workshop, Hua Yu, Assistant Professor Shanghai International Studies University, commented,
The format of the workshop is an innovative way of encouraging the attendants to talk about and reflect on their own research to different students and teachers. The advisers are very helpful in terms of challenging the postgraduates’ research and sharing their own academic experience. I especially like the part of rotating the table and talk to different people about the one research.
Her suggestion of having “a piece of paper containing everyone’s research interest and field” rather than a question list will help us prepare future workshop in a more effective and efficient way.
As for the informal dinner, Silke Werth, Postdoctoral Visiting Scholar in the East Asia Center of University of California at Santa Barbara, responded,
I particularly liked the informal nature of the workshop as it helped us all to talk frankly and discuss questions related to the suggested topic openly but also left room to take the conversation elsewhere…Having this lunch and dinner early in the conference helped to make the AAA feel overall more successful and helped set the mood for the next days.
He suggested that the restaurant for dinner could have been a quieter location “since it was very hard to hold a conversation with anyone but direct neighbors because the restaurant was very loud.” This will also be taken into consideration when we organize informal gatherings next time.
For the benefits of students, SEAA will carry on both events – mentoring workshop and informal graduate student dinner – at future AAA meetings. We will keep feedbacks and suggestions in mind and always work hard to facilitate the growth and development of students and junior scholars.
Tianyu Xie is a Ph.D. student in Anthropology at Stanford University. Research Interest: Gender, Kinship, Transnational Venture Capitalism. Research Area: San Francisco Bay Area, Beijing. SEAA Student Councilor.
Jing Wang is a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department at Rice University. Her interests include global histories of Silk Road, anthropology of state, cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism. SEAA Student Councilor.