Practicing Anthropology Professionally and Personally: Balancing Institutional and Activist Ideals

  • 03 Mar 2015
  • 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
  • Sumner School


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Practicing Anthropology Professionally and Personally: Balancing Institutional and Activist Ideals

Moderator:  Davis Shoulders
Date: Tuesday, 3 Mar 2015
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: Sumner School

Panel Discussion

The professional identity and personal beliefs of practicing anthropologists can often inspire informative critical perspectives for the institutions they serve. Hopefully, professional identity and personal beliefs are not mutually exclusive, but what happens when the institution you work for has a philosophy that runs contradictory to your personal beliefs? With the recent debates surrounding Ferguson, the AAA’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions, the controversy over the Washington Redskins football team, and other topics, professional individuals and anthropologists are faced with the fear that standing up for a particular issue in public may have implications for their professional positions. How professional anthropologists, maintaining a critical perspective of the institutions they work for, choose to react to this conflict of identity is the principal topic of this panel. A complementary train of thought juxtaposes the differing professional and student identities in activism. Is it somehow “easier” to be an activist as a student or academic, and how does that activism translate when brought into the professional world? The panel speakers will bring a variety of perspectives from their positions at the State Department, the National Park Service, and American University on how anthropologists can approach popular debates and activism in the public sphere while balancing their professional identity.


Davis Shoulders is currently a Masters student in Public Anthropology at American University. He also serves as one of the student board members for WAPA. His primary interests deal with public spaces in urban environments through the negotiating of diverse communities and their identities in these spaces.


Joe Watkins has been involved in anthropology for more than forty-five years. He became the Supervisory Anthropologist and the Chief of the Tribal Relations and American Cultures Program of the National Park Service in Washington, DC, in 2013 after six years as Director of the Native American Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma. He received his Bachelors of Arts degree from the University of Oklahoma (1969) and his Masters of Arts (1977) and Doctor of Philosophy (1994) degrees in Anthropology from Southern Methodist University. His current study interests involve the ethical practice of anthropology and the study of anthropology’s relationships with descendant communities and Aboriginal populations in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and, more recently, Japan.

Steve Epstein holds a PhD in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MA from the School of Postgraduate Studies in Physics of Bradford University in West Yorkshire. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Army War College. Steve has worked at the State Department for 15 years, starting as a AAAS Fellow in the Democracy and Human Rights Bureau. He spent a year with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, almost nine years on the Iraq and Iran Desks, and is now a Special Advisor to General John Allen, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. Before coming to Washington, Steve was the Associate Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. He has also taught archaeology and anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University, and Rider University, and excavated in Ireland, Belize, Peru, and West Texas and Arizona. As a retired Colonel, Steve spent 30 years in U.S. Army Reserve, with civil affairs deployments in Bosnia, Haiti, and Iraq.

Rachel Watkins is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at American University, where she teaches classes in biological and cultural anthropology. She received her BA in anthropology from Howard University, a Masters in Applied Anthropology from the University of Maryland, College Park and her doctorate in anthropology form the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on the biological and social history of African Americans living in the 19th and 20th century urban US, primarily through ongoing research and writing on the W. Montague Cobb skeletal collection. She was also a part of the team that conducted research on the skeletal remains excavated from the New York African Burial Ground. Current research and writing focuses on the use of African-descendant skeletal and living populations in the development of research practices and racial formation in American physical anthropology.

Siobhán McGuirk is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at American University, where she also works as a Teaching and Research Assistant. She received her BA from the University of Manchester and her and MA in Visual Anthropology from the same institution’s renowned Granada Center for Visual Anthropology. Prior to undertaking her PhD, Siobhan worked as a freelance filmmaker. Her work includes award-winning documentaries and international participatory film projects. Her current research focuses on sexuality and migration, in particular how LGBTQ-identified asylum seekers navigate life in the US, both with and without NGO support. In her research she examines the discursive construction of “deserving” immigrants. Current writing activities include co-authoring a Best Practices Guide for groups working with LGBTQ-identified immigrant populations, working as a Commissioning Editor for Red Pepper magazine, and completing her dissertation.

Meeting:  Charles Sumner School, corner of 17th St and M St NW, Washington, DC

How to get there:  The Sumner School is located at 1201 17th St NW (corner of 17th St and M St NW).  The entrance to the meeting area is on 17th St under the black metal stairway. Directions from Metro Red Line: From Farragut North station, take either L St exit, walk one block east to 17th St, turn left and walk 2 blocks north.  Enter the building through the double doors under the black metal staircase. Check with security for the meeting room.

Pre-meeting:  Nage (meet at the bar for happy hour)
I600 Rhode Island Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 448-8005

Happy hour is from 4:00 to 7:00 pm in the bar only, which includes the row of 2-person tables near the entrance.  To avoid the separate checks issue and the automatic service charge on groups of 6 or more, consider ordering and paying at the bar.  Items purchased in the bar can be taken to the sofas and tables in the lobby.

Nage is located in the Scott Circle Courtyard Marriott on the corner of Rhode Island Ave and 16th St (one short block up from the Beacon).

Directions from Metro Red Line: From Farragut North station, take either L St exit, walk one block east to 17th St, turn left and walk 3 blocks north (past the Sumner School), then turn right on Rhode Island Ave. Nage is at the end of the block facing Scott Circle.

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