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Interface Commission going viral: anthropological engagement quo vadis?

As we’ve relaunched the Interface Commission in 2020 to showcase and strengthen anthropological engagement outside academia, current times of COVID bring both challenges and opportunities.

Indeed, just before lock-down, I had the great pleasure of Grégoire Mayor of the Museum of Ethnography in Neuchatel showing me around their temporary exhibition, Le mal du voyage, on the practices and imaginaries of tourism ( Today, temporarily closed off to the public, the exhibition offers an exceptional and highly recommendable opportunity to reflect on contemporary forms of travel from an anthropological perspective. In hindsight, the contrast is striking between the images of airports and cruise ships and current connotations of corona and confinement. Be sure to visit, when it opens again.

Back to Interface. Should we change the Commission name to inter-screen or inter(face) given the impacts of confinement and so-called social distancing? Far more important, viral times prompt the immediate need for “inter-facial” anthropological analysis to complement bio-medical research. Check out the blog post available in both English and French by Jean-Dominique Michel, Medical Anthropologist.

Other forms of anthropological engagement haven’t stopped either. Yet, lives of our interlocutors, ways and conditions of working are changing rapidly. Institutional changes in the short and long run may be changing the nature of interfaces and the ways anthropologists engage with them.

 In my own case, the Yanesha with whom I’ve worked in the Peruvian Amazon have recently closed off entry roads to their communities and territories. Planned fieldwork and social dialogue activities to design consultation mechanisms in Laos have been postponed and teaching in Geneva has gone on-line. Is everyday anthropological life in flux?

Whereas digital ethnography may recuperate some space, such dynamics raise real questions about the future directions, forms and of anthropological engagement outside academia. This brings me back to the mandate of our Interface Commission.

Simple is the Best

The idea is to keep it simple, practical and forward looking; Any activity that allows to showcase or promote anthropological engagement outside academia (and vice-versa) is welcome.

An email list is being set-up for those interested and we have requested some seed funding for a dedicated meeting this Fall, that is if real-time meetings and interfacing will be possible by then. A blog is also in the making, and we are exploring the idea of small audio-visual reports with interviews and field perspectives. So tune in and let us know about how which you can contribute!

Peter Larsen

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