History of the AAA Long-Range Plan

This section provides historical context for the proposed changes to the mission statement. When was the last version created? What was the context?

The issue concerning the removal of 'science' was a two step process:

(1) a new document created through an internal process became public
(2) initial reactions on the Internet fueled a broader controversy through polarizing takes on the meaning of that document.

The leadership of the American Anthropological Association made the decision to update the association’s long-term plan, which was last revised in 1983. As the AAA officers wrote in the subsequentpublic release of the plan(after the controversy had erupted):
  • "Our AAA long-range plan needed updating in order to address the changing composition of the profession and the needs of the AAA membership. At its November 20 meeting in New Orleans, the Executive Board specified, concretized, and enlarged its operational roadmap for investing the Association’s resources towards a sustainable future. Section leadership was consulted prior to the New Orleans Annual Meeting, and the Executive Board acted."


A long-range planning committee worked on revisions to the overall plan. The revised plan was then sent to section heads – the different sub-organizations within the AAA – as an internal document. There is ambiguity as to whether every section head received the revised plan or not. After section heads were consulted, the long-range planning committee then presented the revised document to the Executive Board during the AAAs. Accepting that the proper internal processes had been followed, the Executive Board voted to accept the plan.
The changes in the AAA long-range plan would likely have remained largely internal. Only one email sent by the president of the Society for Anthropological Sciences(SAS) to its members as well as to the AAA protesting the removal of all mention of science and potential loss of support from AAA members signified the change. This email was sent on Tuesday, November 23rd, two days after the AAA meetings ended in New Orleans,

Dear Supporters of Anthropological Science,

I write as President of the Society for Anthropological Sciences (SAS) to inform you of a
troubling development that occurred at the Executive Board (EB) meeting of the American
Anthropological Association (AAA) this past weekend. The EB adopted a new Long-Range
Plan (LRP) that includes a significant changes to the AAA mission statement—it removes all
mention of science. The old and new versions of the AAA mission statement are reproduced
below. Members of SAS feel these changes undermine American anthropology, and we passed
a resolution at our business meeting condemning them. That resolution is also reproduced
below. If you are concerned about this, I encourage you to contact the AAA. I would also urge
you to renew your membership in the Society for Anthropological Sciences

Thank you,
Peter N. Peregrine, President
Society for Anthropological Sciences

Following the letter from SAS, on November 30th, Inside Higher Ed published an article entitled “Anthropology without Science.” ThoughPeter Wood’s piecein The Chronicle of Higher Education came the day before, and another article onAnthropologists Debate Whether ‘Science’ Is a Part of Their Missionalso appeared in the Chronicle on the 30th, this Inside Higher Ed piece is really what kicked off the controversy in a public fashion.Barbara King tweetedabout it, and the article was then projected widely by others, and thelabel of #aaafail appeared. It was also the piece theAAA leadership reacted to, as it is the first of two pieces mentioned by the AAA officers in their public statement about the controversy.

Consecutively, the Inside Higher Ed published an article that framed the changes in the long-range plan as reflecting a polarizing debate within the field of anthropology. Two blog posts were used to generate this perception of enormous opposition within the field.
  • "Some [anthropologists] also say privately that this conflict marks the latest in a running cycle of perceived exclusions among the heterodox discipline… More fundamentally, the dispute has brought to light how little common ground is shared by anthropologists who span a wide array of sub-specialties."

The journalist Dan Berrett then used a November 25th blog post on the Psychology Today network, Alice Dreger’s “No Science, Please. We’re Anthropologists.”, to highlight the science side: her post “distinguished between ‘fluff-head cultural anthropological types who think science is just another way of knowing’ and those who pay closer attention to hard data — and follow that data wherever they lead.”

Berrett then used Recycled Mind’s November 26th Views from the ANThill: Anthropology as Science post to emphasize the opposition that Dreger advanced. This post “argued that continuing to use the term ‘science’ in the association’s mission statement had become a concern because it maintained ‘the colonizing, privileging, superior positionality of anthropology that continues to plague the discipline’.”


The American Anthropological Association's statement,What Is Anthropology?
  • "To understand the full sweep and complexity of cultures across all of human history, anthropology draws and builds upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences as well as the humanities and physical sciences."

The American Anthropological Association's statement, AAA Responds to Public Controversy Over Science in Anthropology:
  • Some recent media coverage, including an article in the New York Times, has portrayed anthropology as divided between those who practice it as a science and those who do not, and has given the mistaken impression that the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Executive Board believes that science no longer has a place in anthropology. On the contrary, the Executive Board recognizes and endorses the crucial place of the scientific method in much anthropological research. To clarify its position the Executive Board is publicly releasing the document “What Is Anthropology?” that was, together with the new Long-Range Plan, approved at the AAA’s annual meeting last month.

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