ASA News

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Anthropology and The Student Experience

University of Manchester Friday 2nd March, Arthur Lewis Building, 2nd floor Boardroom.

This event will focus on improving the student experience in anthropology courses. It will be aimed at anthropology teaching staff, but postgraduates who teach or intend to teach will be welcome to attend. The day will be divided into two sessions. The morning session will look at what is meant by the often-used phrase ‘the student experience’. We will consider ways of looking at and responding to student evaluation in anthropology, including NSS scores. A particular focus will be placed upon the ‘Key Information Sets’ (KIS) that all courses will soon be required to publish, in order to begin a discussion about what these might look like for Anthropology. How will they affect what we teach and how we teach it? Can a focus on them help us to deliver a better student experience.

The afternoon session will focus specifically on a key area frequently identified by students as problematic – assessment and feedback. What are the reasons for students’ dissatisfaction with feedback, how can anthropology respond to this? Are traditional forms of assessment by exam and essay sufficient to encourage students to develop the skills an anthropology degree should offer? The session will also act as a forum to share innovative practice in these areas.

The Event will take a workshop format with short presentations, participatory activities and discussion.

10am Welcome & Refreshments
10.30am What is 'the student experience'
12.45pm Lunch and ASA AGM
2pm Assessment and Feedback
4pm Close

This event is free but places are limited so if you wish to attend please register by sending an email to Dr Ian Fairweather (teaching_learning(at); a limited number of bursaries are available from the ASA to help with travel expenses.


The ASA and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) welcome nominations for the Award for Excellence in Teaching Anthropology. This award aims not only to reward individual staff or teams of staff, but also to raise the profile of learning and teaching activity in Anthropology. Two awards of £500 will be made and will recognise excellence in teaching in any aspect of social or biological anthropology.

The selection process and criteria:
The prize will be awarded to an individual, or team, who in the view of the panel has contributed the most to the positive learning experience of students in Anthropology in the current academic year. For the criteria on nominations and awards, please refer to the UK Professional Standards Framework (UK PSF) for teaching and supporting learning. This document is available on the HEA web site:

Individuals and teams are invited to nominate themselves for the award. Each nomination should be accompanied by a short statement of no more than 2000 words explaining why (s)he believes they are deserving of the award. In order to make the award available to those teaching in all branches of anthropology eligibility for the award is not restricted to ASA members but it is expected that nominations from non-members will be accompanied by a letter of support from an ASA member.

Guidelines for submission for the prize:

  • positive contributions to learning and teaching
  • use of innovative teaching strategies
  • meeting the needs of the diverse student population
  • sharing of good teaching practice with colleagues
  • stimulating independent learning and critical thinking

Supporting evidence should also be submitted. This could include copies of recent formal and informal feedback from students or peer review, or a short statement of support from a colleague. The panel will meet or correspond by email or communicate by other electronic means to consider all proposals, and from these, select a shortlist, and, if possible, the winner(s) of the award. The nomination statements and supporting evidence should be submitted to: teaching_learning(at)

Call for a collective response by anthropology academics to the Government's proposed cuts of teaching grant and education maintenance allowance as well as to the planned massive rise in tuition fees

The anthropologists of the following schools and departments of anthropology oppose the proposed withdrawal of public funding for university teaching of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.  We are deeply concerned that the increase in tuition fees necessary  to replace public funding will result in a level of student indebtedness which, together with the loss of the Education Maintenance Allowance, will lead to a very substantial reduction in participation in higher education. 

We are committed to developing an open, critically engaged learning environment accessible to students from diverse backgrounds. The contribution of anthropology to this environment as well as to wider social understanding of interpersonal and intercultural interactions is vital, and we wish to make the knowledges and skills we teach available to the widest possible range of students. We fear the impact of the proposed cuts to teaching budgets as well as to university infrastructure maintenance on this aspiration will be brutal.

In the last century, investment by the state in tertiary education was seen as vital to the well-being of society as a whole. We need well-educated graduates to meet the challenges of this century, and this is not a matter of private choice but of public necessity. We therefore join with academics and students across the entirety of the UK education system in opposing this assault on state funding of higher education and the proposed rise in tuition fees it necessitates.

Signatories so far:

School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent
Department of Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies
Department of Anthropology, University of Manchester
Department of Anthropology, Brunel University
Department of Anthropology, University of East London
Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex
Department of Anthropology, University of Durham
Department of Anthropology, Goldsmiths College, University of London
Department of Anthropology, University College London
Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics
Department of Anthropology and Geography, Oxford Brookes University
School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford

ASA invests new president

Marilyn Strathern's investiture

The formal investiture of Dame Marilyn took place at the ASA conference in Auckland in December 2008, following her opening plenary address. After an opening speech by the Chair and Dame Marilyn's response, our Maori hosts supported the investiture ceremony with their own presentation and songs, making this an especially memorable occasion.

ASA resolutions in April 2007:

Resolution 1

The meeting notes with concern the formulations of the recent ESRC/AHRC/FCO funding initiatives (Programmes) on ‘New Security Challenges’. While welcoming the withdrawal of the first proposed Programme, it considers that the revised initiative, particularly as set out in section 3.2. (that the research should inform UK Counter Terrorism policy overseas), is prejudicial to the position of all researchers working abroad, including those who have nothing to do with this Programme.

This meeting thus proposes as follows:

  • that all anthropologists in the UK, and members of the ASA in particular who might have applied for funding under this Programme, consider carefully the position in which they could place themselves, the people with whom they work in the field, and other colleagues. They should also note that research of this kind may well conflict with the ASA’s Code of Ethics,
  • that the office-holders and Committee have the confidence of the ASA membership to discuss these issues with colleagues within this and other disciplines, both through networks and professional associations, and decide on what further actions are appropriate.

Resolution 2

The ASA is committed to conflict resolution through cross-cultural understanding. This meeting views with concern the deteriorating international climate, and in particular the policy of the current British government in relation to Iraq. In particular it notes the increasing difficulties faced by many Iraqi academics, who are forced to flee their country in fear of their lives, yet are often refused asylum by the UK.

It calls upon the government to ease its restrictive policy on Iraqi asylum-seekers coming to this country, until such time as the political situation in Iraq stabilises. It requests the executive of the ASA to convey this resolution to both the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and to the Minister of State at the Home Office.

ASA Statement on the use of 'primitive' as a descriptor of contemporary human groups

To describe any living group as 'primitive' or 'Stone Age' inevitably implies that they are living representatives of some earlier stage of human development that the majority of humankind has left behind. For some, this could be a positive description, implying, for example, that such groups live in greater harmony with nature, possess knowledge and wisdoms forgotten by the rest of humanity, or practice kinder, more caring and less exploitative ways of living together. For others, who would see the positive view as a romantic myth, 'primitive' is a negative characterisation. For them, 'primitive' denotes irrational use of resources and absence of the intellectual and moral standards of 'civilised' human societies, manifest in 'superstitious' belief systems, in cultural practices that are cruel and degrading to individuals or women or children within the social unit, and in innate tendencies towards warfare or other forms of violence in the absence of state supervision. From the standpoint of anthropological knowledge, both these views are equally one-sided and simplistic.

All anthropologists would agree that the negative use of the terms 'primitive' or 'Stone Age' to describe what Survival International terms 'indigenous and tribal peoples' has serious implications for their welfare. Governments and other social groups that have the means for imposing their domination through violence or control of the legal system have long used these ideas as a pretext for depriving such peoples of land and other resources vital to their economic survival. By treating their adult members as children relative to 'civilised' people, democratic as well as authoritarian states have justified enforced social and cultural change, the removal of young children from their birth families, and a range of other coercive measures that are increasingly seen as a violation of human rights. Religious missions and NGOs have also often intervened in ways that have produced unexpected problems of social dislocation and conflict even where they have brought access to new commodities, medical care and forms of education seen as beneficial by most of the people themselves. Anthropologists have frequently shown that these problems could have been avoided had the interventions not embodied fundamental misunderstandings of the history, culture and social organisation of the groups that experienced them.

Most modern anthropology does not accept a view of these societies as living fossils of an earlier stage of human evolution, but sees them as societies that represent different choices about ways of living together and using the environment. Some of them are the result of efforts by human beings to maintain a different way of life in areas that remained more distant from the advancing 'frontiers' of 'civilisation' and 'economic modernisation', with migration away from those advancing frontiers often the process that brought contemporary groups to their present locations and shaped their modern culture and social organization. Others have developed in much closer symbiosis with groups practising alternative lifestyles and modes of livelihood, often in comparatively recent history. None can be seen as forms of human organisation frozen in space and time by simple geographical isolation, let alone innate intellectual and moral incapacities, and archaeology often reveals striking evidence for fundamental differences between the societies that exist today in a given region and those that existed in the pre-colonial past.

Anthropologists do not agree on the desirability of prioritising the rights of 'indigenous peoples' over other groups in contemporary societies and some use the same historical arguments used to reject the evolutionary labels 'primitive' and 'Stone Age' to question the scientific coherence of the notion of 'indigeneity' itself. The use of the term 'tribal' is also potentially problematic, as evidenced, for example, by the frequent use of 'tribalism' to 'explain' conflict situations that have complex and modern causes as the inevitable result of the 'survival' of 'backward' forms of social and cultural organization that impede a desirable political and economic 'modernization' on Western lines. Although some groups today are, of course, perfectly happy to define themselves as 'tribes', there are longstanding academic debates about whether the idea of 'tribal societies' is analytically useful and coherent.

Nevertheless, (almost) all anthropologists do oppose the coercive enforcement of social and cultural change by states and other external forces without regard to the wishes of the people affected, and we also oppose expropriation of, or environmental damage to, their existing resource base in the name of 'the national interest', too often no more than a thin disguise for the interests of dominant, ethnically distinct, classes and transnational corporations. These are the issues that concern Survival International in their campaign, and they are real and burning issues. That the rights that minorities should possess in these respects have been seriously violated in the past is now widely accepted by the multilateral development agencies and within the international public sphere, although some governments remain outside this consensus and the response of private corporations remains uneven in practice. The pejorative use of the labels 'primitive' and 'Stone Age' has frequently been used to justify such rights violations. They should be abandoned by journalists and other opinion formers and be replaced by the identity terms that the groups in question use to distinguish themselves from other groups in society.

It is also important to appreciate that concepts of 'primitiveness' are also often used in a racialist way to stigmatise citizens of contemporary urban societies, particularly poorer citizens whose identities are 'racialised' through the attribution of innate characteristics to whole populations on the basis of phenotypic appearances, whether these are considered to indicate 'pure' or 'mixed' descent in terms of socially constructed categories of 'racial difference'. For example, Afro-descendents are sometimes denigrated in multi-ethnic societies for lacking 'emotional control' through invocation of the idea that they represent a 'more primitive' human type that is less easily 'educated' to adopt 'civilised' standards of behaviour. This link between racism and evolutionary models of contemporary human difference underscores the need to avoid using a language that has no scientific validity. This is not a matter of 'political correctness' but an important contribution to eliminating ideas that cause suffering to real human beings, as groups and as individuals.


Survival International’s Director, Stephen Corry, said ‘It is a great boost to our campaign that the ASA has come on board. Journalists and editors need to understand that the use of these kinds of terms directly contributes to the suffering of tribal and indigenous peoples all around the world.’

Find out more about Survival’s Stamp it Out campaign here.

For further press related info check here.


Breaking bubbles: anthropology for our future

This symposium organised by TRIBE from the University of Kent, is primarily aimed at creating a platform through which groups of anthropology undergraduates who have been active within their own departments/communities (such as our own anthropology society) can share their projects and ideas with others from other universities. We hope that this will promote the dynamism of each of these societies and groups of students within their own universities. This event is also aimed at giving a possibility to students who have been working on individual projects, such as dissertations, to present their work to others. We also hope that it will be an occasion to debate anthropological issues with a larger and more diverse group of students then the one we encounter in our day to day lives.

For more information see their website:


What do people do with a PhD in Anthropology?
How do they feel about their research 'training'?

Two years of research by Jonathan Spencer (Edinburgh) and David Mills (Birmingham) reveals a picture of a period of major growth in PhD training in anthropology in the UK, with nearly all who complete finding employment that they feel relates to their research. Individual experiences of life during and after the PhD are however complex and ambivalent, and the research questions a notion of a 'career path' based on individual 'choices'.

The research points to the increasingly cosmopolitan character of UK anthropology, and its diversity in terms of age and gender, but also early signs of a trend back towards male advantage in mainstream academic employment. Issues to do with families and relationships emerged as extremely important in the course of the research, and their impact on career choices often gets overlooked.

These are all issues on which they invite comments and reactions - we see this research opening up a conversation about the role and purpose of research training in Anthropology.  You can download a first analysis of our findings here.