Guerilla Panels at #AAA2012

A lot of people attended talks at the AAAs, but I think I’m one of the few who got to see a guerilla panel. It was awesome.

As I understood it, when the AAAs got more panels than could fit in their massive program, the AALCIG and AAGE’s* sponsored panels got dropped. But, rather than accept the rejection, they opened their Board Meeting with two new scholars’ papers. Three more senior scholars served as discussants for each. And maybe it was because there were more discussants than papers, and maybe it was just ‘cuz those guys were awesome, but it was massively educational. Apart from learning a great deal about what people who really like to work with “life course” care about, here are some other important lessons:

  • the AAAs are an opportunity to do the kind of anthro you care about – you can use other methods to get the word out to people, but take advantage and make it happen, regardless of the institutional support
  • champagne and chocolate chip cookies go fast
  • silent auctions of stuff that people in the group are interested in is a great thing to have happening in the background of a meeting (and my grad student group should totally do something similar)**

In sum, it was pretty great, and maybe I’ll try to be part of making something like that happen again next year. What were your highlights?

* the AAA Aging And Lifecourse Interest Group and the Association of Anthropology and Gerontology
** I won a video called My Name is Julius in the silent auction. Exciting because it’s about life course (my interest) and hearing loss (my husband’s interest, because of his company, Acudora).

Networking the AAAs

some UA anthro grad students at AAA2012

Robin Reineke, Lucero Radonic, Robin Steiner, Pete Taber and Sam Grace at #AAA2012

I am one of those weird people (at least weird among anthropologists I know) who actually likes the idea of networking. There’s a certain thrill to just showing up and selling yourself to a stranger. A sort of competition with yourself that is made more exciting and somewhat less scary when there are 6,000 opportunities (one number I heard for this year’s attendance at the AAAs).

In the past, the majority of my networking has occurred in hallways and presentation rooms, meeting people I hadn’t ever heard of before – a carefree and emergent approach to adding people to my rolodex. But this year, I decided, I was going to be more targeted. I got a bunch of suggestions from peers on how to go about it:

  • go to all the cash bars
  • sign up for a lot of workshops
  • make a list of valuable people, search for them in the program, and show up where they will be

To these I added my own instinct to work the networks I’ve already got, and so I also:

  • showed up to the #AAA2012 #tweetup*
  • made sure I went to former peers’ and profs’ talks
  • went to an interest group meeting**

This was, overall, a success. But I think I’ve still got room for improvement. What say you people (anthro or other conference goers)? What are your networking strategies at conferences? Is there anything that makes you suck at it?


* Rex coordinated it via @savageminds, and then I actually got to meet him, which was definitely my celebrity squee of the conference. The motivation to attend the tweetup (read: meet up of AAA attending Twitter users) was definitely augmented by the exhausting attempt to livetweet the talks I attended – but that’s another post.
** Turns out, the Aging and the Life Course Interest Group + Association for Anthropology and Gerontology Board Meeeting was secretly a guerilla panel that was the highlight of my conference – but that, too, is another post …

Applied Post-Apocalyptic Biological Anthropology

Zombies in Dawn of the Dead (2004) I offer to you a lesson plan* I made for a week on natural selection and cultural adaptation in a bioanth class. Use as you like!

GROUP 1: zombie pandemic**
GROUP 2: a chain reaction of global warming put 98% of the earth under water***
GROUP 3: unidentified disease causes human lifespans to drop to 25 years (osteoporosis by 17, mental senility can start by 20)****
GROUP 4: worldwide governments instituted the use of self-maintaining and reproducing humanoid robots who kill people apparently at random to decrease overpopulation*****

It is the year 2030, one year after a massive worldwide apocalypse. You have been observing the changes taking place in the area that we currently call North America. In small groups, discuss what the post-apocalyptic world looks like, make up any details not identified in your group’s listed apocalyptic cause, and answer the questions below. Be prepared to give a five minute explanation of your post-apocalyptic world and your answers to the group and to give feedback to other groups on their worlds.

Begin by separating your section into small groups and assign them their apocalyptic cause. Give them 20 minutes to discuss their post-apocalyptic “natural experiment” in human variation and answer the questions. Then give each group five minutes to present their situation and explain their answers to the rest of the class. Have the rest of the class contribute other possible answers for each section (1 minute per group). (50 minute class)


1. Give a paragraph overview of what the post-apocalyptic world looks like.
2. List two new problems that threaten individual human survival and reproduction in this environment and explain how they might have differed from problems during the EEA.
3. List two existing psychological mechanisms might help face these dilemmas and explain why.
4. List one existing psychological mechanism that might make these dilemmas more difficult to handle and explain why.
5. List two accumulated cultural adaptations that could be useful in this environment and explain why.
6. List two accumulated cultural adaptations that could be maladaptive in this environment and explain why.
7. Imagine a meme that might spread in this new environment. Describe it and why it might be selected for in this environment.

* this is inspired by Chapter 15: Evolution and Human Behavior of Boyd and Silk’s How Humans Evolved
** see Brunch of the Living Dead
*** see Water World, starring Kevin Costner
**** see Orson Scott Card’s short story “Geriatric Ward” in Brave New Worlds
***** feel free to steal this idea for your own story