University of Auckland: Auckland anthropologist to lead top international journal

Associate Professor Susanna Trnka, a social anthropologist in the Faculty of Arts, will take up the position from 1 March 2022 until 31 December 2026, and is thrilled with the honour of leading the first editorial team based in the Southern Hemisphere.

“I’m delighted to be at the helm of a journal that has shaped anthropological scholarship for nearly 50 years, and I hope to continue to promote its voice in articulating issues of global concern,” she says.

Past editors have been based at institutions such as the University of Amsterdam, Harvard University, City University of New York, and University of California at Davis.

In recent years American Ethnologist has run special forum issues focusing on the refugee crisis in Europe, on ‘Brexit, Trump, and Anthropology’ and the shooting of Michael Brown and the Ferguson uprising.

The journal has a particular focus on ethnography, a method that typically involves the researcher embedding themselves in the culture or situation they’re researching for a period of time.

“Ethnography is based on the understanding that as a researcher, you can get a unique insight into culture, social relations, politics or economics by immersing yourself in the world of the people you want to learn about,” says Dr Trnka.

This process, often referred to as ‘participant observation’, can happen in places as disparate as an ICU ward, nuclear weapons lab, school or religious temple, or on Wall Street, she says.

“By watching the daily flow of life at close quarters, things that would otherwise remain unconscious or partially hidden come to light, revealing the complexity of social dynamics.”

Alongside Dr Jesse Grayman, a senior lecturer in Development Studies at Auckland, who will act as associate editor with a colleague at Macquarie University in Sydney, Dr Trnka plans to highlight anthropological approaches to contemporary, pressing social issues.

“I’m interested, for example, in the role of ethnography in critically examining issues like racialised state violence, state responses to Covid-19, and how we can conduct research in the midst of a pandemic.

“I’d also like to look at anthropological approaches to climate change, the place of conspiracy theories in contemporary political movements, ongoing efforts to decolonise academia, and the impact of the #MeToo Movement,” she says.

Ethnography is based on the understanding that as a researcher, you can get a unique insight into culture, social relations, politics or economics by immersing yourself in the world of the people you want to learn about.
Associate Professor Susanna Trnka
Faculty of Arts
She also plans to establish a running feature on how anthropological knowledge is produced.

“In an era where ‘misinformation’ is a highly contested and emotive focus of concern, it’s imperative for anthropologists to examine how we come to create knowledge, the various litmus tests of ‘legitimate’ findings, and the acceptable (and unacceptable) forms of research and dissemination in which we and other social scientists engage.”

Dr Trnka will use the new editorial team’s physical location in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia to foster the journal’s international focus and readership.

“We want to draw on Aotearoa and Australia’s attentiveness to the relationships between anthropology and Indigenous studies as well as critical engagements with the legacies of white settler societies to shape our vision of anthropology’s future. We also want to highlight debates that are at the forefront of anthropological research in the US and globally.”

American Ethnologist is generally considered to be one of the top three social and cultural anthropology journals in the world, alongside Cultural Anthropology and Current Anthropology.

It is published by the American Ethnological Society (AES), the oldest professional anthropological association in the United States (founded in 1842). Its operations are overseen by the American Anthropology Association, the world’s largest scholarly and professional organisation of anthropologists.

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